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In A Disruptive & Ever-Changing World, What Matters Most – Depth or Breadth?

Case Study:

In the historic Exxon Valdez oil spill episode (Alaska), the winning solution came from John Davis (who was from the construction industry), an outsider to the oil industry that left the world in bafflement.

(Reference: https://www.ideaconnection.com/open-innovation-success/Open-Innovation-Exxon-Valdez-Cleanup-00030.html)

This is a classic example where one has mastered something (depth) in one domain, and later by widening one’s learning horizons (breadth); one can know the applicability of the knowledge gained by seeing patterns (analogies), as knowledge gained in one domain can be transferable to other domain.

A Philosophical view

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in his book “Beyond Good and Evil” (Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future), explains the differences between philosophers and scholars and faults the latter for attempting to reduce philosophy to a mere theory of knowledge. As explained in his own words:

Facing a world of “modern ideas” that would banish everybody into a corner and “specialty”, a philosopher—if today there could be philosophers—would be compelled to find the greatness of man, the concept of “greatness” precisely in his range and multiplicity, in his wholeness in manifoldness. He would even determine value and rank in accordance with how much and how many things one could bear and take upon himself, how far one could extend his responsibility.

The message is clear through his callouts “how much and how many things one could bear and take upon” stresses both on Depth and Breadth (In my personal view).

So, who wins the race? Depth or Breadth?

The conclusion reminds Freeman Dyson ‘s analogy in the field of Mathematics in his research paper “Birds and Frogs”, as stated in his own words:

We need both focused frogs and visionary birds. It is stupid to claim that birds are better than frogs because they see farther, or that frogs are better than birds because they see deeper. The world is both broad and deep. We need birds and frogs working together to explore it.

  • If you are unclear about your direction (passion or purpose) for depth, go for spectrum of experiences (breadth) that will eventually help you to realize your core (depth) and develop expertise in that domain for innovation.
  • If you realize your direction (passion or purpose) for depth earlier, zoom out and soar high for wide range of experiences that will help you to find patterns in applying that core in other domains for complex problem solving.

It’s the Breadth that gives purpose to Depth, the Depth that makes sense to Breadth.

Both Depth & Breadth are inseparably intertwined in the human race to witness the finest innovations & to solve complex problems in pushing humanity to evolve into its next for the greater good.

PS: I sincerely thank Dr. Ali Anani Ph.D. for not only taking his precious time to review & provide valuable inputs but also for all the encouragement and support provided. Also, I express my heartfelt gratitude to Dennis J. Pitocco for featuring me as a contributor on this award-winning great global platform.

 

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Visweswaran Balasubramanian
Visweswaran Balasubramanianhttps://visweswaranb.wordpress.com/
I am Visweswaran, working as a Practice Manager with Oracle Corporation in Bangalore, India. I have done my Post Graduation (PGCHRM) with XLRI, Jamshedpur, and my Engineering with JNTU, Hyderabad (India). I have close to 18 years of IT experience that is diversified in the fields of Technology, Project Management, Talent & Competency Management, Human Resources Management & Program Management (current role). I have been exploring the fields of Philosophy, Psychology and their relatability from the perspective of Science for more than a decade. It’s my inquisitiveness, passion, and a quest for knowledge in learning & exploring, my inherent need to give a form or shape to my existence in synthesizing those learnings with my life experiences; that gives me the fulfillment in realizing my essence & purpose. I view the world around me as a reflection of my altered states of consciousness that enables me to see patterns in everything and to experience the feeling of oneness with the universe.

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CONVERSATIONS

  1. Change, whether we like it or not, is inherent in life itself. Fast changes constantly affect processes, methods, tools, relationships, results. How we experience change is a personal choice.
    Uncertainty has practically become a constant. And this virus has shown us strongly.
    It is therefore time to make uncertainty become a living part of our behavioral “toolbox”, looking for opportunities with the right mindset, managing obstacles by adopting a good system of reality analysis (be careful of conditioning and cognitive biases), preparing a strategy by defining a good action plan: concrete, feasible, and above all, starting to put it into practice immediately, working on ourselves not looking for alibis or those self-justifications that we are use to adopt in order of not act and still feel okay with our conscience.
    Welcome. I read your article and found it very interesting. I hope to still have the opportunity to meet for interesting discussions in BZC, where you will meet many amazing people.

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