The Benefits of Being “Superficial”

November 20, 2020

I've been accused by academic people that I don't dig deep to prove my points and substantiate them, that I don't have enough references to what other people have written about the subject, that I talk in generalities rather than detailed particulars.


I've been thinking about it and I would like to share with you why certain "superficiality" has advantages versus deep work on details.


People that study trees, do not specialize to know the  forest and  those that analyze  the forest are not  necessarily expert on trees. I belong to the second group. I look at the problems from 40 000 feet down. I seek to see a  pattern rather than any specific details that create the pattern. That's why I talk in generalities. That's why I talk about phenomena rather than proving any specific case or  specific point. I look at what connects the dots rather than the dots themselves. People that do that are called philosophers. So, I consider myself more of a philosopher of organizations than a behavioral scientist, or an economist.


I feel that the field of social sciences has taken a turn to copy natural sciences. In natural sciences you do experiments to prove a hypothesis. You conduct double blind controlled experiments. You can not do that analyzing countries or organizations. Where in the world can you find two identical companies and have one as the control group?  


Those that study a point  rather than the pattern know more and more about less and less till they know almost everything about  almost nothing. Many of the “scientific” research reported in behavioral science journals prove a point that is operationally useless. I prefer to know something, about everything, shallow as it needs to be in order to see the pattern. We live now, more than ever, in a very interrelated, interdependent world. Instead of anatomistic world, we live in a fish scale world; Everything impacts everything else so missing the pattern is missing the point.  


Notice what's happening in medicine. Doctors concentrate and specialize on a smaller and smaller part of the body. An optometrist is now a generalist. There's a person that specializes on the center of the eye and then another one that specializes in what is behind the center of the  eye, but knows very little about the eye itself.


The family doctor, the internist, is a dying profession because the money and the fame is in the specialization. The people that see the big picture, the whole pictures are judged to be  superficial. The professional recognition is granted to those in the specialization. We need both. We need a specialists but we need to see a generalist FIRST that can identify which specialist is needed next.


If you go to a specialist first, you might be misdiagnosed. An orthopedic surgeon will most probably recommend surgery. That is their specialty.

If the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems you see as nails.

Just thinking,

Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes

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Dr. Ichak Adizes