Is the allure of ‘specialization’ dwindling?
There are numerous studies which show that careers and college majors do not match more than 50% of the time. Thousands of minds spend years studying concepts from a vast area of specialization, and only a few hundred minds actually put those concepts to practical use: isn’t there something inherently wrong with this? Maybe not.
Because, maybe, the universe did not intend for certain human beings to be specialized in certain tasks over others (the obvious exception being male and female roles in procreation, which by the way, are also increasingly making strides towards an era where they perhaps may no longer be). Maybe, that’s the reason why many institutions and systems based on specialized distribution of tasks have crumbled over the ages.
Choose to ignore my philosophical ramblings if you will. But you may not be able to as easily ignore the fact that the proverbial ‘jack of all trades’ takes the cherry in today’s workplace. It is okay to be ‘master of none’. In fact, the ‘converging nature of the world’ is inanely complemented by the divergence of specialized skills in business.
The dwindling concept of specialization manifests itself in the genesis of the product manager’s role too. When Procter and Gamble conceptualized product management back in the 1930s, it was considered a justification for hiring more people in the marketing force. In reality, it was but a natural reaction to addressing the need for interfacing with the customer’s voice. As organizational capabilities and thinking evolved, the overarching importance of the customer and the market started taking shape. There was the need for a ‘generalist’ with a finger on each specialized function to own the development and value proposition of the product.
On a slightly different but related note, if we look at the running of our households, we see the need for specialized human expertise slipping away from every nook and cranny of it. In fact, the dream of the smart home, which has been taking shape for more than two decades now, is on the brink of reality. The pace at which companies like Haier, Bosch and Samsung are churning out attractive smart home gadgets makes us wonder how many more years remain until these gadgets become ‘run of the mill’?
In reality, though, the idea of a fully functioning smart home remains prohibitively complicated even in today’s world laden with technological marvels in every other field. One of the primary reasons for this is, the smart home gadget industry is fragmented across various wireless communication protocols (wireless technologies such as Wi-fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and Z-Wave, that offer connectivity options for home automation). In the early 2000s, smart home device makers settled for two protocols as their wireless standard: ZigBee and Z-Wave. However, some device makers today create their own proprietary standards or simply use Wi-fi. To clarify, if you are interested in setting up a smart home, there is a good chance that your Brand A smart LED bulbs will not communicate with your Brand B smart music system, while your Brand C smart cooking oven will not talk to your Brand D dishwasher. Therefore, if you are not willing to wait a little longer for the ‘synchronization’ of your favorite smart gadgets to come up to speed, you may end up with a dysfunctional smart-home with the present lot.
There are smart home hubs in the market, that can solve the ‘communication problem’ to an extent. However, the tangle of competing technologies in the gadgets that they support forces these hubs to include paraphernalia that make them too expensive and too complicated for users. After all, the consumer just wants to see his favorite gadgets work seamlessly in the smart dream-home, not caring what protocol is carrying the signals across the rooms and beyond them.
So which direction are the ‘smart-gadget’ product manager job descriptions headed?
I do not see myself delegating complete control and ownership of my life and home to gadgets ever. But, in twenty years, living in a smart home will perhaps become just as ordinary as owning a smartphone today. A camera in your smart refrigerator will keep track of diminishing supplies and send you a message over your phone to get some milk on way home from work. You would just need to say “Siri we need to get the kids’ homework done”, and your TV will turn off, the Wi-fi will lock itself, perhaps your front doors will lock too, and your thermostat will turn up/down. There is no denying that bit by bit, my husband and I will need to relinquish some of the specialized ‘skills’ we acquired over the last six years of homemaking.