More experts, fewer generalists

We live in a society with a large number of experts. As we increase the number of experts, we reduce the number of generalists. Consequently, we all the time get fewer people who look at the big picture, and more who focus their attention on the details.

This will not be a problem during “business-as-usual”. Increasing specialization makes sense during periods of economic growth and increasing prosperity. Specialization contributes to both.

When we face problems in the economy, or in society as a whole, we need to take a look at the big picture, evaluate how things fit together, and come up with new ideas for solutions. The expression that a problem can not be solved between the system of ideas that created it has, in another wording, been attributed to Albert Einstein.

With an increasing number of experts, the task of finding new routes forward becomes more difficult and resource consuming.

When I started to work as a management consultant, in 1990, most of my collegues in the international management consulting company SIAR-Bossard were generalists. Today, a large share of the consultants at large management consulting firms are specialists, focusing on a narrow set of management issues. In this context these people need to be part of a large project, involving many different specialists, in order to create a strategy, change management plan or business plan.

This situation also makes the job of informing people about the need to transform energy systems on a large scale more difficult. Most people don’t see what they can do to help, not even in a small way, when the problem is formulated as a relatively general and broad issue. Most people need detailed analyses and explanations of how the problem will affect them, and what they, with their particular competence, can do to help with the solution.

This is something that we need to deal with in the near future. In the new book, which will be released in early December, this problem is discussed and the implications are analyzed. It is all presented in a form that will be easy for the reader to understand and digest.