Jared Diamond on Synthetic Thinking

S+B: Is there a process that you go through, a way you organize your thinking, to be able to synthesize from such a broad array of fields? Are there lessons you could draw from your own life, from your own way of thinking, from your own way of writing, that could help people in business learn to ideate?

DIAMOND: A couple things. One is that I found that the more things you’re interested in and the more you learn, the richer the framework into which you can fit any new thing. So synthesis, if you do it at all, gets professionally easier with time. It’s no surprise that older people can do better at synthesis, because they’ve been learning their entire lives. It’s the opposite of, say, reasoning skills in mathematics. Synthesis increases with age as you learn more. I’ll show you upstairs one of the chapters that I’m working on for my next book. It’s about the history of Viking Greenland. When I started reading about Greenland, one of the first things I wondered was: Where did their iron come from? Another thing I wondered was: Could grain grow there? So knowing about other things, there were just more questions I could ask about Viking Greenland. As for how I actually go about working with some new area, you’ll see the piles of books and papers upstairs — I do lots of reading, I talk to people, I find out who has written stuff in an area, and then I call them up and I ask them to recommend more things, which I then read and I come back to them with questions. Then, if possible, I go visit the sites. I’m hoping to go visit Greenland this summer. I read the stuff, I take notes on it, I organize, I type up the notes, my secretary transcribes my dictation, and then I organize notes into topic headings, and the topic headings then get organized into different sections of the chapter.

Source: Jared Diamond: The Thought Leader Interview


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