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When generalists are better than specialists, and vice versa

Journal

HBR.org

Subject

Strategy and Entrepreneurship

Publishing details

Authors / Editors

Teodoridis F;Bikard M;Vakili K

Biographies

Publication Year

2018

Abstract

What’s the best way to boost creativity on your team? One view is that the key to creative breakthroughs is being able to combine or leverage different areas of expertise. This suggests you should encourage employees to explore new fields or hire more generalists — they can connect dots where others don’t see a link. Another view is that there are costs to generalizing and that you’re better off hiring specialists — employees who have very deep expertise in an important area — or encouraging your employees to become specialists in whatever they do. There’s considerable evidence supporting both sides, so researchers set out to study whether generalists and specialists shine in different circumstances. They theorized that the benefits of being a generalist are strongest in fields with a slower pace of change, as they can find inspiration from other areas, and that the benefits of being a specialist are strongest in fields with a faster pace of change, as they can more easily make sense of new technical developments and opportunities. A study of theoretical mathematicians before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union supported their theory.

Available on ECCH

No


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