People and companies tend to hyper-specialize – getting to know more and more about less and less. While this Cartesian-based view of the world may have had it’s benefits in the past, it is full of dangers as we move forward.
First off, hyper-specialization may very well stand in the way of breakthrough innovation. Indeed, most breakthrough innovations happen not at one level of specialization – but they increasingly happen at the confluence of multiple disciplines. People who have the capacity to scan across multiple businesses or vast amounts of information, and who can translate innovations from one field to the next are as likely, if not more, to come up with breakthrough innovations as the specialists.
Which brings up another important negative side effect of hyper-specialization. Hyper specialists know very much about very little – which means that they do not understand what happens in adjacent spaces. What should be valuable information coming from other sources within the company or markets now looks like data – with no meaning, nor the ability to influence the hyper-specialists’ work. Worse, in hyper-specialized environments, you could conceive that the hyper-specialists will not understand the impact of their actions on the broader picture – which can have especially dire consequences when it comes down to environmental impact of innovation.
Even at a more fundamental level, hyper-specialization can have severe drawbacks for companies. For example, saying that you can never bring an inside sales rep outside because he or she needs a totally different skill set to succeed outside may lead to overall company moral issues that far outweigh the benefits of honing someone’s skill sets in one area of expertise only.