September 27, 2020

Specialization in life and business

Science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein famously wrote:

“Specialization is for insects. A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.”

I tend to agree with Mr. Heinlein. Maybe not with his specific list of items, but yeah... it’s probably beneficial for a human being to have a wide range of shallow competencies.

But this is life advice, not business advice! Don’t confuse the two. I have seen time and time again that running a business as a jack-of-all-trades generalist is a recipe for income stagnation and eventual failure.

Oh wait... here’s (yet another) example now:

Fellow list member Graham McGregor sent in this fabulous story of a business thriving by virtue of their extreme specialization (shared with permission):

Hi Jonathan

I had a bicycle accident a few weeks ago and badly sprained my wrist. I saw a physiotherapist for two weeks but my wrist was not improving. My physiotherapist recommended I go to a specialist physiotherapist of your fingers. They are called Handworks <>

I had an appointment a few days ago with one of their specialist physiotherapists and the first thing I noticed was how big their team of people is. They also have a number of branches around the city and they are incredibly busy.

The physiotherapist told me my problem was ‘tennis elbow’ which meant my ligaments were severely stretched when I came off my bicycle and landed on my face and wrist. And that I needed to wear a wrist brace and strap for at least a month. My wrist is starting to feel better in a few days and I feel I’m in the right hands (no pun intended) with this business.

The first physiotherapist I saw is a one man band. And he was good and knowledgeable and nice and deals with any type of injury that might need physiotherapy. However the specialist physio firm that only deal with injuries on a tiny part of the body are huge in comparison are doing amazingly well.

I told my specialist physiotherapist that I also had a minor sprain in my right shoulder from my crash. I can’t help you she told me. We only work on problems between the elbow and finger tips. You will need to see your other physiotherapist for that issue.

I like the way this business has got very specialised in what they do and as a result are super successful.

Feel free to share any part of this if you think it will help your readers.

Warm regards

Graham McGregor

Thanks Graham! I hope you’re feeling better :-)

Here’s the thing...

According to Wikipedia, Robert Heinlein’s sole income generating activity for the period from 1947 to his death in 1987 was writing. Not changing diapers or butchering hogs or designing buildings.

More than thirty years after his death, his name is associated with writing. Why? Because he wrote almost non-stop for forty years!

It’s what created his legacy. It’s where his biggest impact came from. It’s how he dented the universe.

Sounds pretty specialized to me.