Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Comparative advantage.

I like to think of myself as a very capable individual who really can do anything. I know that will come off as sounding like an after school special with a statement such as "you can do anything you put your mind to". However, it is something which I find at least in my life to be accurate. What makes this statement more substantial is that not only can I do anything but I can usual do it really well and with little or no effort.
Case in point. Where I work I do a lot of different tasks and typically I am never doing the same thing for more than a few days. Not one of these tasks is particularly hard (at least I do not think so) and it is not uncommon for me to finish a task in half the time I was given. My propensity to finish these jobs quickly and to a level of quality beyond the satisfaction of management lead to the creation of the phrase the "Didymos Factor". Typically when I would receive an assignment my boss would give me a time estimate saying, "This would take a normal person about a week, however with the Didymos Factor you should be done in about three days." Unfortunately as my boss learned the Didymos factor was incorrectly applied to his calculations and I would finish the task in about six hours. Management would sometime be skeptical that I could finish something so much faster than anyone expected however I was usual providing results which greatly exceeded what they were expecting. What I found to be the most curious aspect of my high productivity skills was that I was not trying. I would just go on assignment and work. As far as I could tell I was not doing anything special. And it would have, in my opinion, been harder to work any slower. It became obvious to everyone at work (or at least to management and myself) that I had a comparative advantage in basically everything.

So what is to be done when I have a comparative advantage in everything? What type of work should I specialize in? Well unfortunately I did not get to decide that was up to my boss. There were quite a few times that my boss expressed an interest in cloning me and replace most of his employees with those clones. However, since it would take years for the clone to reach maturity the plan was scrapped. My boss wanted these clones so that he could have everything that I could do done as quickly and correctly as possible. My boss had as issue with the opportunity cost of me working on any particular assignment. Eventually human resource added another person to my department names Klim. Klim was the exact opposite of myself and seemed to have a comparative disadvantage in everything. Every assignment she was given took longer than expected and was so perforated with mistakes that I would scarcely call it complete. However, Klim was able to keep her job despite her lack of ability because even though she had a comparative disadvantage in everything she could still get something done and that freed up my colleagues and myself to do more specialized tasks which added higher value to the company.

It would have been best for me to do everything, and if I could have I would. However, I could not be at two places at once so I had to accept that Klim was going to do everything very inefficiently because that was the only way it could get done. And this allowed me to do more specialized tasks. Similarly the Palmers in this weeks reading had a comparative disadvantage in surviving. However, that did not mean that they could not survive or that even by them specializing in something they were not that good at that the overall wealth created on the island would not increase. So while Klim was comparably less efficient at the same tasks as I was it was beneficial to keep her employed and working. However that does not mean it was not frustrating. And I, much like the Fishers, was often wondering how can it be so hard for them to do such a simple task.

1 comment:

  1. The idea of finding one's Comparative Advantage and specializing in it is relatively recent in human history (even if that is baffling because it seems to be such a simple concept.) Your post reminded me lot of the Renaissance because that was an age where people were glorified if they had the Comparative Advantage "in everything." Hence Leonardo Da Vinci and the idea of the Renaissance man. It's funny though that typically in today's society we exalt the people with a more specialized skill set.