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Consider Specialization First...

Suppose you are the publisher of a magazine about cooking. It's a glossy magazine with recipes, restaurant reviews, and lots of pictures of expensive cutlery and celebrities tasting trendy oysters. The magazine is released every month, and you have a huge list of recipes and restaurants, and celebrities waiting to make their appearance in one of the upcoming editions. Getting a new edition out the door is always a stressful experience. The celebrities can never commit to any culinary photo shoot. The chefs always complain about the way their dishes are depicted. And some of the recipes are so bad, you wouldn't even want to cook them for your neighbor's dog.

Now the editor walks up to you and tells you he has the solution to all problems. It is called generalization. It's really simple and very effective, he says. The different roles of all people working on the magazine will be turned into one generic role called "team member." There are no real specialists anymore, as everyone on the team is allowed to do any of the jobs needed to get a new edition of the magazine out of the door. The writers are allowed to do the photo shoots, whenever they happen to be in the vicinity of a celebrity. Any chef, with at least one working finger left, is allowed to type restaurant reviews. And if the photographers are finished with their work, they can help out writing and cooking recipes. With such a team of generalists, explains the editor, making a new edition of the magazine will be much less stressful (see Figure 13.1). So...what do you say?

Figure 13.1

Figure 13.1 From specialist to generalist?

This is what I would say, "Are you completely mad?" If I'm on an operation table having my eyelids corrected, would I want the nurse to take over when the surgeon is having trouble keeping up with his schedule? Would I say, "Yes, thank you nurse, and why don't you remove my tonsils while you're at it?"

I believe generalization is a fine idea. But specialization is your first friend. Research has confirmed that teams of specialists are more productive than teams of generalists [Anderson 2004:271]. Building teams of only generalists ignores everything society has learned in the last 235 years, ever since Adam Smith pointed out that specialization leads to higher productivity and prosperity. Specialization is the reason why software developers do not bake their own bread, fix their own clothes, or grow their own food, a few exceptions notwithstanding. The larger an economy or organization is, the more people will want to (and be able to) specialize in what they are good at. It is a mechanism that has proven to work well, not only for individuals but also for the whole world.

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