The Century of the Specialist

TL:DR | For the past ONE HUNDRED years we have been plagued by this notion that specializing is the only way to success. In practice both specializing and generalizing are necessary for global society.

3 min read
The Century of the Specialist

We never know what the future may hold, and so we are taught to prepare in the best ways we can. In the early years of the 20th century there was a fear of global war, and the rise of the automobile. That industry lead to even more consumption of metals, intricate assembly lines, and most of all the "modern work day" as we know it.

Henry Ford is often accredited to the mindset of the 9-5 work day, even going as far as to buy alarm clocks for his employees. Although I'd bet that if not him, then someone else in that time. It seems like we needed an organizational system of work at that time, and it was only a matter of time. In this revolutionary time of technological progress, there became a monumental need of specialists.

People who could work the assembly line, doing one thing, and one thing really well. Akin to cogs in the machine, as to Ford that is all they were.

Why we are told to Specialize

Factories and companies of all sizes started to adopt this mindset, of having one person per job. Even if it required more people, they would just make it seem like you just needed to work harder. Hybrid roles started popping up in the days of the computers, internet, and startup boom.

Those who were able to thrive in doing multiple things, then became hugely successful. Think of Gates, Jobs, Musk, Oprah, and more. They all had one thing in common (at least one I mean!), that being the fact that they were skilled at being generalists.

We are told to specialize to maximize our success in the future. Whether it is financially, or even something a bit more fundamental. The worry of actual survival even.

How it is Crippling our Society

Going back to that idea of "Actual Survival", this alludes to Mazlo's Hierarchy of needs. Something that many people across the globe were finding out about the hard way over the 2020 pandemic.

People were forced into adaptation mode in order to survive. Getting the base level of income for food and shelter. Perhaps not even that much, and now we are all climbing out of that state of mind. In my case even climbing out of a financial gap because I didn't make nearly as much in the course of those two years.

If you noticed however there were a lot of people who prospered in that time, and those were the ones easily able to adapt to change. While I may have faltered at income, I adapted by teaching more swim lessons privately/safely, and charged more for them because of the time.

Other people such as content creators, startup/entrepreneurs, and more all thrived because the world now propped them up more. They are the sort of generalistic/multidisciplinary minded individuals who normally have to fight to be seen. This time they were put on pedestals.

What is a Multidisciplinary Lifestyle?

I experienced this in a way too because of the vast amounts of interviews I was able to do in that time period. As a generalist I adapted to the best seeming opportunity, and went all into that.

Our species has survived not because of the specialists, but rather the generalists being able to adapt during the hard times. It seems that thriving on the other hand can be attributed to specialists. As during times of prosperity, the specialists can help advance us where generalists leave off.

During the migrations of early humans it wasn't the specialists that helped us survive, but rather the generalists who were able to adapt to new environments and food sources.

Combined together is the key, but what does that look like?

The lifestyle of each are similar, and extremely different at the same time. We both have energy needs to be met, we both have time tables to follow, and we both need to organize our lives.

However the difference is in how complicated that can be. For generalists we have many more endeavors, skills to be trained, and interests pool that keeps on growing.

The reason why a lot of specialists tend to look down on generalists is that it seems like a lack of focus, but rather it is the managing of time that is the issue. If one can master their schedule, then the amount of interests is no consequence.

The Century of the Generalist

We have been pushed down for too long, and considering it was the generalists before (even during) the last hundred years; That got us to where we are now. We need to stand together in this wake of an internet renaissance.

With the dot com boom sort of kicking off this new time period, then perhaps now we can show the world what we are made of.

This is my motivating factor in creating a global tribe of polymaths.

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