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Drucker and Specialists

Stumbled across a talk Peter Drucker gave to the Harvard John F Kennedy School of Government (the 1994 Edwin L. Godkin Lecture to be precise). He talks about the various shifts coming for society, but two caught my eye. First, he decides that knowledge now (or if not now soon) will only be useful in application.

"The knowledge of the German Allgemeine Bildung or of the Anglo-American liberal arts had little to do with one's life work. It focused on the person and the person's development, rather than on any application. Both nineteenth-century Allgemeine Bildung and liberal arts prided themselves on having no utility whatsoever. In the knowledge society, knowledge basically exists only in application."
The second snippet was this:
"Knowledge workers, whether their knowledge be primitive or advanced, whether there be a little of it or a great deal, will, by definition, be specialized. Knowledge in application is effective only when it is specialized. Indeed, it is more effective the more highly specialized it is."
This vision of Big Peter's is all sounding a little bleak, isn't it? Knowledge workers, it appears, are no different to factory workers in the mandates they need to follow. "Don't do it unless it helps you in your role" and "specialise, specialise, specialise".

I'm not sure there really was a point of pride at the lack of utility. As far as I understand it (certainly the Anglo-American liberal arts tradition), rather than becoming better at a specifically and immediately useful subject, you gained generally useful knowledge. The approach, as opposed to Drucker's, assumes life outside the role, which is no bad thing. Any utility this generalist approach had may not be easily measurable, but that doesn't mean it's not there.

[UPDATE: I should probably add as a disclaimer that I did Greek & Philosophy as a first degree :)]


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