Process vs Strategy: Why Generalists Will Rule The World

In the video below, author David Epstein explains why being a specialist is generally (see what we did there 😉) a bad idea.  Conventional wisdom is that specializing in a subcategory offers the best path to both personal and financial success.  For example:

  • an engineer focusing only on bridge construction
  • an mathematician becoming a financial quant
  • a computer coder becoming an expert on one language

In todays world, specialties are expensive and repetitive making them ideal candidates for automation:

  • Artificial Intelligence can now do a much better job of detecting breast cancer than specialized doctors
  • Traffic police are replaced with photo-radar and red-light cameras
  • Computer Firewall security experts are replaced with deep learning systems that detect and connect patterns far better than a human can
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People that specialize usually rely on processes: connect nut #1 to bolt #2 and turn left.  Specialists often perform tasks.

In contrast, generalists work on strategy that can be applied to many different scenarios.  An IT Generalist can figure out how to install a kitchen faucet using the same strategies they use to configure a DNS Server:

  1. perform some basic research
  2. watch some YouTube video demonstrations
  3. layout all of the parts and make sure everything is in place
  4. start the work

Watch this interesting short 3 minute interview with author David Epstein on the topic:

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