What do the great innovators have in common? Looking at examples from Picasso to Kepler, Art Markman calls these men expert generalists. They seem to know a lot about a wide variety of topics, and their wide knowledge base supports their creativity.
Markman identifies two personality traits that are key for expert generalists: Openness to Experience and Need for Cognition. Can we also expect to find these traits in innovative organizations?
Openness to Experience entails a willingness to explore new ideas and opportunities. Obviously many organizations prefer to stick with familiar ideas and activities, and have built-in ways of maintaining the status quo.
Need for Cognition entails a joy of learning, and a willingness to devote the time and effort necessary to master new things.
In his post on the origins of modern science, Tim Johnson compares the rival claims of magic and commerce. He points out that good science is open whereas magic is hidden and secretive; he traces the foundations of modern science to European financial practice, on the grounds that markets are social, collaborative, open, forums. But perhaps it makes more sense to see modern science as having two parents: from magic it inherits its Need for Cognition, a deep and passionate interest in explaining how things work; while from commerce it inherits its Openness to Experience, a broad fascination with the unknown. Obviously there have been individual scientists who have had more of one than the other, and some outstanding individual scientists who have excelled at both, but the collective project of science has relied on an effective combination of these two qualities.