#entarch Following a series of blogposts from @tetradian under the general heading "No Jobs for Generalists", @ruthmalan chips in to ask whether the labels "generalist" and "specialist" represent useful stereotypes, or whether they merely reflect another one of those "petty antagonisms".
Tom Graves, No Jobs for Generalists (August 2012)
Ruth Malan, A Trace in the Sand (August 2012)
In places, Tom's description does imply a dichotomy between generalist and specialist, which could well lead to antagonism between job roles (where "antagonism" probably means mutual
incomprehension and discomfort and maybe schismogenesis rather than
outright hostility). Elsewhere he talks about "specialist-generalists", but I think it may be more correct to think of the relationship between generalist and specialist as a dialectic one.
How exactly does the specialist/generalist dialectic work? I found an interesting framework by Gillian Stamp, in a book by Elliott Jaques and others. Levels of Abstraction in Logic and Human Action (1978).
Mode One: Proceduralists or Pragmatic Specialists (competent, persistent, attention to detail)
Mode Two: Practitioners or Pragmatic Generalists (good at organizing both their own work and that of others)
Mode Three: System Setters or Theoretical Generalists (good at gathering and organizing quantities of information, good planning ability)
Mode Four: Structuralists or Theoretical Specialists (intellectually very able, subtle, creative and very self-contained in their work)
Mode Five: Originators (poor at routine work, usually taking an original approach to a problem even when this may not be appropriate)
In this framework, generalists are not at the highest level of abstraction, but sit in the middle.
The popular EA frameworks (such as TOGAF) seem designed to support Mode Three. But there may be many enterprise architects whose personal inclination may be more towards Mode Four or Five; and it may be awkward for them to pretend to be in Mode Three in order to sell EA services to managers who are in Mode One and Two.
This might go some way to explaining some of the difficulties addressed in Tom's blog.
In a Jaquesian management hierarchy, higher levels of management (and higher status) is associated with higher cognitive ability, which Jaques associated with levels of abstraction as well as longer time horizon. Superficially, this seems to provide a theoretical justification for the old civil service idea that generalists (people with university degrees in ancient Greek) should manage specialists (people with university degrees in science and engineering) - although the old civil service way of implementing this idea reflected a rather perverse interpretation of the generalist/specialist dichotomy, since it is unlikely that one's abstract cognitive ability depends solely on the subjects studied at university.
Within large organizations, people often aspire to more general roles than they currently occupy. There are two distinct reasons for this. One is that people may develop more abstract capability as they mature; the other is that the more general roles are perceived as carrying higher status. Companies often designate selected employees as "high-fliers", and move them rapidly around to prevent them becoming bogged down in any particular specialism. However, it has often been observed that people drift upward until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent. (This is known as the Peter Principle.)
In a Jaquesian hierarchy, the management function needs to be
at a higher level of abstraction than the function being managed. New employees and external consultants are generally subject to closer levels of supervision than long-serving employees, whose actual work (defacto job) is often much more interesting and varied than the official job description. From an HR perspective, it makes perfect sense to recruit specialists and allow deserving employees (if they wish) to grow into the more sprawling (and ill-defined) generalist roles. And from an outsourcing perspective, it makes perfect sense to subcontract the (more easily specified) specialist work and retain a smaller inhouse staff of generalists to make sure it all fits together.
But the idea that any old generalist can perform an abstract architectural role - especially architectural control over a complex procurement environment - seems troubling. Is Mode Three good enough?