Archive for February, 2015

Boundless Curiosity

25th February 2015

I found this article the other day from Diane Coyle (@diane1859). She points to a 1959 controversy sparked by CP Snow’s observation about a preference in English education for Humanities over Sciences and a consequential lack of scientific literacy in the society of the time. It got me curious, particularly in the light of this brilliant piece from Wait but Why and some recent politics from the Labour party.

KoalaI’ve written before about the value of synthesis in the workplace. My unoriginal observation is that technological creativity needs equivalent and equal innovation in less scientific realms to create lasting value, among other things because creativity lives in the tension between the two. Simple contemporary examples exist in creating products that meet a customer need rather than satisfying a developers dream; a grander example in how the joining of Henry Royce’s previously unfocused engineering genius (he developed the bayonet light bulb fitting long before he got involved with engines) with Charles Rolls’ entrepreneurial flair created the best motor car of it’s time. The reasonably straightforward and practical premise from an HR practitioner is that any organisation with too many Science graduates or too many with Humanities degrees is less likely to be successful than one that recognises the value in difference and staffs itself appropriately. That’s why we recruit people who study History as well as those that leave University qualified in Maths.

So far, so simple.

What Diane Coyle, CP Snow and Ed Milliband made me realise ‘though, was how little has changed and wonder about how important that really is. CP Snow’s specific example concerns a general ignorance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and a unscientific audit of my mostly Liberal Arts educated friends in the pub demonstrates only one of them with a nodding acquaintance of the thing. On the odd misguided occasions that I’ve quoted poetry in the Board room, the blank looks around the table bear witness to equal and equivalent ignorance in some engineers. What my friends and colleagues have in common, ‘though, is curiosity to find the best way to do things, a general understanding of the science of empiricism and an appreciation that instinct, intuition and nodding acquaintance with human behaviour are equally valuable.

In a world where Flip Chart Rick, the best data analyst I know has a degree in History and Politics and we have the potential for machines with workings as bafflingly incomprehensible as that described in the Wait but Why article, why isn’t that enough? I can’t possibly know all there is to know about Science or Humanities or both. Surely my task is to maintain the curiosity to know enough, the humility to accept that other people know more than me and the skills to engender the trust which means we can solve problems together.

Whatever discipline someone studies is less relevant, it seems to me, than the skills in learning they’ve acquired through the process. That and the thirst to continue their learning into the rest of their lives is surely worth more in the end than whether they can quote Shakespeare or Einstein.