Innovation Happens at the Intersections

Want to do interesting work?  Look for intersections.  When disciplines crash into each other great stuff can emerge.

“Your chocolate is in my peanut butter.”

“No.  Your peanut butter is in my chocolate.”

There is magic in the right combination of things.

This is where the fast-moving, interesting stuff happens.

Deep skills move slowly.  There is wide agreement about principles and where the problems are.  Brilliant researchers are working on the important problems.  They carefully advance the state of the art, often dogmatically following a set of accepted norms.

‘That’s how we do things in our field.”

So, where does that leave the rest of us?  The rest of us can still display our brilliance. For those of us who aren’t PhD’s in applied astrophysics, how can we do something interesting?

There’s plenty of space where disciplines overlap.  People who can bring knowledge of one area and apply it in another.

In a previous post we discussed how Apple uses the killer combination of hardware, software and services to create great experiences.  They do this without creating any particular technical advances in those areas.  Competitors are missing the point when they stress individual features in their products and how they can beat Apple on memory, or pixels or battery life.

Apple creates a great experience by putting together a combination of product, software and service that allows you to do new and interesting things.  They make everything about what you can accomplish, not the gears that are turning to make it happen.

Mashing together things that come from different disciplines can create high-speed advances.

Scientists in biology, materials science and engineering brought their disciplines together to rebuild structures in the body.  Their plan is to eventually get the body to rebuild its own structures.

In the meantime they have replaced the lining of an esophagus, fixed chronic fractures, replaced a failing trachea and grown new bladders.

These amazing treatments happened when experts from several disciplines turned from advancing their own field in isolation to looking at how they could combine with the work of other researchers in brilliant ways.

For a more practical take on it, Scott Adams looks at this concept when thinking about your career.   He illustrates how he built his using a unique combination of skills, rather than a single deep skill.

It’s unlikely that any average student can develop a world-class skill in one particular area. But it’s easy to learn how to do several different things fairly well. I succeeded as a cartoonist with negligible art talent, some basic writing skills, an ordinary sense of humor and a bit of experience in the business world. The “Dilbert” comic is a combination of all four skills. The world has plenty of better artists, smarter writers, funnier humorists and more experienced business people. The rare part is that each of those modest skills is collected in one person. That’s how value is created.

Whitson Gordon at Lifehacker looks at this from the perspective of making yourself more valuable in your career. He’s got a great point.  It applies in many areas.

This is also how we can create value in products and services.  Create killer combinations of products and services that allow people to have the experiences they seek.

Focus on the end result.  Find the technology, services and business models that serve the need.  If you let the experience rule, you’ll have happier customers.

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