Trophic Level Energy Transfers, or Why Specialize?
“To specialize or not to specialize, that is the question.”
The question of specializing vs. generalizing has arisen in so many aspects: biology, health, higher education, and of course, software. When one has to decide between the two ends of the spectrum, the benefits and risks must be weighed.
As environments have changed over time, animals have had to make a decision: change or perish. Certain species adapted their biology to survive on plants – herbivores – others, meat 0 carnivores. When in their preferred environments with ample resources, each can thrive. However, if conditions in those environments change so that those resources are not as bountiful, they may die out. Then comes the omnivore, whose adaptation has enabled them to survive on either type of resource. With this wider capability of survival, there comes a cost of efficiency. The further you move up through the food chain, the less efficient the transfer of energy becomes. Plants produce energy, only 10% of which an herbivore derives, and the carnivore that feeds on the herbivore only gets 10% of that 10%; i.e. 1% of the original energy.
Three hundred trout are needed to support one man for a year.
The trout, in turn, must consume 90,000 frogs, that must consume 27 million grasshoppers that live off of 1,000 tons of grass.
— G. Tyler Miller, Jr., American Chemist (1971)
When it comes to deciding on a course of action for a given health problem, people have the option to go to their family doctor, a.k.a. general practitioner, or a specialist. There are “…reams of papers reporting that specialists have the edge when it comes to current knowledge in their area of expertise” (Turner and Laine, “Differences Between Generalists and Specialists“)., whereas the generalist, even if knowledgeable in the field, may lag behind the specialist and prescribe out-of-date – but still generally beneficial – treatments. This begs the question, what value do we place on the level of expertise? If you have a life-threatening condition, then a specialist would make sense; however, you wouldn’t see a cardiologist if your heart races after a walk up a flight of stairs – your family doctor could diagnose that you need some more exercise.
When it comes to higher education, this choice of specializing or not also exists: to have deep knowledge and experience in few areas, or a shallower understanding in a broad range of applications. Does the computer science major choose to specialize in artificial intelligence or networking? Or none at all? How about the music major? Specialize in classical or German Polka? When making these decisions, goals should be decided upon first. What is it that drives the person? High salary in a booming market (hint: chances are that’s not German Polka)? Or is the goal pursuing a passion, perhaps at the cost of potential income? Or is it the ability to be valuable to many different types of employers in order to change as the markets do? It’s been shown that specialists may not always command a higher price tag; some employers value candidates that demonstrate they can thrive in a variety of pursuits.
Whether you’re looking to take advantage of specialized design products (for instance, sheet metal or wire harnesses), or gaining the value inherent in a general suite of tools present in a connected PLM platform that can do project management, CAPA, and Bill of Materials management, we have the means. A “Digital Engineering” benchmark can help you decide if specialized tools are right for your company. Likewise, our PLM Analytics benchmark can help you choose the right PLM system or sub-system to implement.
Specialize, or generalize? Which way are you headed and why?