The extrapolation of expertise
Is it really feasible to think that expertise from one area of research be integrated and applied in another? More specifically, should an "expert" in one area of science keep to their own individual area of expertise, or is it likely that a true expert, even if in a narrow area of study, will be able to bring fresh perspective to another?
Great questions Robert. I will start with the first where I definitely think that expertise from one area can be valuable in another. At a base level this is obvious, otherwise we wouldn't be able to innovate, yes? The principles around TRIZ basically use the fact that new products or applications could be derived from one product, idea or patent that was developed for a totally different purpose.
I can also answer from a specialists perspective. My field is Additive Manufacturing or 3D Printing, which has been my focus for around 25 years. Prior to that I was a specialist in robotics, automation and control. I found that background to be ideally suited to what was then a new technological field. I also saw numerous analogies between my study and experience of industrial robotics and what was/is happening in 3DP. I have seen people do similar things from their perspectives on materials, design and management for example. So I definitely see ''experts" being able to move from one application to another and between disciplines.
However, I also see that some experts are valued for their detailed knowledge of a particular area and who find it difficult to move beyond some unseen boundaries. So what you might say is, are there two types of expert: specialist and generalist? Particularly for the generalist, this may be a difficult question to answer or concept to define because there probably is also a need to apply context. Being a general expert in 3DP does not make me a specialist in submarine technology for example, even though 3DP has been used for such applications and I may have been involved in a related project.
The SF writer A E van Vogt invented the term ''Nexialist" which relates to a generalist perspective on science. Maybe we should revive the term.
The most revered scientists are the people who cross boundaries to apply the perspective of one area to another. Richard Feynman, Nobel prize winner and widely recognized as one of the brightest minds of his time, was famous for spreading himself widely across areas of study and contributing mightily in all of them.
From the NY Times obituary: "Above all, in and out of science, Dr. Feynman was a curious character-his phrase, and the double meaning was intentional. He was never content with what he knew or what other people knew. He taught himself how to fix radios, pick locks, draw nudes, speak Portuguese, play the bongos and decipher Mayan hieroglyphics. He pursued knowledge without prejudice, studying the tracking ability of ants in his bathtub and learning enough biology to study the mutation of bacteriophages."
Res ipsa loquitur, I think.
27 months ago
Multidisciplinary is the key word. You need a team of experts, each in his own field that can work together to solve a similar problem. The more experts and inputs that you can get to solve a problem, the more likely you will get an optimal solution. Now, if you want one person to address or be skill in variety of disciplinary then he/she cannot be an expert in one thing. This is the different between a MD to PhD. The first know everything superficially and used and experts to provide more details, the other specialized in one topic and know everything about it.
Great question, Robert.
In my experience, siloed expertise leads to people focusing on obscure subject and loosing the big picture perspective.
As with anything else, research progresses by people who can see and pursue the big picture not the minutia. To achieve this, people should span departments and fields.
Interaction and communication between people with different expertise should be the norm in any organisation. You never know when some adhoc discussions lead to major breakthroughs.
Thanks to all respondents. I appreciate your perspectives. Taking this to the next level, what are the most effective ways to interject such a siloed expert into new areas; it can be quite difficult to expand into new areas. What have you found to be the most effective ways to approach this?