Editor | On 27, May 2018
A few months ago we introduced the concept of #-shaped people (Issue 183, June). The main idea was to start a discussion about the sorts of skills that the world needs in our post-truth, ‘had-enough-of-experts’ times. The world, we speculated has too many ‘vertical’ skilled people and not enough ‘horizontal’s. Part of the thinking, too, was that there are multiple ‘horizontal’ integrative disciplines, such that, over time, an individual may seek to add both more horizontal skills to their portfolio as well as additional verticals.
Figure 1: #-Shaped People
The more we thought about the basic model the more it feels like a valid way of mapping not just and individual’s skill profile, but also all the world’s knowledge. Provided we evolve the basic horizontal/vertical idea. The first extension to the initial conception was to recognize that the horizontal integrative dimensions is not so much an end to end spectrum, but rather that – because it is by definition integrative – it must wrap around upon itself. In other words, a person intent on learning an integrative skill – ‘design’ for example, or ‘philosophy’ – sooner or later comes to realise that everything comes full circle, and that we start to observe the same basic ideas and principles across all of the vertical domain specialisms we might seek to integrate into our particular horizontal story. The #-shaped model of the world might thus be more representative if we think of it like this:
Figure 2: Integrative Specialisms Eventually Return On Themselves
Better yet, comes a realization that rather than being circular, the integrative specialisms also interact with one another and thus possess some kind of overall unifying direction in which, as we learn more and more about how the world works, we increase our (mankind’s) overall level of knowledge. The circles are actually better thought of as spirals. Although we’re still not quite sure how to draw the picture, Figure 3 seems to offer up at least a partial vision of what we think is happening as the world learns more ‘vertical’ stuff, and gets better and better at integrating it all together:
Figure 3: #-Landscape
(in reality the picture needs more spiraling integrative specialisms, and multiple vertical lines
to represent the totality of different domain specialisms, but hopefully you get the idea)
If we imagine that ‘progress’ is about moving vertically up the cone, one of the key ideas behind this image is that, as the TRIZ concept of Ideal Final Result tells us, evolution is a convergent rather than a divergent process. As more and more of the world’s knowledge gets synthesized into a higher and higher level model, we ought by rights to end up with an all-can-do ‘Theory Of Everything’. Or rather, again like the IFR concept, realise that once we attain any kind of ‘ideal’ solution, it emerges that there’s an even more ideal one over the horizon. At which point the cone diverges outwards as the knowledge paradigm makes a sea-change shift. We can see a mini-version of this ‘convergence’ effect with the Renaissance period in the 14th to 17th Century. Mankind’s sum pool of knowledge was such that a smart enough individual could start connecting all the dots in order to produce a better understanding of how the world worked. Then the Industrial Revolution saw an explosion of new ideas and a period of specialization. And, right now, in the first quarter of the twenty-first Century, and all of the talk of ‘singularity’ it seems we’re right in the middle of another of these convergent periods. The ‘singularity’ – if indeed there is such a thing – is almost by definition the star on the point of the cone… except, of course, if the divergent-convergent model holds true it will merely be the culmination of integrating all of our current knowledge, and some smart individual (or computer) will work out what the next explosively divergent phase will be about.
All a bit too philosophical – or plain abstract! – but the takeaway point (we hope) is the image of the horizontal ‘integrative specialisms’ as the primary mechanism by which the sum of all of our knowledge evolves to ever higher levels.