Specialists and generalists: Equilibrium skill acquisition decisions in problem-solving populations
AbstractMany organizations rely on the skills of innovative individuals to create value, including academic and government institutions, think tanks, and knowledge-based firms. Roughly speaking, workers in these fields can be divided into two categories: specialists, who have a deep knowledge of a single area, and generalists, who have knowledge in a wide variety of areas. In this paper, I examine an individual's choice to be a specialist or generalist. My model addresses two questions: first, under what conditions does it make sense for an individual to acquire skills in multiple areas, and second, are the decisions made by individuals optimal from an organizational perspective? I find that when problems are single-dimensional, and disciplinary boundaries are open, all workers will specialize. However, when there are barriers to working on problems in other fields, then there is a tradeoff between the depth of the specialist and the wider scope of problems the generalist has available. When problems are simple, having a wide variety of problems makes it is rational to be a generalist. As these problems become more difficult, though, depth wins out over scope, and workers again tend to specialize. However, that decision is not necessarily socially optimal – on a societal level, we would prefer that some workers remain generalists.
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Bibliographic InfoArticle provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.
Volume (Year): 84 (2012)
Issue (Month): 1 ()
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Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/jebo
Skill acquisition; Specialization; Jack-of-all-trades; Problem solving; Knowledge based production; Human capital;
Other versions of this item:
- Katharine Anderson, . "Specialists and Generalists: Equilibrium Skill Acquisition Decisions in Problem-solving Populations," GSIA Working Papers 2011-E33, Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business.
- J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
- O31 - Economic Development, Technological Change, and Growth - - Technological Change; Research and Development; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
- D00 - Microeconomics - - General - - - General
- M53 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting - - Personnel Economics - - - Training
- I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
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