[Updated] Being A Polymath Is Good For Innovation

Written Nov 28, 2013

Or, “a person can do all things if he will.”

We trust experts precisely because of their deep command of a narrow field (their knowledge is like a fjord). But their path to expertise could have traversed many fields, which allowed them to make previously unnoticed connections.

From Aeon Magazine*:

To come up with [innovative] ideas, you need to know things outside your field. What’s more, the further afield your knowledge extends, the greater potential you have for innovation.

Intense study brings rewards that are impossible to achieve by casual application.

Monopathy, or over-specialisation, eventually retreats into defending what one has learnt rather than making new connections.

The article provides further examples of cross-disciplinary innovation, the potential problems with the division of labor, and why children “learn all the time.”



UPDATE: A related article from Wired urges for the transformation of academia and business (at least most of it) to foster creativity and interdisciplinary thinking, of the sort present in entrepreneurial organizations which produce so many revolutionary products.

The most exciting inventions occur at the boundaries of disciplines.

As Robert Twigger noted, ‘Invention fights specialisation at every turn.’

Mathematics is a gift, an unbelievably useful tool for understanding our surroundings.

More generally, the world of business and entrepreneurship actively encourages those who see connections between disciplines. One who can recognize a relationship between two disparate fields of ideas will more likely come up with the next, big, new thing. That’s investment gold.