In Current Times Can You Afford To be A Specialist? A let’s Build Special

In the past, things were put together by teams of specialists for the most part.  This was especially true when big companies ruled the roost.  you enter your career doing something and that’s what you would do until you retired unless you were promoted.  That’s what my grandpa Clyde did at Eastman Kodak from the 1930’s to 1964 when he retired.  He always worked in the emulsions department, ending up actually heading the department, until he retired. There were other engineers or scientists who handled other tasks and there was only a limited degree of crossover.

This worked very well until recently.  Nowadays the crossover is normal and the mechanical types better be able to understand the electronics, programming, and industrial design as well as the gears and pulleys.  To say nothing about being able to get quotes from vendors and write purchase orders for your parts.  The barriers for the different jobs and tasks is much lower.  These days it isn’t enough to be a mechanical or electrical engineer, an industrial designer or a programmer, you may have to wear all those hats.  You should be able to understand the full scope of the technology, not just your little piece of it.  You need to be a technology designer, not just a mechanical, electrical, industrial or software designer.

That may seem to be overwhelming and it is.  The fact is that technologies have been intertwining themselves for some time now.  It’s more than likely that your machine will have some electronics in it and some sort of processor that requires programming.  You also have to understand what the final shape will look like and give the industrial design types at least a start.  It works so much better when the other member of your team also know their way around.   A team of generalists will be more flexible and be able to get more done because they can work through the slack.  It you are in the process of coming up with a new technology or product this can be vital.

It’s more than likely that the days of being able just have a bunch of specialists doing the same old same old is going to be over for a long time. Most of the low hanging fruit is gone from even the most high tech products.  When was the last time that a PC was anything other than a commodity item for anybody but a very limited group of users.  The $500 jackable smart phone isn’t that far away, if prices don’t collapse.  There are already people making $10 phones in China and they won’t stay in China forever.

If you look at the way the Chinese do things, the putting engineering into nice little boxes doesn’t seem to exist.  Technology types seem to run the gamut of electronic to heavy machinery wit nary a care.  I suspect that some of this is because the Chinese never had the deep gaps that separated the disciplines back in the early 20th Century.  Or it has something to the way Chinese small businesses operate.  As is common in Asia, businesses on in China operate as more or less family coopertives with various parts of the cooperative doing their part and various family members  do whatever needs to be done.

Which is why the Chinese have taken to the maker way of doing things so well.  That’s a good thing.  We should do that.  Unfortunately, US companies are still stuck in the 1970’s.  At least management is.   That’s in spite of all the complaining about how American companies are losing the innovation race.  It’s as if they can complain, but, push come to shove, they can’t change.

We though don’t need to fit into a box.  This is the day when knowledge on how to do just about everything is out there to grab, for free for the most part.  You don’t need to go to an expensive building to get an education about anything you need to build just about anything.   So just doing one thing and specializing isn’t going to be a valid option if you are competing with generalists with powerful tools.

Then there’s the fact that technologies have merged.  Just about everything has mechanics, electronics, exotic materials, weird manufacturing and fancy design in one package.  Even if you don’t do every job yourself you have to know how that other stuff works.

Then there’s the fact that we creative are going to have get into the habit of thinking in a more entrepreneurial fashion.  We can’t think of ourselves as mechanical, electrical or manufacturing engineers.  We have to think ourselves as makers, people who know how to make things.  We have to be able to know how to use the most exotic technologies and techniques to make breakthrough products and bring them to market faster.

The corporate world is proving that they don’t care about your creative and innovative ideas. Even the best of them treat their engineers and technology people like crap, willfully underpaying them for the value they create.  We creative have to accept a new ethos and leave the Csuite socialists, cubicle zombies and Godzilla bosses behind.  Why should we carry them when they don’t care about us.  We don’t need them anymore to bring our stuff to market and why should we let them call all the shots?

The Let’s Build Series.

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