Mikalkis Suppose, for instance, that you could order an egg for breakfast that was prepared all over the world: Bhr potential quality, speed, and cost advantages virtually guarantee that this model will become more prevalent. This has been my personal experience, as both an employee and as a manager. This, essentially, is what hyperspecialization is, but instead of making breakfast, workers all over the world can do pieces of knowledge work jobs that are today done by one person in a single place. The service would give you access to, say, a group of slide-making specialists: Not every project can be broken down hyperspecializatiln assembly line fashion.
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The Idea in Brief As labor becomes more knowledge based and communications technology advances, the division of labor accelerates. The hyperspecialization of workers may be inevitable given the quality, speed, and cost advantages it offers employers—and the power it gives individuals to devote flexible hours to tasks of their choice.
This will force managers to master a new set of skills: dividing work into assignable micro tasks; attracting specialized workers to perform them; ensuring acceptable quality; and integrating many pieces into whole solutions. Much of the prosperity our world now enjoys comes from the productivity gains of dividing work into ever smaller tasks performed by ever more specialized workers. Today, thanks to the rise of knowledge work and communications technology, this subdivision of labor has advanced to a point where the next difference in degree will constitute a difference in kind.
We are entering an era of hyperspecialization—a very different, and not yet widely understood, world of work. But an aircraft is fundamentally a physical product. Consider how much more finely work can be diced when it produces intangible, knowledge-based goods and the information involved can be transported anywhere in the world nearly instantaneously and at almost no cost.
Even job titles of recent vintage will soon strike us as quaint. And that is the simplest scenario. When TopCoder, a start-up software firm based in Connecticut, gets involved, the same software may be touched by dozens of contributors.
For instance, a project might begin with a contest to generate the best new software-product idea. TopCoder hosts a web forum that allows developers to query the client for more details, and all those questions and answers become visible to all competitors. Further contests are launched to develop each of the pieces separately and then to integrate them into a working whole.
Finally, still other programmers compete to find and correct bugs in the sundry parts of the system. Because the company aggregates demand for specific tasks, it enables a developer who is particularly good at, say, designing user interfaces to spend the bulk of his or her time doing just that. Indeed, TopCoder developers are becoming increasingly specialized.
Some focus on programming specific kinds of software such as small graphics modules. Some have discovered a talent for putting together software components that others have written. In the great tradition of the division of labor, this hyperspecialization pays off. And it manages to do this while maintaining a satisfied, well-paid community of coders.
But will its benefits be unalloyed? To ensure that hyperspecialization is as welcome as it is likely, we must keep our eyes open to its possible dangers.
Rather, it means breaking work previously done by one person into more-specialized pieces done by several people. Whether or not those pieces are outsourced or distributed, their separation often leads to improvements in quality, speed, and cost. Just like craft workers of the past, knowledge workers engage in myriad peripheral activities that could be done better or more cheaply by others particularly others who specialize in them.
Project managers, for example, spend untold hours preparing slide decks even though few of them have the software facility and design sensibilities to do that well.
Some are able to delegate the task, which at least allows it to be accomplished less expensively. But imagine a service like TopCoder that could offer instant access to a network of PowerPoint jockeys. Imagine further that some of those remote workers were brilliant chart producers, others were eagle-eyed proofreaders, and still others were content experts for different types of presentations.
Some, for instance, might specialize in sales presentations for office supply products, and others in internal project review meetings for the pharmaceutical industry. Quality improves when more of the work that goes into a final product is done by people who are good at it. The improvement is even greater when, as with TopCoder projects, people who are good at work compete with one another to get it. Full disclosure: Thomas W. For seekers, the appeal of InnoCentive lies mainly in the quality of the solutions it can yield.
By casting the net so widely, it often pulls in solvers with very specialized experience who can make headway on problems that have stumped internal experts. Forinstance, as the business writers Julian Birkinshaw and Stuart Crainer have described, the pharmaceutical company Roche wanted to find a better way of measuring the volume and quality of clinical specimens passing through its automated chemistry analyzers.
In it sponsored a contest on InnoCentive. After two months it had received proposals from solvers around the world. Tod Bedilion, then the director of technology management for Roche Diagnostics, was amazed to find among them a novel solution that had eluded Roche for 15 years. That example speaks to another major benefit of hyperspecialization: speed. More generally, hyperspecialization can reduce clock time by assigning related tasks to different people who then accomplish them in parallel rather than serially.
This can be as simple as many hands making fast work. A company called CastingWords, for example, produces transcriptions of audio files with incredible speed—sometimes in less time than the recording itself took to make. How is this possible? Its quality-checking also reveals which workers can be trusted to do well on future assignments. In, like, a day. Like making a lady disappear.
Consider the search for Jim Gray, a well-known computer scientist who disappeared at sea in his small sailboat in and was never found. Over the next few days near-real-time satellite images were relayed to thousands of Mechanical Turk workers and volunteers for close examination.
Increased speed is one of the reasons that hyperspecialization can reduce costs. And I would have gotten a few hundred sticky notes rather than an entire notebook with separate detailed proposals. For example, in any business-to-business sales process, accurate contact information about prospects must be assembled.
How much better to employ microspecialists—such as the workers recruited by Samasource, a nonprofit based in San Francisco.
Samasource sends this kind of data-entry work to individuals in the developing world, who verify business web addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and DUNS Data Universal Numbering System numbers through a combination of web research and direct phone calls. Hyperspecialization reduces costs most dramatically when a company can turn to an expert instead of having to reinvent the wheel.
For example, consider how much expensive time junior law associates spend researching the same legal precedents again and again in firms across the United States. Contrast that with the value a firm could realize by tapping into a network of experts who each specialize in some tiny aspect of the law. A firm might suddenly require knowledge of, say, the detailed rules and precedents associated with filing deadlines for U.
It could pay a hyperspecialist five times the hourly rate of a junior associate and still come out well ahead on costs.
Managing in a World of Hyperspecialization In any given company, hyperspecialization might reshape the organization in many ways, from the macro to the micro level of task assignment. Some of the tasks of a certain role might be hived off, or entire job categories and processes might be upended. Managers might focus on lower-value-added tasks, as the clients of Samasource do when they hand over data entry. Or they might see greater value in tapping world-class expertise for high-end tasks. For instance, Business Talent Group and YourEncore have networks of freelance experts who provide clients with short-term, high-priced, but ideally higher-value consultation.
Regardless of task level, capitalizing on hyperspecialization will call for new managerial skills and focus. First, managers will need to learn how best to divide knowledge work into discrete, assignable tasks.
Second, specialized workers will have to be recruited and the terms of their contribution settled. Third, the quality of the work must be ensured. And finally, the pieces have to be integrated. Breaking down the work. Understanding how a knowledge-based job could be transformed by hyperspecialization begins with mapping the tasks currently done by people holding that job.
Such a map may immediately suggest tasks and subtasks that could be performed with higher quality, at greater speed, or at lower cost by a specialized resource.
In the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer undertook to do just this in an initiative it called pfizerWorks. The company established a process that allowed these tasks to be off-loaded, first to a pair of Indian offshoring firms and then also to an Ohio-based company.
Critical to subdividing knowledge work is understanding the dependencies among tasks and determining whether they can be managed satisfactorily if the tasks are done by different people. In the end the company decided that because travel itineraries impinge directly on the scheduling of other meetings and on family birthdays and anniversaries , it was more efficient to leave this task with the administrative assistants who worked directly with the executives.
Recruiting workers and assigning tasks. To complete hyperspecialized tasks, companies can use internal employees, develop dedicated relationships with external suppliers, or rely on intermediary firms that link clients with communities of specialized workers.
One large U. PfizerWorks relied on a small number of dedicated outsourcing companies. The T-shirt maker Threadless created its own community of workers to design and critique its products. Hyperspecialization will require most managers to learn to work with the kinds of dedicated intermediaries that have sprung up in recent years to provide access to pools of skilled labor.
Nearly all of them rely on a simple cost-plus business model, adding a surcharge to what the workers are paid. If these niche start-ups can mature into larger-scale and more trusted suppliers of work, hyperspecialization will go mainstream. They will grow by ratcheting up their worker communities and client bases in tandem, ensuring that the former have ample projects to choose from and the latter have sufficient pools of talent to draw on.
The leaders will be those whose security, project management, and quality control offer the greatest assurance. LiveOps, founded in , relies on 20, home-based agents to provide on-demand, pay-per-minute call center services.
Innocentive, the first global web community for open innovation, was created in Over time it has become more oriented toward staging design and development competitions contracted for by clients.
Most of its workers are located outside the U. CastingWords, founded in , provides transcription services to its clients, parceling the audio files out to online typists. Crowdflower started providing labor on demand to verify information and categorize images and text in Samasource, founded in , distributes computer-based work to people living in poverty around the world. The intermediaries enable clients to accomplish tasks that range in size from tiny to quite large.
On Mechanical Turk and Samasource, workers undertake small tasks that last a few seconds or minutes in exchange for payment ranging from several cents to several dollars. Project sites such as Elance and oDesk enable the completion of medium-size projects in many domains—including web development, graphic design, writing, and business analysis—for payments of several hundred to several thousand dollars. InnoCentive and TopCoder undertake complex activities such as software development and scientific discovery for payments that can reach six or even seven figures.
Enterprises that already use hyperspecialization have developed a variety of innovative incentives for their communities of workers.
HYPERSPECIALIZATION HBR PDF
The Idea in Brief As labor becomes more knowledge based and communications technology advances, the division of labor accelerates. The hyperspecialization of workers may be inevitable given the quality, speed, and cost advantages it offers employers—and the power it gives individuals to devote flexible hours to tasks of their choice. This will force managers to master a new set of skills: dividing work into assignable micro tasks; attracting specialized workers to perform them; ensuring acceptable quality; and integrating many pieces into whole solutions. Much of the prosperity our world now enjoys comes from the productivity gains of dividing work into ever smaller tasks performed by ever more specialized workers. Today, thanks to the rise of knowledge work and communications technology, this subdivision of labor has advanced to a point where the next difference in degree will constitute a difference in kind. We are entering an era of hyperspecialization—a very different, and not yet widely understood, world of work. But an aircraft is fundamentally a physical product.
The Big Idea: The Age of Hyperspecialization
Product Description Publication Date: July 01, Since , when Adam Smith described how the division of labor could spur economic progress, work has increasingly been broken into ever smaller tasks performed by ever more specialized workers. A company called CastingWords produces transcripts of audio files by farming out segments to remote workers for simultaneous transcription: Many hands make extremely fast work. The nonprofit Samasource sends data-entry work to marginalized individuals in the developing world, where tiny jobs lasting just minutes and paying just pennies give workers an economic boost while creating substantial savings for clients. Meanwhile, companies and governments must be aware of the potential perils of this new age: "digital sweatshops" and other forms of worker exploitation; nefarious schemes hidden behind task atomization; work that becomes dull and meaningless; increased electronic surveillance of workers. All these, the authors believe, could be ameliorated by global rules and practices and a new form of "guilds" to provide workers with a sense of community and support for professional development.
Kigataur And when candidly viewed, thru the massive, and yet publicly revealed thoughts of our late, great, super technical futuristic thinker, and guru Stephen Jobs, several factors trigger our unease: Another obstacle is the complicated laws and regulations that surround cross-border knowledge work. Of course, as a leader you must balance this hyperspecialization with the needs of the business. Jones The Global Hyperspecializatipn s Our global neighbors have invested more in their education systems, and our aging workforce places the needed skills outside the U. Registration Forgot your password? Which War do You want to Fight? Hyperspecialization is not the same as outsourcing or offshoring, though it is enabled by the same technologies.