Friday, March 28, 2014

"...An Old, Old Wooden Ship..."

David Feitler, Senior Program Manager at NineSigma and Program Director for the Ohio Third Frontier Program, has a blog post at the Harvard Business Review on team diversity. Feitler explains that

Ben Jones and colleagues at the Kellogg Business School of Northwestern University published a paper in Science last year focusing on diversity in the production of new knowledge, as reflected in the research literature. Looking for patterns across some 17.9 million papers indexed in Thomson Reuter’s Web of Science, they demonstrated that the most influential papers (most highly cited) were those that exhibited an intrusion of interdisciplinary information. They also found that groups were more likely to foster these intrusions than solo researchers. This is entirely consistent with Fleming’s findings for industry, and his attempts to dispel some of the mythology around lone inventors

"It isn’t all about novelty or conventionality. It’s about both," Jones explains. "You want to be grounded in something that’s well understood and yet be adding in the piece that’s truly unusual. And if you do those two things [and] stretch yourself in both directions, then you radically increase your probability of hitting a homerun.” Co-author Brian Uzzi states, "Many of these novel combinations are really two conventional ideas in their own domains. You’re taking established, well-accepted ideas, which is a wonderful foundation—you need that in science. But when you put them together: wow. That’s suddenly something really different.” Teams were more likely to produce this "virtuous mix" by bringing diverse specialities together. While we often speak of diversity of people, it is really a diversity of disciplines and experiences.

I'm reminded of Jack Beatty's description of the great interdisciplinarian and management expert Peter Drucker:

Learning is his mind's pleasure, a gift to share with his readers, not an invitation to pomposity. The Druckers raised an intellectual, not an academic. For sixty years Drucker has taken on a new subject every three or four years and read up on it to the capacious limits of his curiosity. One year it might be Japanese art...another year it could be sixteenth-century finance; yet another the history of technology or of work--or of American statesmen or of British rule in India. He recommends intellectual omnivorousness as a form of self-renewal. Certainly it has worked for him.[1]

Perhaps this is why we are told to "seek diligently...yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118). Innovation, creativity, inspiration, and revelation seem to be intertwined. To be revelators and ministers, we must be interdisciplinarians as well. Drawing from D&C 88, Elder John A. Widtsoe sums it up this way:

Things both in heaven—Astronomy.

And in the earth—Everything pertaining to the cultivation of the soil.

And under the earth—Mineralogy, geology, etc.

Things which have been—History, in all its branches.

Things which must shortly come to pass—Prophecies.

Things which are at home and abroad—Domestic and foreign politics.

Wars—perplexities—judgment—The signs of the times, by which the observer may know that the day of the Lord is at hand.

A knowledge of countries and kingdoms—physical and political geography, languages, etc.

These studies, the Lord considers necessary...God does not require all His servants to become doctors, or professors, or even profound students of these subjects, but He expects them to know enough of these things to be able to magnify their callings as His ambassadors to the world.

The knowledge we gain here is not trivial. And we should seek more of it.


1. Jack Beatty, The World According to Peter Drucker (New York: Free Press, 1998), 7. 

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