Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Specialization's Gaps

One of the jarring things in life is when you see a person who possesses expertise in one area venture into unfamiliar territory. It is not unusual to find that the expert suddenly has less knowledge and common sense than the average citizen.

For years I have been amused by the assumption that attorneys automatically possess deep insight into politics, much less economics. One can go through law school and acquire precious little knowledge of either subject. Fortunately for many budding lawyer/politicians, the ability to sound knowledgeable has often been absorbed.

It is relatively easy to sense danger when an artist starts talking about business or a doctor about car repairs, but the greater test comes when an executive is very knowledgeable about three quarters of his job and yet pig ignorant about the fourth. The savvy exec learns of the weakness and devises a way to work around it. The less savvy executive may overlook the gap entirely, either out of ignorance or arrogance.

Genuine generalists are very rare. When you look beneath their credentials, you frequently find a specialist in generalist clothing. That is not bad if they know enough to get by. It can be very bad if they know just enough to be dangerous.


Dan Richwine said...

Medieval scholars quite rightly thought that of the 7 deadly sins, pride was the deadliest. Pride is what causes you to ignore your other sins, under the assumption that your perfection can't possibly be tainted in any way. Pride causes little errors to go unresolved until they overwhelm you. And of course everyone knows what it goeth before.

As an aside, I find myself more and more facinated by the learning of the so called medieval period. Their insights into human nature far surpass the phycho-babble so popular today. I find the more I read and study them, the better and better I comprehend who people really are, and what truly motivates them.

Michael Wade said...


That's interesting. I've also been taken by that period and surprised by my own earlier tendency to overlook it. It is fascinating.