Thinking, Specialization

Specialization: At What Cost?

During my lifetime, society has moved from being specialized to being super-specialized. With great advances made in a variety of fields this appears to be a logical progression. After all, for an individual to become accomplished at something he has to focus on it. He has to specialize.

At what cost do we specialize, however? There is a saying that has it, “An expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.” Is this really so far from the truth? Isn’t the peril of overspecialization that we end up losing a sense of context because we cannot see the forest for the trees?

I am not against specialized knowledge. It is necessary. And in the information overload world in which we live, it is important. However, there are two things that serve as the foundation from which specialized knowledge is best utilized. They are the ability to think critically and general knowledge.

If we are able to think critically, meaning we are able to subject information, situations and circumstances to the scrutiny of reason, we can apply our knowledge base in competent fashion. If we are not used to thinking critically, any knowledge we have is likely to go to waste.

Besides the ability to think critically, we need to possess broad, general knowledge. To have a firm grasp on the human condition we need to be schooled in seemingly disconnected subject areas. Then and only then can we contextualize the myriad of challenges we face going through life.

Specialized knowledge, which is critical, is only useful if we are in possession of general knowledge, as well as the ability to think critically. If we end up specializing to the point of knowing virtually nothing beyond what we are focused on, we bear a cost too dear.

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*Authors note: You might see this column pop up online in a newspaper, under the name Both Sides. I am publishing this column here first at CYInterview.com. For a bunch of years, I have been writing newspaper columns. Since my columns have received a good response on CYInterview, I thought I would share it with you. Hope you enjoy.

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