Since the Industrial Revolution there’s been this push toward specialism – and I say this has been to the detriment of humanity in general. I’m not saying specialists are wrong. I’m saying specialism isn’t suited to everyone, and there will be fewer people suited to specialism as the next generation comes of age.

What’s more – I believe every business that survives this 3-D Printer Revolution will survive specifically because they are almost entirely staffed by generalists, if it has staff at all.

Perhaps you may have guessed by now – but I am a generalist, and I’m the kind of person that just isn’t suited to specialism. While most people might call themselves either left-brained or right-brained and therefore have a natural tendency toward one type of task, I’m the weirdo that is both.

1 in 68

As-such, I’m ill-suited to most employed positions these days – I simply cannot get enough variety in today’s specialist jobs to remain productive. It’s not so much a matter of happiness in my job as it is an ingrained need to work all of my ‘muscles’ equally.

While I can’t say this is a growing trend now, I can say this will be a growing trend given my involvement with today’s children. The Digital Age has birthed a new kind of human – one that isn’t satisfied with either art or method, but one that must have both in order to fully blossom.

How can I know this? I’m a member.

A few weeks ago the CDC announced new figures for today’s fastest-growing trend; autism. Now, 1 in 68 children in the US is on this spectrum, and I’m one of them. As that article states, just 2 years ago that figure was 1 in 88. At that rate, we can expect to see 1 in 2 within the century.

The cause of such rapid growth is debatable, but the end result is the same: the future job must suit the generalist tendency of this quickly growing group. I don’t consider autistics disabled. Simply differently-equipped, and perhaps even evolved humans. Surely, if autistics were poorly suited to survival, nature would’ve done something by now to minimize that DNA abnormality rather than expand it to new gene pools, yes?

The Next Economy

Beyond our changing human resources, we also have to consider our changing industry. 3-D printers are poised to change everything about the way we do business. Just with what can be done with 3-D printers today, you can rest assured that things like organ growth/donation, homes and buildings, textiles, and all forms of personal products will be manufactured by the end user on their desktop within our lifetimes.

Add to that the advent of personalized power, advanced efficiency technologies, and vertical aquaponics, and you have a perfect recipe for unemployment disaster if you’re in 90% of today’s industries. Truly, the only people who might benefit – for a while – are the owners of organizations who automate first and aren’t set to be immediately replaced by these technologies.

But we will have to do something about the way people “earn a living” if we intend on having any longevity.

Generalism only offers a partial answer. The rest will have to come from the removal of an outdated system; the exchange of irreplaceable, priceless time for pieces of paper with fancy pictures as a medium of being current – but that’s another story for another day. We aren’t likely to see a change in the way we remain current in exchanges (ie “currency”) until the things we exchange dramatically change the way we think about being current.

In other words – until market forces force itself into extinction, most people won’t recognize how inefficient and downright harmful it is to use a physical medium of exchange, rather than demanding ethical equity – current information – as “payment.”

Those technologies will force this change, whether you like it or not – and your survivability depends on understanding how that change will manifest in its first stages. So, if you are a specialist today, expect that the future job description will demand:

The Renaissance Skill Set

My father was an entrepreneur. My mother was an entrepreneur. My father’s father was an entrepreneur. My mother’s family was Hawaiian royalty. Both sides of my family come from noted leaders you definitely read about in history class. I bring this up because I was raised to be an entrepreneur – I know business, and I’ve run a few in my time.

In that time, I have found that service industries, most especially, are far more efficient when the departmental lines are blurred. The most efficient business is the one with the fewest hand-offs, meaning the person who receives a demand or bit of information can handle it from beginning to end.

In other words, when a customer calls to ask about the status of their account, anyone who works in the organization can pick up the phone and answer their questions. If that same person then wants to place a new order or request a change, that same representative can handle that request too. No “let me get your account rep on the line” and no “let me transfer you to sales” – it is simply done.

You see this organization mostly in small creative firms these days, but this is also becoming more common among larger organizations. As more becomes outsourced and automated, this will only increase – leaving fewer people to wear more hats.

Eventually this trend will reach a critical mass and leave enough people unemployed to force those market changes I spoke about before, but until then the concept of “earning a living” will painfully morph into inhospitable conditions for the specialist.

Unless you’re an expert creative specialist that does something no machine can do, but even that will require some entrepreneurial creativity to remain survivable while the new economy blooms.

An Economy of Play

We might think of literary or art majors and those going into “women’s studies” as frivolous degrees these days, but in the marketplace of the future these will be the only positions we need people to fill. Even doctors will be replaced by machines. The only professions left at that point will be those we consider child’s play now.

So many people are caught up on the notion that if we don’t pay people to work, people won’t work. Well of course people won’t labor, but I don’t consider labor to be work. I consider labor the pointless things humans do that machines could have been doing since the first century BC when the steam engine was invented (and suppressed), or that could’ve been solved better already (like building partially-buried homes with sod rooftops so there is no need for heating, cooling, or roof repairs).

To the contrary, I define work as the tasks that accomplish something. Like improving our education, health, biosphere, relations, and living conditions. There’s plenty of work to be done, but it’s not being done because all the work that needs doing – tending to our seniors and biosphere, for instance – is tied to profit. That means we can’t solve problems if we intend on making a profit. We have to perpetuate problems for as long as possible so we get return customers.

An economy of play will be much more focused on solving problems so we don’t have to spend any time on things like repairing rooftops, manufacturing, and other things readily handled far better by modern technology that we just don’t use right now because it isn’t profitable.

People will work if we don’t pay them. And they’ll do things that are far more valuable than what we do today because they’re no longer competing against their fellow humans for survival itself, as a profit model imposes. When you remove the demands to be selfish, people are not selfish.

Ask any child what they want to be when they grow up and why, and the vast majority will say something like “doctor, because I want to help people.” Even if they do say they want to have lots of money, dig a little deeper and you will find a humanistic motivation without fail.

Just look at all the kids inventing marvelous new technologies and offering them to the world without a demand for financial compensation. Tesla wanted to power the world for free, and you saw what Bell turned his technologies into – a monopolistic enterprise. People will invent and give to the world simply because that is what they consider play – you might think of it as work, and that’s where the miscommunication happens.

“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play.” – Arthur C. Clarke

The future’s work will be play. And that means the future worker must be a creative as well as a thinker. A creative because no machine can be creative, and a thinker to make the machines do what machines do better than humans.

One thought on “Specialist vs Generalist: The Future of Business

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