Breadth and the Functional Specialist

letters to young scientist#Specialist and breadth; seems a bit contradictory.

When researching functional specialist development I came across this wonderful TED talk. I liked it because it dealt with breadth and the functional specialist through the lens of becoming a scientist.

This short video gives advice to young scientists and attempts to inspire them with how to make a difference to the world. The messages are relevant to all ages and put into perspective the attitude required to go and make a difference.

Whilst deep knowledge in a field is a requirement for a specialist, Wilson also explains the importance of having breadth in many fields. He encourages study in fields far remote from the specialist area. He envisages, “In time, all of science will come to be a continuum of description, an explanation of networks, of principles and laws.” This vision can only be established by looking elsewhere other than the trodden path and filling in the unknown.

In commercial terms looking elsewhere or “observing” established thought from a different perspective is where competitive advantage is found. For high technology organisations their survival depends on this. I would go onto argue that the ability to develop breadth enables individuals to bring ideas into action in organisations. It is also a requirement for leading other specialists as these people need to understand the bigger technology picture to guide the application of specialist knowledge. (see my other blog on technical leaders heroes of our time).

Imagination, creativity, passion, focus and mentors are also cited by Wilson as important. Beyond this the need to have the courage to find opportunity by marching away from the “sound of the guns,” and recognise that value is not easily attained. The harder the path implied by the questions the greater the value of the answers and solutions he says.

Watch out for his metaphor of scientist as hunter and the two strategies to be employed. In making my own link to a different field this duality seems to connect to the human condition in a Jungian sense as expressed in the Myers Briggs personality tool (Judging – Perceiving); the desire to close things out versus the desire to open up new pathways and potential discoveries. So what connections do you make as a result of watching the video.

Got to the TED talk here..