We’re often told to specialise; to find a niche and own an area; that there are so many people out there and so many companies that you must find your spot and stick to it. This is meant to be a good thing – you will benefit from it and so will your clients.
In fact, it can be quite the opposite.
David Epstein comprehensively argues against this idea in his recent book Range and we totally agree. Elastic believe strongly in this principle – our strength comes from our flexibility – our very name comes from this – we are elastic! Solving problems and delivering effective solutions requires elasticity. To be elastic you need range.
Creativity comes from adaptability, and specialisation, by its nature, can set up constraints and limitations. Specialisation can also encourage repetition. And in some circumstances, this may be beneficial. A master craftsman creating an object that people expect or an engineering company that produces a specific component that must deliver exactly what is required time and time again are indeed looking to recreate what they are known for. But when it comes to problem-solving you need range.
To help illustrate Epstein outlines 2 environments – kind and wicked. Kind environments lack variables – they are predictable silos. The ultimate ‘kind’ environment is where all the information is available – you don’t have to search or guess – patterns emerge and reliably repeat themselves time and time again. Golf is a good example of a kind environment. Weather conditions and course layout may provide some variables but mostly you know what you’re dealing with. However, ‘wicked’ environments are dynamic with often many elements that are not so predictable. Wicked environments are organic and chemical; constantly mixing and remixing – there isn’t a grand template to lay over events or a map to point the way. Much of life can be ‘wicked’ and solving problems most certainly falls into this category. In order to navigate a wicked environment you need range; you need to be able to adjust and swerve and jump as you search for answers.
Elastic Thinking that drives real creativity relies on exploration and the ability to put together what might seem disparate elements and to understand when they are right or fit – even if you haven’t seen them before in that arrangement. This idea is then strengthened when we look, for example, at how Elastic take many learnings from many sectors and therefore many experiences and use this ability to arrive at unique and incredibly useful responses to our clients’ problems.
The author continues to demonstrate this power with further explanations about the power of analogies. That by making connections and recognising patterns between events that seem unrelated can reveal surprising and unique solutions. Continuing this theme of the less obvious he also discusses the benefits of being an ‘outsider’. That by not being an “expert” in a narrow field you can avoid going down lanes of known procedures that will hit brick walls – it’s the backing up from these walls that these experts can find tricky says Epstein.
There’s no doubt that specialism, in the right circumstance can have its place, but for us to solve problems we need to remain open and receptive to ideas and not rely just on what’s gone before. Elastic has experience in many sectors across many disciplines and we are all the better for it.