Here is an article from the New York Times that gives me a perfect segue into a topic that I have been pondering a great deal over the last few months. It discusses the nature of innovation and its relationship to knowledge, and it concludes with:
In her 2006 book, “Innovation Killer: How What We Know Limits What We Can Imagine — and What Smart Companies Are Doing About It,” Cynthia Barton Rabe proposes bringing in outsiders whom she calls zero-gravity thinkers to keep creativity and innovation on track.
“Look for people with renaissance-thinker tendencies, who’ve done work in a related area but not in your specific field,” she says. “Make it possible for someone who doesn’t report directly to that area to come in and say the emperor has no clothes.”
This begs the question, what is the nature of the renaissance mind?
The term Renaissance Man describes a person who excels in a wide variety of fields, especially showing an ability to cross-over between the Arts and the Sciences.
Leonardo Da Vinci is often used as the archetype of the “Renaissance man”. He is considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and also a rather significant scientist and engineer.
Amongst more recent examples, a notable Renaissance Man is Alan Greenspan, who not only chaired the Federal Reserve for over two decades, but is also an accomplished musician. Greenspan studied Clarinet at Juilliard, and is also a saxophone player of serious distinction.
You could say, also, that Steve Jobs has a Renaissance mind, in that he has both the technical vision and the aesthetic vision to conceive products that are truly original.
My personal observation is that we are losing some of the Renaissance style thinking in this age of hyper-specialization and nerd-dom. Our industry is so hung up on “domain expertise”, that it loses sight of the fact that innovation, often, requires going back to the fundamentals, asking a few very simple questions, and a willingness to look foolish.