Specialization

As thebwang noted, to be noticed or to contribute something special one has to be remarkable. One has to offer something unique that nobody else does. In other words, in today’s ever-expanding world, you have to be an expert at what you do.

In fact, this phenomenon of specialization is inevitable in an expanding, developing society like ours today. The Earth supports a positively staggering number of people with a limited amount of resources and jobs. The fact that everybody is vying for their share of the pie means that, in order to compete, it is necessary to specialize. One person cannot possibly have more expertise in a general area than a team with experts in individual areas.

What I mean by this is the notion of teamwork and the notion of specialization are interrelated and inseparable. Many minds are more powerful than one, and so we have seen individuals condense into teams so that people with related fields of expertise can apply their isolated knowledge to produce a result in a general setting, a task that was once carried out by individuals skilled in that whole general setting. It is inevitable, then, that teams out-compete individuals in this manner: a group of people can have individuals that are much more specialized than one person alone.

But this does not necessarily mean that specialization equals teamwork, nor does it mean that specialization is always good. For teamwork (that is, the organization of individual efforts to achieve a greater goal) essentially means some sort of government, and thus inefficiency is a real danger. The major problem with specialization is that, as individuals become more specialized, teams become larger and their organizational structures become more complex.

One example of this is government itself. Imagine the “government” of a group of cavemen. Several cavemen band together so that no one person has to do all the tasks necessary for survival. Each caveman can contribute what he is best at. The result is that this group can survive where any individual caveman may not have. This is a classic example of the good government (teamwork and organization) can do for people.

Now fast forward a couple of years to our modern times when transportation is fast and government is slow. People today are certainly much more specialized than the ancient cavemen groups. We rely on a much greater body of knowledge to create and apply our technology, and this burden is carried not on individual shoulders but by the efforts of groups. If specialization is always a good thing, then why is our government today criticized for inefficiency and why do some people loathe teamwork?

The answer is that with increasing specialization comes increasingly elaborate organizational hierarchies. A company is essentially such a team, and a large company’s organizational hierarchy can be tens of pages long! Yet we do not need to look too hard to find examples of companies that take advantage of a great number and variety of specialists without creating a stifling environment: Google is a prime example.

The key is not to take the attitude of organization too far. Remember that members of a team are still individuals. Google allows its employees to pursue their own projects, enabling them to apply their creativity and expertise to projects they initiate. The key is to achieve a productive organizational system while treating specialists as people. This means giving them time to pursue a variety of goals, giving them flexibility and freedom, and not trying to dominate their entire lives.

The application of this analysis of the dynamics of specialization and teamwork is apparent. When you’re working on a team, keep an eye out for why you’re there and try to contribute your area of expertise. If you’re leading a team or even a whole organization, remember to treat your subordinates as experts and as people. Only then can you derive the greatest benefits that specialization has to offer.

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