Nobel prize winners have been getting older and more specialized in the past century. With more knowledge being created, the time it takes to get to the cutting edge of a field is increasing. The definition of a field is getting narrower, too. So, a future Nobel prize winner will have to spend a much longer period of time to first understand everything that has happened before and then innovate.
There are implications for us, too. Over this century, our world has seen a tremendous increase in knowledge too. While we can probably do well at our current jobs by investing just in functional expertise, having an understanding of the big picture will get harder and harder. It will require us to invest in learning in a way that makes us look more like Nobel Prize winners.
We’re approaching an interesting crossroads as we transition from an era of industrialization to an era of connection. The previous transition between eras was very bloody and only settled after multiple wars. This era is seeing signs of unrest, too. The wave of populism we’re seeing around the world isn’t going away any time soon. It doesn’t just affect our politics. It affects our lives. And, if we intend to contribute to the solution, understanding what is driving these reactions and understanding why the things we take granted in our societies are the way they are will be an important first step.
That’s at least how I’m approaching all this noise. I’m working my way through a reading list that involves spending time in the past and the future in equal measure – The Inevitable (on technology), The Seventh Sense (on networks), Bad Samaritans (on free trade), The Accidental Superpower (on geopolitics), and The World After Capital (on a thesis about the next era).
We must first understand why things are as they are. Only then can we ask why not.