Specialization? Diversification? Do you mean Improvisation?

Woman Exercising with Punching BagSome people call for specialization. Our companies, our businesses, aren’t specialized, aren’t differentiated, enough, they say. Yet others call for greater diversification. We need to expand our repertoire in order to traverse the bumpy terrain of the business world effectively. Which is right, you might ask, and of course it is both. Businesses do not make decisions. People make decisions. Businesses do not have preferences, people do. Of course, the business sphere is subjected to forces beyond its own control and for which human preferences have no relevance. Geopolitical and cultural forces inexorably carry us, the people, living and working in the business sphere, to where we may or may not want to go. It is not about specialization or about diversification. It is about how each of us is designed and how we gravitate towards what we prefer as a result. Some of us excel within a very narrow job scope. It does not mean that we can’t do other stuff as and when the need arises, but we’re quite happy doing what we do at the moment. I know of a Personal Assistant who remained at the same position, and almost at the same pay, for more than ten years! She resisted all attempts at promotion because that would have meant doing something different and she simply had no desire to do anything else. She was a highly effective Personal Assistant, to be sure, and she was quite happy serving the many Bosses throughout her vital and largely unnoticed career. I have been like that myself, at some point. I had been a Rifle Company Trainer for some years when I received news that I was to be posted up to Headquarters. As soon as it was possible, I took a day off from the course I happened to be attending at the time and asked my Commander if I could remain in the Training Centre rather than be posted to Headquarters. I suppose I wasn’t as truculent, or as persuasive, as the Personal Assistant I referred to earlier, for my request was, of course, “duly noted”, meaning I got posted to Headquarters anyway. Of course, it wasn’t what I wanted, but I dare say I did pretty well in the Operations job I got assigned to after the course!

Martial artsHow are you characterized? How is your business characterized? If you asked your friends and your customers or clients to describe your business in one word or short phrase, what would they say? Would what they say be in sync with what you desire to do? Would you be happy doing more or less the same thing day in, day out, year after year, or would you become bored because you have the attention span of a gnat? Or perhaps you have different preferences at different seasons of life. Flow accordingly! Do not be fooled by all the arguments for or against specialization or diversification. It is both, and perhaps both at the same time or at different times and seasons. Instead of arguing for or against specialization or diversification, I think we ought to focus on Improvisation. Improvisation and the whole philosophy of kaizen ought to go hand-in-hand. Kaizen focuses more on making things better internally while improvisation seeks to blaze new trails with whatever is at hand. Necessity, in many cases, is the mother of invention. Kaizen ought to happen all the time. Improvisation is an attitude saying “Let’s spring out of the gate the moment it opens!” Improvisation, however, depends to a large extent on the discipline of kaizen. If we are not in a constant state of preparation, we would not be ready to improvise when the opportunity presents itself! We slice, dice and julienne too much for our own good. When Louis Pasteur said “Fortune favours the prepared mind”, I don’t think he had ever heard of kaizen, but I am pretty sure he meant both kaizen and the attitude of improvisation.

General-Sun-TzuCease being a victim! Stop all this argument about specialization or diversification! Improvisation is the way to go. “Get there fustest with the mostest” and “Do what you can, with what you have, now” have much in common with Sun Tzu’s Ch’i (奇), or “unorthodox”, and Ch’eng (正), or “orthodox”, forces. It is not one or the other. It is the endless possibilities revealed by the endless combinations of the two. After all, isn’t even “The Internet of Things” dependent on just the two numerals of 1 and 0?

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