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In nature -- and maybe the corner office -- scientists find that generalists can thrive
Date:1/30/2008

COLUMBUS, Ohio The assignment of duties in a single cell, ocean life or even a small business does not have to be defined by a division of labor where every individual has a specific role, according to biologists at Ohio State University.

The scientists have designed a mathematical model to describe circumstances that would allow generalists to endure in what is typically expected to be a specialist-only society, according to theory.

Existing biological theories about the division of labor suggest that individual members of a group gravitate to specialization to perform specific tasks toward a common goal.

According to this new model, which tweaks two assumptions of the existing theory, there is a place in small groups for generalists to exist and possibly even to thrive.

Because the model they designed pertains to biological systems with just a few individuals, the researchers caution against reading too much into its potential application to humans. But in a socially and economically complex world, they admit they find comfort in the models implications about humankind nonetheless.

What this modeling showed me is that there are conditions under which it actually helps to have some generalists, especially for fairly small groups, some individuals that you might think of as Jacks- or Jills-of-all-trades or multitaskers, said Tom Waite, associate professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State and co-author of the study.

You might actually have to pay them more and they might often do the wrong task, but if you dont have them, this whole notion of specialization leading to greater economic productivity might actually be wrong.

The research appears online in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

Waite and doctoral candidate Anthony DOrazio, lead author of the study, started with an established mathematical model in current biology literature that leads to complete divi
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Contact: Emily Caldwell
caldwell.151@osu.edu
614-292-8310
Ohio State University
Source:Eurekalert

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