Sunday, October 09, 2016

Division of labor

This morning there is an article in the Wall Street Journal  about the science of standing in line. I read it, thinking that it was going to give me some useful answers to that question. Instead, it provided the most basic, thumbnail-level introduction to the thinking behind, history or, and multiple applications of queuing theory, a discipline I had never heard of, presumably a subset of operations research. Really interesting stuff.

After reading the article, it occurred to me that it is much better to have been exposed to a new discipline than to have been provided with answers to a specific problem, because it opens my brain to a new way of thinking about something and gives me a greater appreciation for the overall concept of division of labor, and the value of a well-articulated division of labor across global society as a whole.

Which is to say, to the extent that we can surmount problems of time, distance and -- in non-physical or intellectual disciplines -- siloing, which is the notional equivalent of time and space, we benefit from the presence of extreme specialization.

The trick is to facilitate idea flow across disciplines, to have enough of and the right types generalists and cross-fertilizers -- to bring the ideas of specialists to bear on new problems.  This is one of the quintessential problems of management per se, to facilitate idea flow and achieve a proper balance of generalists and specialists.

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