Friday, August 24, 2007

Virtues of Broken [Dinosaur] Lenses

We all look at the world through lenses, which are typically fashioned in the course of our educations. While such lenses allow us to efficiently access the prior experience which has evolved in our professional community, there are also unfortunate consequences that go along with this. Think about MBA education, or any professional training, for that matter. We all pretty much study the same curricula, from the same texts, and apply the lessons in the same way. We are taught by faculty who attend similar schools, publish in a limited number of journals led by editorial boards from the same small set of schools, and who compete in a global job-market that values conformity rather than independence. That's why a front page Wall Street Journal story on hunting dinosaur DNA in the 21st century is so relevant to the readers of this blog.

In what sounds like something directly out of Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger, the August 24th's Wall Street Journal [North American edition] has a front-page story about Jack Horner, who it describes as: "... dyslexic, a former Special Forces operative of the Vietnam War era, a MacArthur Foundation "genius" fellow, and a chaired professor of Montana State University who never finished a formal college degree," and who has not only changed the way we think about dinosaurs over the past several decades, but is most decidedly in the hunt for the code of dinosaur life.

All of us who love dinosaurs are in Jack Horner's debt; he has opened-up our eyes to new learnings and even greater possibilities, and it is probably his non-traditional background which has given him an edge in this respect. A colleague of his is quoted in the Journal as saying: "The lenses that people normally use to look at stuff are broken in Jack. That's what makes Jack such a good scientist. Every now and then, every field should get a renegade weirdo in it who challenges assumptions."

For our purposes as knowledge professionals, the real question is: "where do you, or your organization, get your renegade ideas from? Who is the "weirdo" that you can rely on? And, equally important, is there ever a chance that you can get to look through "broken lenses" of your own?" We're all looking for an edge, and as Horner puts it: "As long as you are not bound by preconceived ideas of what you can find, thre are an awful lot of things you can discover."

No comments: