The rise of the generalist

From Karl Smith:

I don’t know if I’ve heard anyone say this and I am not quite sure what I think about it myself, but one way to view the economy in the Information Age is that the returns to specialization are falling.

So, those who like such things can go all the way back to Adam Smiths pin factory and think about all the tasks involved in making pins and how each person could become more suited to that task and learn the ins and outs of it.

However, in the information age I can in many cases write a program to repeatedly perform each of these tasks and record ever single step that it makes for later review by me. The individualized skill and knowledge is not so important because it can all be dumped into a database.

What really matters is someone who gets pins. Not the various steps involved in making pins but the concept of the whole pin. What makes a good pin a good pin. How do pins fit into the entire global market. What the next big thing in pins.

This individual will be able to outline a pin vision that she or just a few programmers can easily implement. One could say this is the story of Facebook or Twitter. Really good ideas and just a few people needed to implement them.

However, as IT progress and machines can do more things it could be the story of the economy generally.

In contrast to The Great Stagnation, I would call this The Rise of Generalist or perhaps to be consistent The Great Generalization.

Even if you stop and think for a minute about all of the things that your computer or now even your phone can do, are you now wielding the most generalized tool ever conceived?

I would add in turn that the Generalist boosts the reach of the Specialist, as the Generalist relies on many specialists to supply inputs for his or her outputs.  It may be the “tweeners” in the middle who lose income and influence, and that the extreme generalists and specialists will prosper, intellectually and otherwise.


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