Specialization Surprise!

I’m a big believer in the power of specialization (thanks in no small part to Russ Roberts and EconTalk.) What I didn’t realize is that specialization has become so endemic to the modern world that you can be far more specialized than you even realize. I spent this past weekend interacting with many people outside of the space/engineering/nerd bubble, giving me a good specialization slap in the face.

Some Space Specialization Surprises:

Many educated people think that “JPL” is technical jargon.

Students working on a satellite team didn’t know what a CubeSat entailed.

Many self-proclaimed nerds have never read Ender’s Game.

I really try to avoid the attitude of  ‘everybody should know that’ you can find so frequently among people with specialized knowledge. Despite those attempts, my attitude had been ‘everybody knows that…right?’ Wrong.

That you can have specialized knowledge without even realizing it is really a testament to how much knowledge there is to be had. However, the ease of accumulating unwittingly specialized knowledge does have one danger. It leads to assumptions about what/how other people think/want/feel without even realizing it.  Not an hour goes by when spaceships haven’t gone whizzing through my mind, something that might happen once a month for someone else. The exact opposite might be true for say … fly fishing.

Not to get all philosophical and wishy-washy, but these differences can be leveraged for great things, if you know what questions to ask. That’s how Henry Ford repurposed the moving assembly line from meat packing to car manufacturing. That’s how punch cards were repurposed from automatic looms to census machines and then computers. All through people with one set of specialized knowledge realizing that there were other knowledge bubbles and giving them a little poke.

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