Sunday, December 11, 2011

What should a ceramics manufacturer know about artificial insemination ?

I was reading the Innovator's DNA, a book about innovation in companies. It had a very interesting story about a ceramics manufacturer that borrowed a technique in artificial insemination to create a new kind of ceramics which was lighter and harder than other industrial ceramics that can be manufactured at that time.

A lesson which can be learnt from that story is that many problems found in one industry can be solved by looking at the best practices of another industry.

Of course, given the complexity of most problems, it's very possible for a person to make the mistake of thinking that only a generalist is able to solve the most pressing issues faced by everyone today. We would need to create a new generation of polymaths or self-proclaimed know-it-alls who know how to inseminate cows and make ceramics at the same time. The consequences in our education system is too hard to bear.

Why does a secondary school student need to know history, english literature and geography at the same time ?

Actually, this is not necessary.

The solution to the problem was found because someone in the ceramics industry was curious enough to attend scientific conferences and had an inkling that a similar problem was solved years ago by artificial insemination experts. He simply managed to convince some experts to provide consulting to the R&D department of the ceramics manufacturer.

The moral of the story is this :

a) With your limited resources, develop a broad based skill-set along with one or two deep specializations. This T-shaped profile is vital to make a living in this world. The specialization needs to be taught, but a broad based education can be earned on your own spare time.

b) Since you are not likely to know everything. You need to network and be able to tap into a web of relationships to solve your most complicated problems. Of course, to benefit fully from this network you should be ready to help the others solve key problems with your area of specialization as well.

Another-words, if you have to choose between being a polymath or actually having friends, it's possibly wiser to choose the latter.

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