Sunday, September 5, 2010

Becoming a polymath

When my dissertation advisor, Rulon Wells, died two years ago, a colleague wrote a tribute describing him as a formidable polymath. That phrase stuck in my mind, so when I encountered Vinnie Mirchandani’s book The New Polymath: Profiles in Compound-Technology Innovations (Wiley, 2010) I figured it was something I had to read.

It’s an interesting book, though not essential reading for the trader or investor. Nonetheless, we might all do well to think about these quotations from a chapter late in the book where ten polymaths from history join the discussion.

Michelangelo: “Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.”

Leonardo da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Hypatia: “Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel, the more truth we can comprehend.”

Nasir al-Din al-Tusi: “Anyone who does not know and does not know that he does not know is stuck forever in double ignorance.”

1 comment:

  1. Brenda, thanks for the post. My goal in the book was to describe polymath teams and enterprises, not as much individuals and of course, the focus is more on ability to integrate various tech - infotech, biotech, cleantech etc to come up with better products, processes etc. But since the book came out around the events tour, over and over again the question comes up - how can we individually become polymaths? While I caution them not to put themselves under too much pressure, the desire to improve and expand horizons is admirable in our overly specialzied world. Also, I am finding a refreshing willingness in business to look outside their confines. So, I was with a group of insurance practitioners, inherently a conservative group and the discussion was how medical devices, sensors in autors, how mobile computing could be leveraged and how other industries are doing it. So, even for your trader and investor audience, a broader set of knowledge cannot be bad.

    Of course, we are talking small percentage of the world is into that thinking. I presented to a young tech crowd recently and one of my slides vividly brought out the Twitter following for GE's Global research Center, which my book describes as a Polymath center with its wide range of disciplines in its 1,700 scientists and engineers versus that of Britney Spears. 700 versus 6 million. The audience laughed but I hope they took away my point that we are fixated on our social and mobile toys when we could be doing so much more... thanks again