Innovation is considered to be a sport for interdisciplinary brokers and boundary spanners these days. However, contrary to trends in the business literature, creativity is not always developed through a broad network. For winners of the highest accolades, like the Nobel Prize or the Fields Medal, deep commitment to narrow questions and a thorough understanding of a particular topic are essential to push boundaries into new frontiers. There is a missing piece in our understanding of creativity by highlighting that the world is not a static environment where people simply recombine local (i.e. from the same field) or distant (i.e. from other fields) components. Creative work is more complex than the often-discussed trade-off between exploitation and exploration. There is a third type of recombination. One that involves components that are neither distant, nor local; they are new to the world. Specialists perform relatively better than generalists as the pace of change increases because their narrow focus allows them to keep track of the frontier more easily. As a result, they are better able to take advantage of the new components emerging at the frontier. In contrast, generalists straddle different fields and have therefore a more superficial understanding of the frontier in each field. They find it more difficult to adapt to rapid changes. Although there is a temptation to call most businesses “cutting edge”, an honest evaluation of how much real change has recently occurred in your firm’s knowledge domain can help evaluate if you have the right blend of generalists and specialists.  Read More >>

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