Jamie Hyneman posted this famous quote from Robert Heinlein today:
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
His comment was that he would have said this if Heinlein hadn’t. What needs to be said is that seemingly in the corporate world, generalists are not welcome. If you were to go by the job ads they put out, they want people for jobs so specific and constraining that you have to ask what were they thinking when they wrote the requirements. It’s as if they want ants for their colonies. the company is running on a constrained network. That may work for a while, as long as nothing upsets the status quo. Realistically, though, that’s at best a short term outlook. It’s too rigid for the ravages of the real world. There’s no flexibility in decision making.
Companies today seem to want to put people in roles that they should never leave. This is a strangely like something out of a Socialist state, not a corporation that’s supposed be focused on making money. Of course you have the Taylorism problem writ large, with every move measured to create “efficiency.” What happens in the end is an inhumane hellhole of a workplace filled with worker ants and an environment that is static and incapable of change.
Yet how many ads have we all seen where Corporation X is showing how dynamic they are, or Corporation Y is saying how innovative and creative they. Yet if you look at their job ads, it’s specialists only. If you actually get to talk to somebody it’s pretty clear that it’s ants all the way. What happened to these places?
In my career I’ve done many things that don’t necessarily meet the typical job description of a mechanical engineering designer. I’ve written a large Microsoft Excel macro program with internal databases and front end for instance. I’ve worked at a hardware store between contracts for ten years off and on. I volunteer at the small switch tower museum my chapter of the NRHS runs. I’ve had an Ebay store that I ran for a while. None of which has anything to do with my design or Solidworks skills. All these things do make my life and employment experience deeper and my capabilities far more vast.
Yet there doesn’t seem to be a place in what corporate America has become for Heinlein generalists. It’s all cubicle zombies and worker ants, with an Ivy Covered Ceiling. For a business like soap or soda that may actually work out, though I would guess that the will still be issues and watch out for predators. But for any kind of business that needs to keep innovating, you better be looking for the generalists, the creative out of the box types. Because specialization is for insects.