Food for Thought: How can we think bigger?

OpEd Project founder Katie Orenstein recently sent this reminder to our Public Voices Fellows, about expanding our expertise for the public conversation:

Illustration by Wendy MacNaughton via Brain PickingsMost of us are so locked in our silos (and our jargon) that we can’t see the patterns that link us across disciplines and cultures and time.  Or else we are so far up in the clouds that we’re blowing around without an anchor.  So the question is, how can we apply what we know to what we do not know?

At the same time, there is a tension between what we know and what we do not know, that grows larger.  With each and every passing day on the planet, we not only learn more knowledge — we also learn more and more about what we don’t know. The universe of the unknown is expanding, and at a faster rate than the universe of what we know.  The more we understand how little we know, the more uncomfortable we may feel with thinking big. We may end up speaking to smaller and smaller things.  So the challenge we face – the paradox of growing wise – is essentially to better and better realize the limitations of our knowledge, and then to draw from that realization the ability to say and do things that matter nevertheless.

But how?

One answer is to look beyond our fields – to look for the patterns and problems that appear elsewhere.  To explore the metaphors.  Where else do I see the familiar outlines of what I know? How has this same dynamic appeared in another place, or another field?  What does that place or field tell me that can help me solve a puzzle – or what can I contribute, from my universe, to a solution somewhere else?

In this video, Clayton Christenson Harvard Business School professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, talks about how the patterns of disruption and innovation are bigger than even he had imagined: “Most people think that semi-conductors and terrorism are two fundamentally different fields that you’d have to spend your whole life trying to understand.  But at a fundamental level we see the same problems recur over and over again. One way to be innovative in your search is not to develop expertise in a field but rather ask, “Where else have they seen a problem like that?”

Illustration by Wendy MacNaughton via BrainPickings


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