I have noticed recently that everything has become very specialized, and everyone is now a specialist. No one seems to be a generalist anymore with broad knowledge and breadth of capabilities. I miss generalists.
Recently my general practitioner doctor retired. As we age, our long-term service providers also grow old and retire. I now have an internist doctor who will probably retire in a couple years too. But when I had a new facial blemish emerge, I went to a specialist dermatologist to check for skin cancer. It was Basel Cell cancer, so my dermatologist referred me to a surgeon who specializes in skin cancer removal. He removed the cancer and then referred me to another surgeon to sew up the hole in my head the first surgeon made.
I think there must be a surgeon who specializes in making sure my brain matter does not fall out, which is important since I seem to be losing brain matter regularly. The second surgeon sewed me up and then referred me to another doctor for follow up.
Recently my ear doctor retired. He remarried a woman who was younger and wanted to travel and have fun before my ear doc became senile. I can’t blame them. Sometimes I think I am becoming senile when I cannot remember someone’s name. My now retired ear doc referred me to a group which specializes in otolaryngology (e.g. ears, noses and throats). I went to the new doctor and was treated by a young woman who seemed younger than my children – I assumed she recently received her MD. At least she is not about to retire. She cleaned out my ear and then suggested I see an ear specialist. “Aren’t you an ear specialist?” I asked. “No,” she replied, “I specialize in vocal chords.
When I moved back to California, I needed a dentist and my friend Tom referred me to a local dentist. Tom had had some gum disease and was very complimentary toward this guy. The new dentist examined me and gave me advice; then he referred me to another dentist. “Aren’t you a dentist?” I asked perplexed. “Yes,” he replied. “But I am a gum specialist and do not do general dentistry; you also need to see a regular dentist.” At least the regular dentist was nearby. Now I have two dentists, if I don’t count the dentist I went to who specializes in snoring and sleep apnea.
Next week, I am going to see my lawyer, Rick. I need to update my will. Rick is a lawyer who specializes in wills and trusts; he does not do contracts or anything else. If I need a lawyer for anything else, I will call Gene or Mike or my son, Ross. Ross is a litigator so I don’t use him even though he is free (for me) because no one ever sues me and I haven’t sued anyone else. My neighbor Rick (no relation to my lawyer) just hired a lawyer who specializes in construction defects; I don’t think that guy could help me with my will.
I like watching baseball, and everything in baseball is now specialized, even with my pathetic hometown Padres. Baseball has always been somewhat specialized: third basemen don’t play catcher; shortstops do not pitch, and center fielders generally do not even play right field or left field. If you’re not a specialist in baseball, you are a utility player; I am unsure why more versatile baseball players are named after someone who fixes telephone and electrical lines.
If a player is a pitcher, he is likely a specialist within specialists. Now pitchers are starters, closers, set up men, long relievers, short relievers, left-handed specialists, right-handed specialists, etc. Pitchers must be more esteemed than non-pitchers because a more versatile pitcher would never be called a utility pitcher.
Specialization has even come to the field of gardening and lawn maintenance. Juan, my yard guy, is very good and keeping the yard looking good, but he does not catch critters. So, I hired Aaron, whose specialty is catching gophers, which really like my front yard. I think the first gopher so enjoyed my yard, he invited his friends and relatives. The volume of trapped gophers in my yard went up significantly after I put Aaron on a “pay for performance” compensation plan now popular with corporations. Instead of a monthly charge, I paid Aaron a bounty for each gopher he trapped. My neighbors think Aaron brings the gophers with him, recaptures them, and then rotates the critters to another setting. It doesn’t matter now, because Aaron got a full-time job and no longer battles my gophers.
The other day a gopher poked his head out of the latest dirt pile and looked at me. I was angry at the intruder’s obvious affront and sense of entitlement. I quickly called a commercial extermination service I had used to kill termites that were eating my house last year. This is a fairly big company. The answering machine offered a menu, “for termites. Press 1, for insects, press 2” etc. They didn’t offer a “gopher” choice, but I was able to navigate to the correct place. They took my order and said their gopher specialist, Alex, would be out in a couple of days. I asked if Alex did rabbits because they have established residence too. They seem particularly fond of my rose bushes and tomato plants, “No,” he replied, “Alex is a gopher specialist and you will need to talk to a rabbit specialist.”
I am glad I grew up when there weren’t so many specialists; when I was sick, I went to a doctor; when I had a toothache, I went to a dentist; if the grass was too tall, I cut it with a lawnmower; and if pests attacked, I applied poison that is probably now banned but effectively took care of the problem. Life used to be so much simpler – not better but easier to navigate – and with more generalists and fewer specialists.
Scott MacDonald has been CEO, President, or Managing Director of several companies. His book, Saving Investa; How an ex-factory worker helped save one of Australia’s iconic companies, has won numerous awards.