Richard Saul Wurman, the founder of the TED conference, uses to say that he topples silos of knowledge. His strategy of allowing cross-fertilization of previously isolated domains can be very successful, especially in times of rapid change. Search strategies can’t be fixed, but must adapt to the prevailing conditions to be successful.
Did you see the documentary “Jiro Dreams Of Sushi“? Highly recommended. The story of Jiro Ono, who has a Michelin three star sushi restaurant in a Tokyo, it is also a allegory for persistence, the search for perfection, and dedication. Having decided at age twelve what he wanted to be, surviving World War II, and dedicating himself to the art of sushi, Jiro starts every day with the goal of making a better sushi than the day before.
His search for his passion and what gave meaning to his life is based on what in computer science is called a depth first strategy. Going as deep as possible in search for a solution, and eventually coming back up, to start over if the search is not successful.
In this approach the specialization takes time, in Jiro’s case now almost eighty years. An other common example is the academic and scientific effort of a PhD that requires ten years or more of effort, to add typically a minuscule amount to the sum of the knowledge in a given field.
In rapidly changing times, when a globally connected civilization allows free communication, and access to information and knowledge, every specialist is just a few steps away. This allowed Richard Saul Wurman to create the Technology Entertainment Design (TED) conference, now run by Chris Anderson. Reaching out to leading thinkers and doers in various fields, the event gave through numerous examples, an exciting view of the possibilities that our problems can be solved through knowledge and ingenuity.
In computer science this is a breadth first search strategy. Going across a wide swath of possibilities, the solution is found at various possible depths. For Richard this is an answer of design solutions, for any given field.
Now working on his eightieth book, Richard is always looking for ways to analyze and represent a given domain of knowledge in search for novel ways to represent it and to cross fertilize it with others.
When there are rapidly changing conditions in the world around you, the depth first approach runs the risk of isolating you on a branch that is not as fertile as others. Yes, you may be the world’s leading expert in Windows NT configuration, and you may have even updated the knowledge as well as you could. But with the focus of attention now having moved to mobile computing and cloud computing, how do you keep your specialization valuable?
Since we are all connected on our social networks, as long as you are able to ask the right questions, assembling teams of experts to attack any problem and rapidly develop tentative solutions to be tested, can be nimble, fast, and an extremely robust and resilient strategy for success.