specialization is for insects

The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein
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“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

-Robert A. Heinlein

66 thoughts on “specialization is for insects”

    1. I think that Heinlein’s point is about personal growth/being a ‘human being’ instead of defining your entire existence/abilities on one set of skills. As a master writer/wordsmith, I’m sure he isn’t speaking against have a high level of skill in a certain job field/expertise.

      After reading other Heinlein stuff, that’s the direction I think the quote is meant to go.

      1. As I understand bees, worker bees are selected, at birth to become a queen bee. Several worker bees are fed extra honey, and several queens are produced. Once emerged the first queen goes and kills all the un-enemerged queens. If another queen has emerged, they fight to the death to determine a queen.

      2. You said a worker bee will never be more than a worker bee. I merely pointed out queens begin as worker bees. Worker bees can become more than worker bees, if selected, to be specialized. A queen bee won’t lose her stinger, and can give birth.

      3. Any analogy/metaphor/comparison can be picked apart if you really want to. I think you’re missing the forest for the trees though since I keep stressing that the quote/interpretation is about being a human being NOT being your job/career/vocation…

        If we were to take the ‘insect hierarchy’ approach to social order/construction we’d have the cast system/feudal system and/or the form of communism that where you are stuck in a cast/class of people. Peasants are peasants and die peasants, nobles are nobles and die nobles (poor, rich, corrupt or otherwise isn’t the point – they are set in their social cast/class). Imperfect as it is, the democratic/capitalist form of social order/structure we have in the U.S. is about the ‘Pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Happiness’ and all that jazz. In American the idea is that you can and should be more than your job/career/vocation.

      4. I don’t think your ‘worker bees can become queens’ point really helps the argument for ‘specialization’ personally.

        First, the prospective queens are chosen, not voluntary.
        Second, the queens are trained to be queen specialists, they’re just fed better than other bees.
        Third, the ‘winner’ is the one who hatches first and then kills the rest…
        Fourth, it’s not a universal opportunity for any/all worker bees. It’s not like a worker be at any point in her life can say ‘hey I wanna be the queen!’ and run for election.

  1. Recently, a friend of mine called most MMA guys martial arts nomads. He went on to say, “They just wander from gym to gym, hoping to come away with the skills of the specialists. They never seem to commit and master one discipline, they can later add too.”

    It’s nice to have a seamless blend, but I think it has to come from something foundational. Just some comments.

  2. I think that you may be using a narrow definition of what an “MMA Guy” is. Many MMA fighters are ranked in BJJ, were collegiate champion wrestlers or were boxers at one point or another.

    1. Now a’days too, most “MMA Guys” as far as I can tell with the current trend, tend to stay at one school that has developed it’s own “MMA SYSTEM” of training (Vale Tudo comes to mind) and/or teach BJJ, Boxing, Thai Boxing, etc under one roof and also offer “MMA” classes that allow them to retool and re-tactic the basic skills they’ve developed in the other classes. I think “Foundation” is more than having a single system under your belt BUT I area that and established set of fundamentals (even if it’s by combining systems) is really the key to future success.

      1. From the “MMA Guys” coming to my school/gym, I have to agree with my friend. First they want to work on their Muay Thai (MT). Just as they start becoming ready for an amateur MT fight, they decide they should work on their grappling skills, or go off to a boxing gym.

        New skills deteriorate before being imbedded. Know they’re trying to cram more new skills, with different approaches, in to their muscle memory.

        I’ve seen some of the more winning MMA fighters win because, they know how to keep the fight in their style. A good example has been our
        MT fighters, that have mastered take down defense, or simply how to get back up to their feet.

        Usually it’s victory by TKO, KO, or ground and pound.

      1. You haven’t answered my question about Professor Presas concerning specialist/generalist Dave… This is nearly the very model that GM Presas supposedly used to create Modern Arnis, he trained in various arts and combined the ‘essentials’ from each to create the foundation for Modern Arnis… as well as continuing to evolve the system as he encountered new arts in his own training. He didn’t stick with a single system/instructor for a life time, he ‘took what worked’ from each of those systems.

        Same with JKD/Bruce Lee who didn’t become a pro boxer, grappler, kick boxer and, as far as I know never fought in a ranking/professional fight and/or fought in the military or as a policeman. He trained in various arts in California and never became a master of any of them per se. But we revere the Tao of JKD as a near biblical source of modern martial arts, and Bruce Lee as a mythical figure because of his break with the ‘specialization’ mentality of traditional martial arts that he experience….. the root of the physical art of JKD seems to be a foundation of mixing some boxing, some Wing Chun, some grappling (western from what I gather,not Chin Na or other eastern grappling) and then add in some kickboxing and son on… so both GM PResas and Bruce Lee are ‘guilty’ of being ‘generalists who turned their philosophical stance on martial arts training into something that became a ‘specialization’ to those who followed, the the hodgepodge of mixing a little bit of one art with another for Bruce Lee and GM Presas became the ‘foundation’ for their students… but it was still a bunch of pieces from other systems… possibly that 20% or os of essentials from each art that these two masters decided were the ‘core’ of what made these various arts great and worth borrowing from…

      1. My dad’s neighbor was a USMC Sniper, he decide to pick up bow hunting and became ‘world class’ in less than six months…

      2. You are not reading all of our responses I assume…the author said “master” not “expert” and never said “world class”.

  3. In light of this quote though; we are discussing a “human being”….not a persons profession or hobby. Even your brain surgeon should be able to; fight, write a sonnet, Conn a ship, etc…..well maybe not all of THOSE particular skills, this is written as a dramatic example of a concept…

    The point here isn’t about martial arts for me, its a question of how limited are your experiences? It pigeonholes with my previous posts about overfocusing on the COOL stuff like weapon training and thinking you are ready for the Zombie Apocalypse….if ALL you bring to the table are shooting skills you are sorely unprepared.

    1. “MMA Guys” are human beings. I do feel humans should be as well rounded as possible. However, I don’t think there’s enough time in a human’s life to do everything well. That’s why we have police officers, doctors, plumbers, etc.

      1. You’re not getting it… perhaps I’m not clearly explaining my point. The quote didn’t say you should be an “expert” in all those skills..did it?

        The point is to not be a “one trick pony”. It’s human nature to stick with the things we like and or are good at. Even with LEO’s. Great shooters who are physically weak, cops who can bench 300 but cant catch a suspect who runs from them, skilled punchers who don’t know what to do on their backs on the ground all have one thing in common. Strength in one discipline only.

        People who “pooh-pooh” this concept try to muddy the waters with the “I don’t have enough time/money/whatever to become a MARATHON runner as well as an EXPERT shooter and a BLACK BELT fighter”. That’s either willful obfuscation or simple ignorance. Nobody said anything about becoming a “specialist” in all those skills. Just having the ability to perform them. A wide range of ABILITY with expertise in a few is what you should be aiming for IMO.

        A one trick pony is useless in the “real world”. Being a cop/soldier/SWAT etc is FAR FAR FAR more than just shooting skills. Being an educated citizen in regards to self-defense is FAR more than just H2H skills. Survival is FAR more than just being able to start a fire and/or filter H2O.

        I don’t know how to more clearly explain the point.

      2. “I do feel human beings should be as well rounded as possible.” I’m not quite sure why you don’t get my partial agreement with you. How can I be more clear?

        What the last paragraph of the quote says to me is, screw specialization. Personally, I want specialists to exist.

  4. Ugh….

    Dave, I was SWAT at one point. I was a “specialist” within a specializied field (LE). I’m NOT saying that.

    But even within those fields, one skill like sniping is even more specialized and even there…a sniper needs more skils than simply shooting a scooped rifle.

    Heinlen wasn’t (in my interpretation) saying that people shouldn’t be specialized in one field as a PROFESSION. But as a HUMAN BEING, your life will require more than one skill. Your students are far more than just martial arts students and if they are not learning skills…like brain surgery…they will be of limited use in anything except a h2h fight. Something as simple as a knife slash to their leg could kill them for lack of first aid skill. Your LIFE and sum total of skills shouldn’t be focused on one thing.

    1. Tom, isn’t it a given that humans are multi-skilled? They have to get up, shower, make breakfast, drive to work, work, speak a language, use the tools of their profession, shop for groceries on the way home, use a phone if the car dies, get in the house, make dinner, help the kids with homework, tell time to put the kids to bed, etc.

      1. No…its not a given. Many people couldn’t change a tire, gut a deer or use a compass if their LIVES depended on it. Drive to work? Speak a language? Really Dave? Is this idea that difficult?

      2. I disagree Dave, if it was a given, then why all the movies, tv shows, books, and news stories about what it takes to be a good parent alone. If it was a ‘given’ then it would be genetic and not learned skills combined with good genes that make us good at it (or bad at it). Then again, that’s only if a person has kids to find out if they are good or not at it. THAT”s the point of the Heinlein quote when it comes to rounded skills/experiences making us “Human Beings” vs “Insects”

      3. No, the idea is rather simple. It simply depends on how varied, or how specialized a person wants to be.

        It seems Einstein was so focused on physics, he couldn’t be bothered with the trivial. I believe he wore socks that didn’t match and couldn’t tie his own shoes.

        Allegedly, Einstein wouldn’t have functioned well alone, in society, or at home. Sad in one way, but amazing in another. The man was a specialized genius.

      4. Actually, Dave, Einstein may have “specialized” in Physics in his adult life, but he was educated in Catholic Primary schools as a child (even though his family was Jewish by heritage), he went through his secondary education at a standard European “Gymnasium”, is suspected to have had a speech impediment in his younger days (that he must have overcome – as well as learning German, Italian, French and English along the way), studied at the Polytechnic in Zurich, essentially was a draft dodger by renouncing his German citizenship, worked as a school teacher and later as a patent clerk…. many of his early papers were written and published during his breaks from formal education/study… he was not a specialist. He was guy how was brilliant at connecting the dots between many scientific disciplines in order to become the father of modern physics. That’s not ‘specialization’ by any stretch of the imagination as far as I’m concerned considering that he basically pursued his theories as ‘passion projects’ even when he wasn’t formally studying and/or getting paid to do so.

        If it weren’t for his ‘Human being-ness’ as a travelled man, a liberally educated man, and a man who did more than just get a degree and settle into the ‘skill/specialization’ of teaching or being a professional patent clerk by pursuing his ‘hobby’ of science (as in he wasn’t working toward a degree/paycheck during some of his research/publishing periods) then I think what has become a ‘specialized’ field of study (aka Physics, Theoretical Physics, etc) would never exist…

      1. My point, Dave, is that, based on the quote, a ‘human being’ reaches his/her highest ‘human being- ness’ if they are constantly doing MORE than what you listed above and that there is a whole body of folk, scientific, and spiritual discussion out there that supports the idea that ‘human beings’ must work toward a fulfilling/complete/contributing life by being constant learners and feeding their mind/body/spirit (the last is optional depending on beliefs/values).

        The ‘human vs. insect’ comment from Heinlein is NOT saying that humans who are highly specialized aren’t ‘good’ people or aren’t ‘human’ per se. The point is that because we are human we will not achieve full ‘human being-ness’ if we allow ourselves to be pigeon-holed by our own fears, comfort zones, economic limitations and so on. I think of Fredrick Douglas as an example of what this quote means to me. A slave who was pigeon holed into the ‘insect’ role of ‘slave’ as his place in society and how he was suppose to identify himself… but he didn’t. He learned to read (as many slaves did secretly and in some cases openly), he became a powerful spokesman and activist. This is in contrast to insects which DO survive as a species because of rigid genetic and social specialization.

        He’s just saying we, human beings, are not biologically like insects and that , individually and as a whole, our ‘success’ depends on being well rounded and multi-skilled for personal enrichment/awareness, ‘toolbox’ skills that are practical and functional, and for better understanding/communication. Another example, though fictional, would be the “McGyver’ character from the old TV show. Though, on the serface it might be said that he was a ‘specialist’ because he was a ‘scientist’, I’d argue that he was a ‘Human being-ist’ because he was well versed in all kinds of science – both the soft and hard sciences, he was physically fit, he was mechanically skilled and he had good communication skills as well. A bit ideal becase he is fictional, but for this discussioin I think he works as an exampel of a life long learner/’human being’ by Heinlines estimations.

      2. So was Professor Presas a ‘specialist’ in Modern Arnis? Did he make it up from thin air or did he develop it from multiple experiences/systems/trainings/people? Come on Dave, it’s the same basic concept. A ‘system’ or discipline of science is a concentration/focus in an area based on knowledge gained from other disciplines in a different configuration.

        In my undergrad program, I studied Literature (which consists of many different genres/modes/periods in history), Ed. Psych, Class Management, Teaching Methods, Grammar/Foundation of Language, as well as conducting observations, creating projects, student teaching, all that AND i got to take elective courses as well.

        In my M.S. program I learned film making principles, media project workflows, more Ed Psych, Corporate Training, Gaming Strategies/Motivation theories, Content Management Systems, and many other ‘specializations’ as well as creating my own Master’s Thesis project that applied skills from all of these different ‘specializations’ (meaning I had to ‘multi-task’) so that I could ‘specialize’ in the field of teaching/education….

        No ‘specialization’ exists in a vacuum.

        Since you study/rank/teach multiple systems of martial arts, I would have thought you’d understand that.

      3. True, you studied those subjects that could be specialities, but didn’t specialize in them. You experienced ‘the tip of the iceberg’. At the end of your masters degree, you are know considered qualified as a specialist in your discipline.

      4. Yes, I am trained to ‘specialize’ in education/teaching/educational media design, because of my skill set, BUT I could just as easily ‘repackage’ that skill set to do something else with it if I choose to do so. I have the same fundamental skills to work directly in media as a cameraman, video editor, sound engineer (basic, VERY basic), and graphic design, …. I am not pigeon holed by my degree/training/career because, as a human being I don’t let my job/training define who I am. I DO those things, I can serve those roles but, on my obituary, I don’t want to be remember solely as a ‘specialist in education/educational media design.’ I would like to be remember for all the things that make up my ‘human being-ness.’

      5. I think for the purposes of this discussion, the ‘Humans are humans because of DNA’ line of discussion is rather moot and pedestrian to be honest. “Nature/Nurture” discussions about human development are going on all the time in the ‘specialist’ world of sciences and there is still no total agreement except for this – we are formed partly by both our DNA AND our experience/education. Personally, I choose to be identified as more than my job/career/vocation… don’t you?

    2. Oh, I forgot to add that he was married, had kids and seemed to be able to function quite well professionally as well as personally – to the point that it is rumored that he was a bit of a scientific rock star with groupies and a few liaisons under his belt too because he was a bit of a charmer with the co-eds/fans… not that something like that made his home life all that great I imagine.

    3. It appears to me Paul’s chosen field of specialization id the “media workplace.” It sounds like his career path, too. IMO, the longer he stays in that realm, the more specialized he becomes. Again, I really don’t think that is a bad thing.

  5. Like I said, based on reading Heinlein’s other works and knowing that he’s a former Navy Man too, the point he’s making is not about ‘martial arts’ or ‘MMA’ but about being a well rounded, fully developed human being because of a philosophical stance of life long learning. Obviously practical skills are… well, practical. But, the basic idea is as much about learning to live by living to learn.

    Another way of looking at this idea is to be a renaissance man. A ‘human being’ is not defined (by himself or others) because of his profession as his ‘only’ ability. He/she explores many interests/passions/skills – both practical and for the pure enjoyment of learning IMO.

    I think of the ‘curriculum’ that was used to create the Knight/Nobleman or the Samurai as a good example of Heinlein’s idea. These people made up a class of people who trained in martial arts skills, poetry, flower arrangement, dance, politics, singing, agriculture, woodscraft, hunting, cooking… you name it.

    Even our current educational system (such as it is) is meant to be a ‘liberal’ education. Students learn math, science, English language arts, music, physical education… all in required and elective courses.

    I think that the current version of martial arts (recreational) would be viewed by Heinlein as ‘Insect’ Skill if it was all a person knew or did versus a serviceman/woman or LEO (or even EMT/Fireman) who might USE martial arts training as part of a larger set of skills.

    1. The topic makes me think about elite level thieves. Think about how specialized THAT field is. But think of all of the various skills you need to operate at that level. A famous jewel thief was beleived to have parachuted onto a European museum roof and rappelled through a window.

      1. And, let’s not forget the less glamorous and obvious examples as well. In every circle of friends/associates, there’s ‘that guy/gal’ at the bar or coffee shop who may only be flipping burgers for a living but seems to be a ‘burger flipping philosopher’ who takes night classes in oil painting, trains seeing eye dogs, has found a way to invest his money to send his kids to Harvard, keep his family happy and connected, reads poetry, watches Beevis and Butthead (or Family Guy or the Simpsons)… and so on.

        Let’s not forget those Matriarchal figures of the “Grandmother” who seems to have ‘done it all’ by the time we meet them as children and who tell stories of ‘when I w as a child…’ for us to learn from… (this could be a G-Pa too btw).

        It doesn’t have to be all high brow, high academic or high technical learning that goes into being well rounded either. Though idealized, I think of the Caddy/Bagger Vance in “The Legend of Bagger Vance” (not the movie with Will Smith, but the actual book character) who was ‘only a Caddy’ but had a balanced ‘high/low/folk/formal’ background that he used to help.

  6. Isn’t the point of this article to say that one should seek to be a “jack of (most) trades, master of SOME” rather than a “jack of all trades, master of NONE”?

    And is this also a bit like a special forces ODA where an operator will specialize in one area with their MOS (18B, 18C, 18D, 18E) but still cross train with the other operators to a certain level?

    1. I would have preferred Heinlein put it this way… “jack of (most) trades, master of SOME” rather than a “jack of all trades, master of NONE?”.

      Even though he’s an author, I still don’t find any support for specialization in his quote. The way you put it is much clearer to me. Your quote more accurately represents Tom and Paul’s interpretation, IMO.

      I like your quote. I’m going to have to borrow it.

      1. Actually, Dave, it doesn’t represent my interpretation because I don’t see the Heinlein quote as a comment on a human being’s career, job, or vocation but a comment about humanity/humans and what makes them different and distinct from other animals NOT a statement about who a well rounded person is more of a ‘human’ and that someone who specializes is an ‘insect.’ It’s a comparison between humans and other animals. A worker bee will only be a worker bee and never strive to be more or be asked to be more than that. A human is not so genetically specialized (as in a human genetically specialized to be a laborer, academic, artist, …). Again, Heinlein is not speaking narrowly about careers/jobs. If anything he’s saying humans are far more than their jobs and should not define themselves so narrowly in personal identity.

    2. The point, Dave, isn’t that “specialist/specialization” is a bad thing or that it doesn’t exist. The point is that human beings need to be widely trained/educated/experienced in order to be their personal best for quality of life/enrichment AND for professional/personal contribution to society/life. If the ONLY thing you know is “one thing” and can’t connect it to the wider world because you lack diversity in your experience/education/life/interests, then even as a “Specialist” you won’t be the best you can be.

      The point of the quote, and my interpretation is not that specialized careers/disciplines are ‘bad’ but that it won’t necessarily mean that you only know ‘one thing’ OR that you should let your ‘specialist’ career define who you are – you are more than your job.

      I think of Chinese/Russian Athletes who basically live for their sport 7 days a week. Let’s say a Chinese Gymnast for example – she is selected through testing at an early age (as early as 4-7 years old) through testing/evaluations, then she is sent to a ‘specialty’ school where she studies ‘just enough’ elementary subjects to qualify as basically educated and spends the rest of her time training as a gymnast, living in a dormitory with the rest of the students who become her ‘sisters’ and is only allowed to visit her family for major holidays. If she is very talented, she will do this through her entire young adult life. IF she decides she wants to marry when she is old enough, she will still have to live/train at the Gymnasium full time (live there away from her husband too). These athletes are amazing, disciplined, gifted, talented and extraordinary at Gymnastics, but how ‘human’ are they if they haven’t had the rest of the experiences that make life worth living, rich and full?

      If you read Jackie Chan’s biography it helps illustrate this as well. His early childhood is terrible with abuse, neglect, bullying… you name it.

    3. Sort of Jimothy_183. Heinlein isn’t just talking about jobs/career/training. He’s being a bit more philosophical about what makes human beings unique creatures compared to other animals. In order to be the ‘best human being’ possible be a ‘life long learner’ essentially.

      There are even studies that support the idea that richness/challenge/education as a ‘lifestyle’ keeps the mind sharp longer. Interviews/studies have shown that elderly people who have pursued hobbies/education/experience and/or been active beyond their ‘speciality’ (job/career/vocation) are less prone to Alzheimer’s and other brain deterioratig conditions that come with age – video games, jig saw puzzles, dance classes, field trips… all seem to contribute to keeping the mind/body/spirit rich, active and sharp for a better quality of life over the course of a long life.

      1. No…he’s also a NYS certified security guard. A martial artist. Can cook fairly well. Was an MP. Former USMC. English teacher…etc.

      2. I remember watching a program on the science channel, what makes human beings unique, when compared to other creatures.

        The ultimate conclusion was only one trait. Humans are the only species that will consciously make an effort to keep another species from going extinct.

      3. Not only to work in a media workplace, Dave. I can teach in a standard high school classroom, run a computer lab, I’m licensed NYC Security, have coached hockey, worked as a personal trainer, cook, sew (badly, now but not so bad before), am fairly proficient at woodcraft skills, can hunt/fish/trap, raise my kids, am in a relationship with my wife, …. you’re confusing ‘job/career/vocation’ with the purpose of the Heinlein quote which is about being a human being, not just your job/skill set.

  7. http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2007/09/14/the-top-5-reasons-to-be-a-jack-of-all-trades/

    5) “Jack of all trades, master of none” is an artificial pairing.

    It is entirely possible to be a jack of all trades, master of many. How? Specialists overestimate the time needed to “master” a skill and confuse “master” with “perfect”…

    Generalists recognize that the 80/20 principle applies to skills: 20% of a language’s vocabulary will enable you to communicate and understand at least 80%, 20% of a dance like tango (lead and footwork) separates the novice from the pro, 20% of the moves in a sport account for 80% of the scoring, etc. Is this settling for mediocre?

    Not at all. Generalists take the condensed study up to, but not beyond, the point of rapidly diminishing returns. There is perhaps a 5% comprehension difference between the focused generalist who studies Japanese systematically for 2 years vs. the specialist who studies Japanese for 10 with the lack of urgency typical of those who claim that something “takes a lifetime to learn.” Hogwash. Based on my experience and research, it is possible to become world-class in almost any skill within one year.

    1. Even the phrase “Jack of all Trades” was considered a good thing when the phrase is believed to have originated. Only later did the phrase “Jack of all trades” also get the tag “master of none” which flipped the meaning to something negative. A “Polymath” is a term for a ‘renaissance man’ (someone well skilled in many areas – e.g. Leonardo Da Vinci). There’s even an extended form of the phrase that pulls it back to positive

      “Jack of all trades, master of none, Certainly better than a master of one.”

      I suspect, personally, that the negative connotation started to g with the rise of power of the middle class as a trade/skilled labor strata of society gained power and influence through successful political and financial control. Like today, people didn’t see the immediate value of a ‘liberal’ or ‘renaissance’ education model because it was VERY expensive (and still is) when a a ‘practically minded’ skill tradesman’s son could be apprenticed off to a ‘specialist’ in a guild-house to learn a specific craft like barrel making/wheelwright, blacksmith, glass blowing, and so on… same was true for more academic fields too. Go to seminary/college to punch your ticket but you better pick a field of study after that OR be willing to go into politics/military service.

      There is a severe disconnect when the the current model for education supports a ‘liberal’ foundation/education (including a level if indoctrination for citizenship as a standard goal of public school education), and there are so many ‘liberal arts’ requirements when pursuing a B.S. or B.A. and yet, the idea that Heinlein’s quote is essentially an encapsulated version of this very model that we all grew up with. .even in my ‘specialized’ training of Ed Media and Design the motto was to educate the ‘whole person’ and not just ‘specialize’ in teaching ‘the brain.’

  8. From Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, ‘The Bed of Procrustes’:

    The fool generalises the particular;
    the nerd particularises the general;
    some do both;
    and the wise does neither

  9. Dave,

    After reviewing this discussion thread I see some disconnects that seem to be the source of the ‘disagreement.’

    1. The Heinlein quote is NOT referring to a career/specialization/vocation/job.
    2. The Heinlein quote is NOT using insect as a metaphor for ‘less evolved human being’ (as in an insult or slight against people who have highly specialized job skills or career tracks).

    3. The Heinlein quote (and this is based on the broader scope of his literature as well) IS referring to being a human being – which is bigger than a job/career/vocation.
    4. The Heinlein quote IS referring to insects as a separate biological creature who, individually and as a species, thrives because of highly specialized biological and social roles in a “Genus/species caste system”.

    In the end, the interpretation I’ve been trying to make clear is that, based on the Heinlein quote, human beings need variety in experience/education/life in order to life a quality, rich life of psychological, emotional, and spiritual (if that’s your belief) satisfaction on the whole – not just ‘job success.’

    I noticed that most/all of your points were in the ‘job specialization’ or ‘career skill’ area and that is too narrow an application for a quote that uses the term “human being.”

    If the quote had started with “To be successful at work, a human being …..”

    THis is broader than that because human being should be identified and remembered for more than their ‘job’ or one ‘special skill’ IMO.

    I think about what I’d like my obituary to say when I think about this quote, and I know that I would NOT want it just to be about my job/career specialities as a memorium of who I was on this planet.

  10. Perhaps it’s really a broader reference to the mindset that imposes limitations. If someone is really good at brain surgery, we shouldn’t expect that they might not also be an expert aircraft mechanic.

    If someone is very famous (a very good actor, let’s say), most people are surprised if they find out they have another tremendous talent.

    Most people would be surprised that Johnny Depp has an MS in Electrical Engineering and crafted a capacitor that improved the efficiency of EKG machines.

    Ok, not really. 🙂 But you see my point. Most people would be surprised.
    But why are we surprised? Why do we not tend to think people are multi-talented (because they usually are).

    Perhaps the tendency to lock a person into whatever they are famous for, is what is being addressed with the quote.

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