Does the future need experts?

Apr 10 2017

I was lucky to attend a very interesting panel discussion last week, organised by the British Council along with the University of London and Royal Holloway College. Much of the discussion focused on the current discontent with “experts”, expressed most famously by Michael Gove during the UK referendum which led to Brexit. Much of the discussion focused on the implications for higher education. Some panellists agreed with a statement I’ve heard elsewhere that one of the biggest trends of the last 100 years is the professionalisation and specialisation of the world.

Many people are developing deeper and deeper knowledge of increasingly smaller and more specialised domains of knowledge.  TapestryWorks are firm believers in the importance of T-shaped thinking (one of the inspirations for our logo, but not the main one), as are IDEO and other companies (following in the footsteps of Isaiah Berlin and his parable of the Hedgehog and the Fox). I was therefore please to hear a very strong argument about the need for breadth and depth of knowledge and the value of arts and humanities training to complement scientific education.

In fact, the evidence is that businesses find people with such skills much better employees than those who have deep and narrow education focused on one topic. They also find that humanities graduates are often better thinkers and more adaptable than science graduates. While a training in marine biology gives you the skills to be a marine biologist, a training in history gives you a much richer set of skills that can be applied in many roles.

Ideally we should aim for both, and some education systems are much better at encouraging a mix of art and science training. As the world becomes ever more automated, the most valuable human jobs are not the ones that replicate what machines can do now or will do in the future, but the skills that only humans, well trained in thinking and synthesising ideas, are able to do. Expertise is great, but a rich and varied intellectual diet is so much better for you and for what you can contribute to your work.

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