The usefulness and destructive power of generalizations

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 11, 2017, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

I'm at SXSW this weekend, and it has been an interesting experience so far. (I had a Twitter interaction with Cory Booker!) The conference is, in the general sense, one targeted toward creative endeavors, but when it intersects with technology, I'm disappointed with the way many of the speakers put up walls between "creative" and "technical" things and people. It annoys me. It makes a lot of generalizations about the type of people who are one or the other, and what their abilities are.

I don't care much for generalizations. In fact, I would say that generalizations are bad, but of course this means that I am making a generalization myself. This is ironic or meta or something, that generalizations can't be generalized. Not wanting to be a hypocrite, I had to force myself to overcome my own generalization about generalizations.

It isn't hard to see where generalizations are useful, especially in business. If you have a product that is used by people with similar traits, then understanding who they generally are and what they generally need makes it easier to craft the product for them, not to mention sell to them. There are a lot of similar veins in this concept, that the better you can understand a large body of people or things, the better equipped you are to interact with it.

That said, I absolutely despise the strict categorization and classification of people in business, and especially in technology. This conference talks about design quite a bit, and while every speaker (for some reason) wants to define it, the way it's applied is crappy. There is a sentiment that you can be a good designer, or a good programmer, but not both. Others believe you can be a great manager, or great individual contributor, but not both. You can be a great analyst, or a great programmer. You get the idea.

Here's why this sucks: You are artificially limiting the capability of someone based on their strengths or personalities at a given moment in time. It also sucks because you're suggesting, "You can't do that because you aren't smart enough (or good enough or gosh darn it people like you). Without even getting to the fact that this may offend someone, you have placed them in a box and set an expectation now. You have disincentivized someone to expand their abilities and skills into a new area.

Is this really what you want? Someone who doesn't want to be better at more things? I can tell you for sure that I want developers who get design, and designers who get developing. They don't have to be all-stars at both ends, but I certainly don't want to put artificial constraints them that limit personal growth and collaboration. Let's not generalize about people like that. 


Post your comment: