Trends in business and in science tend to follow a similar trajectory, and I’m not just talking about the research and discoveries that fuel innovations in what and how our businesses serve the world.
Over time, in both broad fields, we’ve seen an increasing level of specialization. The more we learn about the world around us, the more there is to learn, and the only practical way to advance is for individuals to dedicate their time to developing very deep expertise in a niche. Broad knowledge just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Yet the more we specialize, the more we lose sight of the big picture, of how what we’re doing connects with others in our company, with similar businesses and even disparate ones, and with the world.
In science, to remedy this, institutions like the Santa Fe Institute focus on research in complexity science. The idea is to recognize that the world comprises multiple interacting complex systems and that we need to collaborate and pool our expertise with an eye on the system, not just the parts. SFI brings scientists together from myriad fields to tackle complex world problems that cannot be fully understood without this mix of perspectives and expertise.
The parallel in business is systems thinking, not a new concept but one that many entrepreneurs, especially solopreneurs, may not apply to their own ventures. It can be easy to see yourself as the system of your company and conclude that a systems thinking approach is unnecessary.
It’s certainly true that you are a system, but a key point of systems thinking is that systems themselves interact with other systems. Every whole is also a part. Recognizing these interconnections and studying their relationships can take even a successful business to another level.
In fact, this approach can be particularly fruitful for entrepreneurs because they have more leeway for flexibility and creative thinking than a large company with multiple departments, employees, and red tape. If you spot an unorthodox crossover between your business and the world, you can adapt quickly, even if that means taking a leap into a whole new direction.
I can’t possibly go into much depth about this rich approach in a blog post, but my hope is to prod you to take the first steps or to revisit this approach if you’re already familiar with it.
For example, I write often about finding the intersection between your values and what the world needs. This is a systems approach in a general, yet crucial, way.
If you focus only on what matters to you, you could easily pursue a business model that doesn’t have a large enough or relevant enough audience to be sustainable. Similarly, if you focus only on external considerations, ignoring your own values, passions, and purpose, you could be “successful” on paper but deeply unhappy.
Another example ties back to the kind of work being done at SFI, recognizing the need to reach out to others, even just in conversation, to understand perspectives about your business and the world that reveal your own blind spots and inefficiencies and spark creativity and innovation.
What opportunities for diverse conversations do you have available to you?
Image by Nguyễn Thùy Trang.