How do you put it all together?

A single violin’s refrain can evoke sadness and memories of a long-distant past. Within an orchestra that violin’s identity is transformed, its contribution part of a complex composition. Unlike the violinist, the composer and conductor must be able to hear, simultaneously, both single notes and majestic whole. Daniel Pink calls it symphonic thinking: the ability to put together the pieces. “It is the capacity to synthesise rather than analyse, to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields, to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers, and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair,” Pink says in A Whole New Mind. “Automation has taken over many of the routine analytic tasks that knowledge workers once performed… That is freeing (and in some cases forcing) professionals to do what computers and low-wage foreign technicians have a more difficult time replicating: recognising patterns, crossing boundaries to uncover hidden connections, and making bold leaps of imagination.” Steve Jobs had that ability, as did inventor and entrepreneur, James Dyson, in his quest for a more effective vacuum cleaner. “Most people (had) attempted to solve the “bag problem” by crafting a more effective vacuum cleaner bag,” relates psychologist and author, Art Markman. “Instead, Dyson realised a vacuum takes in a combination of dust and air and needs to separate the dust from the air. Once he thought about the problem in this way, he was able to recall his own knowledge about the industrial cyclones used in sawmills, which use centrifugal force to separate particles from air rather than a filter. He then designed a small industrial cyclone into a vacuum and created a highly successful business.” Such abilities can be nurtured, argue The Idea Hunter authors, Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer, quoting Louis Pasteur’s “Chance favours the prepared mind”. “His point was about the habits of research that usually lie behind any scientific discovery, however serendipitous,” they say. “Someone who develops those skills is more likely than others to create his or her own luck in the search for breakthroughs.”


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