The main focus of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations lies in the concept of economic growth. Growth, according to Smith, is rooted in the increasing division of labor. This idea relates primarily to the specialization of the labor force, essentially the breaking down of large jobs into many tiny components. Under this regime each worker becomes an expert in one isolated area of production, thus increasing his efficiency. The fact that laborers do not have to switch tasks during the day further saves time and money. Of course, this is exactly what allowed Victorian factories to grow throughout the nineteenth century. Assembly line technology made it necessary for a worker to focus his or her attention on one small part of the production process.
During my economics classes in school, I remember that one of the disadvantages of such a labor specialization is the inability to look at or gain expertise in anything else. Being a jack of all trades may not be the best thing to happen, but being unemployable does no good either. This article focuses on how the concept is prevalent in today’s corporate world.
When a project is in an initial stage with just a few members, it becomes imperative for each to know the integration points of the other. That’s because there are unknown regions that everyone has to explore, and drive the project to its completion. The organization may face such a situation when it is starting up, it has labor shortages or just that it wants to save cost. In such a scenario, an individual is expected to take up multiple roles. The downside is that this model is not scaleable. With the increase of complexity and size, it becomes important to develop expertise by restricting individuals into their own regions of expertise. And the organization as a whole benefits since they can produce outputs more efficiently and by using lesser overall resources.
For the individual, things might get different. If she takes up multiple roles, the experience widens, and so does her value in the market. It is definitely much more difficult jugging multiple tasks at the same time; but the scope of learning is immense. On the other hand, in a large setup, the individual is lost, has limited expertise; and she might even find herself being unemployable in the market (since the limited experience is not valued enough). Diversifying one’s experience always makes sense for those who want to grow.
One needs to have an insight of the larger picture and the future prospects. Decisions are dependent on the individual’s priorities. If one wants to be valuable, it makes sense to get others do the repetitive tasks, while she learns something new..Call it politics?
I have learnt it the hard way.
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