Want Innovative Thinking? Hire from the Humanities

Tony Golsby-Smith, CEO of Second Road, a business design and transformation firm, argues in a Harvard Business Review blog entry that companies faced with innovation crisis are often lacking employees capable of thinking about unknown futures, a skillset he associates with degrees in the humanities. Science and business training focuses mainly on the analysis and manipulation of data, an approach that is constraining when it comes to the process of innovation. While Golsby-Smith’s perspective is managerial (his sole concern is how firms can increase their own profits by maximizing their internal ability to innovate), he links certain types of knowledge (literary and art-historical, for instance) with types of thinking that are conducive to innovation, such as complexity and ambiguity. His pragmatism should be duly noted, then, as it can be applied to any real-world innovation context, whether for the financial benefit of a company or the public good. It is vital that we think of innovation in relation to different knowledge systems, and not merely formal combinatoric processes or pithy productizing mantras (“make it simple”) divorced or abstracted from content. Different fields of knowledge imply different ways of thinking, not merely different data sets.


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