The Rise of the Specialist (The negative aspect)

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Below is an excerpt of a book I’m reading now for Sir Ken Robinson, called “Out of our minds”. Mind you, the book was written almost a decade ago. The problem was spotted since then, and yet many still fall into it! One day the idea of a specialist will ridiculed,, one day they’ll realize.

The Rise of the Specialist

We are witnessing an exponential growth in knowledge and information on a scale that for earlier generations would have been unimaginable. The store of human knowledge is now doubling every ten years and the rate of expansion is accelerating. One result is increasingly intensive specialisation in all disciplines: a tendency to know more and more about less and less. The output of modern science is so far, for example, that any individual can properly understand only small sections of it.

Individual mathematicians, for example, can usually deal competently with only a small part of mathematics. It is a rare mathematician who fully understands more than half of a dozen out of 50 papers presented to a mathematical congress. According to Michael Polanyi, the very language in which the others who are presented goes clear over the head of the person who follows the six reports nearest to their own specialty. It seems to me that the situation may be similar for all major scientific provinces, so that any single scientist may be competent to judge at first-hand only about a hundredth of the total current of science.

As knowledge expands, greater specialisation is inevitable. The risk is that we lose sight of the larger picture of how ideas connect and can inform each other. In these circumstances we need more than access to information and ideas: we need ways of engaging with them, of making connections, of seeing principles and of relating them to our own experiences and identities. This too has important implications for the culture of organizations.

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