Sunday, May 8, 2011

Specialisation is for insects ....

The comments on my last post got me thinking about the phrase "specialisation is for insects" and whether on not this was true.

Bob (in comments) is correct when he stated that you really don't want brain surgery done by the local GP.

I think there is a place for specialisation. In many ways, this is what a career is all about. Becoming skilled in something so that you're employable. But even within these confines there's advantages to having a wide range of skills rather than just one. I see no reason why a brain surgeon shouldn't be able to bake a loaf of bread.

One of the benefits of having a wide range of skills is that pretty much no matter the economic circumstances there's a job that you can turn your hand to. You might need refresher course (or a bit of reading) to get up to speed with the latest developments in the area, but having a basic understanding of something is a good place to start from.

Or, if you are unemployed, you can do a lot of things that need doing without shelling out cash for an "expert" in the field.

Looking back over my working life the people I have most enjoyed working with and those I have the most respect for were those who were not only good at their jobs but who also had a wide range of knowledge, interest and skills of related and unrelated fields. I found these people stimulating and challenging to be around. The time spent on learning and acquiring skills did not detract from them mastering their primary specialities either.

I have also worked with people who are brilliant in their field, but have no idea of anything else. I find these people, on the whole, frustrating to work with and for. Mainly because they have such a narrow view of things they don't even understand how something "upstream" will affect their project. It's like (to pinch an analogy from Cajun) they turn on a light switch expecting the light to go on, with no understanding of the multiple stages the electricity needs to pass through to get there.

I guess most of you who work in the computer field have heard the "pack it up and take it back to the shop and tell them you're too stupid to own a computer" joke, well unfortunately, in my experience, this isn't that much of a joke.

I'm not sure the education system is to blame, or whether people have just lost the ability to be curious but it really seems that on the whole people don't look around and ask questions.

One of the things I love about spending time with my girls is the number of questions they ask. (It can also be frustrating too :) ). It seems as if they want to know the "why and how" of everything. I hope they never lose this desire to understand the world around them. This also serves to remind me of how little I know and how I should be looking at the world and asking the same questions.

I've often asked myself what "life skills" I need to pass onto the girls. And so far, the skills that we have decided are important for them are:

* Reading
* Clear and articulate pronunciation
* Neat writing
* Ability to read music and play an instrument
* Ability to swim
* Development of a range of physical skills
* Ability to read a map and use a compass
* Ability to shoot a firearm
* Ability to cook basic meals
* Ability to do basic maths in their heads
* Basic computer skills
* Basic housework skills
* Care for an animal
* Behave in a restaurant
* Speak in public
* Speak a foreign language
* Write a letter

All of these the girls have or are actively developing.

In addition there's a few more I would like them to be able to do in the future
* Touch type
* Kill, skin and prepare a rabbit
* Drive
* Navigate by stars
* Build a fire
* Basic knowledge of first aid

I think all those skills are important regardless of what career they choose. (There's probably more, but these are all that I can think of at the moment).

What about you. What skills do you want to pass onto your children (or think children of this generation and the next need to have)?


Scott McCray said...

You've hit most of the ones I'd have on my list. I'd add:
*Grow vegetables from seed
*Harvest and save seed from mature vegetables
*Brew beer, make wine - a talent that will make you many friends! ;^)
*Basic woodworking/construction - saw, hammer, nails, screws

I work in computer/telecommunications networking, so I completely relate to "pack it up"!

Sevesteen said...

Basic troubleshooting, in a general sense. This is a skill separate from knowing a particular field.

Basic home maintenance--use hand tools, change a switch, replace a cord, patch a hole, hang shelves, replace a faucet, etc.

Basic auto maintenance--change a tire, plugs, oil, and understand 2/3 of a Haynes, Chilton's, or equivalent repair manual. How to describe a problem to a mechanic.

Old NFO said...

Generalization is NOT a bad thing! A specialty plus a back up or two 'should' see one through life...

Skul said...

" Navigate by stars"
But, Julie, you have funny stars down where you live. :p


DaddyBear said...

One thing that we're teaching our kids that doesn't seem to be common anymore is how to act properly in public. Good manners, backed up by skills, can take you far.

In addition to the gardening, a little time on a farm or ranch can do wonders both for work ethic and skills.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

I would suggest learning shorthand as at least an optional skill - it will be greatly beneficial when they get into college. I think most college graduates' handwriting degrades from furiously scribbling notes it class, where quality suffers in favour of keeping up with the instructor (and I have watched med students handwriting degrade horribly during their first year for exactly this reason).

Basic sewing skills. Being able to hem a pair of pants or replace a lost button can save a surprising amount of money.

Basic research skills (looking-up, not scientific), to go with Sevesteen's suggestion of basic troubleshooting - knowing how to find the basics of an unknown process will make troubleshooting much easier.

For that matter, understanding the basic principles of scientific is a good thing to know, too. It will help them pick out the pseudo-science so many people use to gain support for false positions.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

Ugh. That last should read "For that matter, understanding the basic principles of scientific research is a good thing to know, too."

Prufreeding iz gud.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a random internet stranger (so take everything I say with a pinch of salt) I'd say the best things you could teach your kids is basic research (notekeeping, reading, structure knowledge into models, draw connections, understand information, and good ole fashioned rote memory learning. Critical and lateral thinking. Etc.), the art of self-discipline(controlling their time. Tons of students have problem with this, me included) being comfortable and responsible while working in groups, and most importantly being nice, good people. Though I think the last one is something you have to grow into. Anyway, just my two cents.