Thomas Aquinas famously counseled us to “beware the man of one book.” He meant it in the context of debate: if someone has spent their whole life studying just one book, don’t argue with them about that one book.
But there’s another interpretation: beware the thinker so locked up in their academic discipline (their one book), that they can’t see anything outside of it. They can do some serious damage.
It’s the old hammer-and-nail bias: if the only tool you know how to use is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. And then you go around banging everything with a hammer.
The trick is not getting stuck in a hammer silo, and opening your process up to new perspectives. Solutions to most complex problems lie at the intersection of different disciplines. To see those solutions, you need to break through intellectual silos, and blur the boundaries between different disciplines, not deepen them.
Take supply chains. Beyond immediate suppliers, 45% of businesses claim they have zero visibility into their supply chain. So, even though the U.S. government banned cotton from the Xinjiang region of China because of labor abuses, their cotton can still sneak under the radar and end up on Costco shelves.
Companies have started spraying DNA molecules onto raw materials at the start of a supply chain. Then, when the raw material goes through the supply chain and reaches its final destination, companies can check for the presence of those molecules. Are these jeans made with our high-quality, ethically-sourced cotton? Or was our cotton swapped for Xinjiang cotton somewhere in between? The DNA will tell us.
The DNA is not the story. The story is the human who studied DNA and thought, “Wow. That’s PERFECT for tracking cotton around the world.” As opposed to a standard logistics guy who had been filling out the same ole’ forms for decades.
The point is, ideas don’t categorize themselves into neat little disciplines, WE categorize them into neat little disciplines. And what we gain in neatness, we lose in flexibility and creativity.
If it’s helpful, use it. It doesn’t matter where it came from.