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Posts Tagged ‘leaders’

I was reminded of a quote by Robert A. Heinlein today:

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. Specialization is for insects. -Robert A. Heinlein

It sounds good, doesn’t? Very human, adaptable, independent, flexible. The “man is an island” concept of humanity.

And then I think of all those marvelous, wonderful “Humans are Weird” and “Space Australians” and “Humans are Orcs” threads on assorted social media sites, and want to expand Heinlein’s words to add things like “tell a joke, laugh in the face of disaster, emulate McGyver, band together, be an expert in one area or maybe two, accept help as well as give it, and know when to call in the specialists.”

Because we need specialists, yes we do.

This quote, one I embraced unquestioningly for years and even attempted to emulate, has popped up any number of times, particularly on Libertarian sites.

And that gave me pause at last.

Libertarians are embracing this quote?  Why?

And then it struck me.  They are using this quote to bolster their concept of “each man is an island, complete unto itself and independent of all others” and I realized I’d grown beyond that “mine mine mine” attitude.

Yes, definitely be flexible, be adaptable, learn new things – at least enough about them to understand conversations and make friends in those areas.  But also – specialize. Become an expert in a field.  Cooperate with other experts and specialists.

Leaders are people who have superficial skills and knowledge in many many areas and who can therefore speak to the specialists in each field well enough to meld all those specialists into a cohesive group working towards the same goal. They appear to be jacks and jills of all trades, but they actually are specialists, too – specialists in the field of leadership.

Not everyone needs to be a leader – if we all were, who would we be leading? Conversely, we also don’t need to be followers if we aren’t leaders. This isn’t an either/or situation. The world is too big for that.

We need specialists who probe deeply into one area, one passion, and generalists who can take that specialized knowledge and apply it outside that narrow field – a salmon researcher whose in-depth knowledge of why and how salmon spawn that can be applied (perhaps) to human migration patterns, or butterfly migration, or dinosaur migration patterns. Do they overlap?  What can we learn from this?  How will this knowledge migrate us to the stars? If we meet aliens, will knowing this help us understand those aliens?

We need coordinators (aka leaders) who can inspire the specialists and guide their efforts for the greater good, using the various generalists’ ability to spot congruencies and correlations between fields to meld everything – the related specialists and all the different generalists and projects and such into a cohesive whole.

And then we have the outliers – the ones who go off on a tangent from everyone else, who break new paths rather than deepening old paths, who think and act an connect differently. Their heads are “in the clouds”, so to speak. They are artists, scientists, mad scientists and engineers, McGyvers of a different order. They inspire and frighten – repel and attract. They are distant dots or pivotal points in human history.

And then we need the glue – the people who don’t lead, but provide comfort and coziness, who keep things functioning, clean, orderly, who push papers or mops, who make sure the “i”s are dotted and the “t”s crossed and the grammar is good.

What Heinlein described are – hobbyists.

What society needs are interlocking specialists, generalists, coordinators, glue, hobbyists – and those frustrating outliers that don’t fit any rules at all.

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