The past few months at Reading Plus have been the typical ‘high-growth-phase’ variety, according to those who have seen these scenarios before. Lots of new faces, both in Vermont and around the country. We are scaling up all parts of our organization to grow and impact more students.

As we grow, we are reorganizing into a more typical corporate hierarchy. We had previously been a looser organization – it was less “who do you report to?” and more “what team are you on?” … or even “what project(s) do you own?” The past few months have shown that we need more structure to stay effective, and we’re firming it up.

Along the way, the need for each individual and team to be defined and held accountable to a need or metric has risen. With that comes the move toward more specialization, and away from the more generalized skill sets that have been our organizational hallmark to date.

This presents a challenge for people whose specialization is being good at many things.

In Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein uses a set of stories and data to explain generalists can thrive, even as our world increasingly seeks to niche all of us. Being able to draw on experiences in different domains builds resilience in both individuals and teams.

Something that drew me to Agile Software Development in general, and User Story Mapping in particular (thanks especially to Jeff Patton), was the idea of going “a mile wide and an inch deep.” For generalists, skills and learning appear the same.

In evolution, it’s the specialists who thrive – right up until the system is disrupted. Then it’s the generalists, with their broad resilience, who survive.

So the question is, how does the resilience of generalists serve them during times when specialization is the better strategy for success? Do they need to put on a specialist hat as part of ‘adapt-or-die’? Or is there an explicit case to be made of the balance between the two ways of thinking?

Similar to the Agile Manifesto’s manner of preference then… That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more. Context matters.