Home > Alex, Qualification > Should we throw straight or aim wide?

Should we throw straight or aim wide?

Do most innovations happen on the cutting edge or can they be found on the margins of a professional field?

Let me share a story to illustrate my example. Edward Melcarek is an electrical engineer who was able to  instantly solve a problem that puzzled the R&D department of  Colgate for a quite some time. He was able to do so by applying his knowledge of electrical physics to a traditional chemistry problem. To Edward, the solution stood out as an application of basic electrical principles, yet to seasoned R&D chemical scientists it was elusive.

What is innovation anyway?  My view of innovation coincides with principles described by Jeff Hawkins in his book “On Intelligence” . Essentially, he argues, innovation is our capacity to notice previously learned patterns in new environments.  The deeper and broader your library of patterns, the more likely you are to notice and apply those patterns to problems and generate novel solutions. This is why an “outside perspective” is traditionally valued during the innovation process (HBR Innovation’s Hidden Enemies).

What does this mean for young professionals? It is quite possible that thousands of experienced professionals are tackling problems within your field using a standard skill set (learned by experience or in school, through conferences or self learning). The progress that these professionals make as a whole might be impressive (or not), but to an individual it is hard to stand out since too many people are aiming to solve same problems in a similar way. One way to compete within such environment is to apply cross discipline knowledge, and it has been done: Marketing/Psychology, Logistics/Mathematics, Biology/Chemistry, etc. But it has not been done for all the fields! What about Computer Science/Art combination, creating art though a senses of a machine? Or Marketing/Immunology, applying virus propagation formulas to marketing campaigns?

Universities are great at training specialists, but we might have too many people pursuing this path. Perhaps what we need is people who are able to bridge a gap among fields, if so today’s graduates should aim to have multiprofessions in order to find their blue oceans.

Categories: Alex, Qualification
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