Specialists and Generalists: Equilibrium Skill Acquisition Decisions in Problem-solving Populations
Many 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.
|Date of creation:|
|Date of revision:|
|Contact details of provider:|| Postal: |
Web page: http://www.tepper.cmu.edu/
|Order Information:||Web: http://student-3k.tepper.cmu.edu/gsiadoc/GSIA_WP.asp|
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- David N. Laband & Robert D. Tollison, 2000. "Intellectual Collaboration," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(3), pages 632-661, June.
- Sanjeev Goyal & Marco J. van der Leij & Jos� Luis Moraga-Gonzalez, 2006.
"Economics: An Emerging Small World,"
Journal of Political Economy,
University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(2), pages 403-432, April.
- Sanjeev Goyal & Marco van der Leij & José Luis Moraga-Gonzàlez, 2004. "Economics: An Emerging Small World?," Working Papers 2004.84, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
- Sanjeev Goyal & Marco van der Leij & José Luis Moraga Gonzales, 2004. "Economics: An Emerging Small World?," CESifo Working Paper Series 1287, CESifo Group Munich.
- Sanjeev Goyal & Marco van der Leij & Jose Luis Moraga, 2004. "Economics: An Emerging Small World?," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 04-001/1, Tinbergen Institute.
- Edward P. Lazear, 2004. "Balanced Skills and Entrepreneurship," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 208-211, May.
- Francisco José Acedo & Carmen Barroso & Cristóbal Casanueva & José Luis Galán, 2006. "Co-Authorship in Management and Organizational Studies: An Empirical and Network Analysis," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 43(5), pages 957-983, 07.
- Åstebro, Thomas & Thompson, Peter, 2011. "Entrepreneurs, Jacks of all trades or Hobos?," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 40(5), pages 637-649, June.
- Kremer, Michael, 1993. "The O-Ring Theory of Economic Development," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 108(3), pages 551-75, August.
When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cmu:gsiawp:-400588031. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Steve Spear)
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.