22 February 2011

Sound Off! Common Core Training vs Narrow Specialities

Which would you rather have your troops be?

Experts in narrow fields?

Common core training with limited specialization?

Sound off in the comments with your thoughts!

By: Brant


Anonymous said...

Common core with specialties. It's important to have cross-training within teams to the greatest extent possible.

Guardian said...

Well, I'm just an armchair warrior and don't actually HAVE any troops (other than employees that I lead as my company's Alpha Nerd). However, I have spent some time working side-by-side with some of our generation's greatest warriors.

With that caveat, I think there is a general societal trend toward increasing specialization, both in the military and in the private sector. I take a contrarian view and actively swim against this trend.

First and foremost, specialization requires much more coordination to apply the right capabilities at the right place and time in coordination. This is difficult in a corporate office in the Research Triangle. It is even more difficult in the face of the friction that characterizes any battlefield, regardless of the level of technology available.

Second, having a team of generalists at your disposal gives you more flexibility in planning and execution. GEN Patton famously said, "A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week." Similarly, any one of a team of competent generalists might be able to perform a task at 70-80% effectiveness RIGHT NOW, when the specialist is simply not available: on a different mission, back at the FOB, wounded, or KIA.

Third, and this is a philosophical point, I believe that a smart person (whether a soldier or an office worker) can and should be able to become at least basically competent at new skills with a little training, a little mentoring, and some belief in themselves.

Special operations forces, for example, place a great emphasis on cross-training. While one of the 18Bs in an ODA might not be able to run a first-class MEDCAP to immunize locals, treat sick kids and animals, and so forth, the 18D will have cross-trained everybody on the team well enough that they can get one of the medics through the "golden hour" in case he gets hit.

In the words of Robert A. Heinlein, "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." This is one of my favorite all-time quotes. It's almost a checklist for my life, although the thought of hog butchering does make me a little queasy and I'm not sure a kayak really counts as a ship :).

-- Guardian

Anonymous said...

Yeah, what Guardian said.

Dan Eastwood said...

An expert can recognize the tough jobs, and help the generalists get the job done right from the start.
You want mostly generalists, with just a smattering of the right sort of experts.

I speak as a non-military sort of specialist, but I think it should apply. To borrow from the Heinlein quote, everybody should be able to write sonnets, but you won't know if they are any good* until you have a few really good sonnets to compare them to.

* "good" doesn't matter if you can use Vogon poetry in weaponized form, but I think that is against the GC. ;-)

Guardian said...

EastwoodDC nailed it. The proper role of specialists is to train and mentor the generalists so they can handle the easier jobs and the specialists themselves do the tougher jobs (alone or, preferably, with a protege/apprentice).