February 15, 2004

Vertical v. Horizontal Thinking

One of the great intellectual divisions is between vertical thinkers, specialists who go into depth in a single field, and horizontal thinkers, those who gain the essence of many fields without delving into the depths of any. Each have their advantages, each has their flaws. The advantage of vertical thinkers is that when you need the answer to a question in the field, you are much more likely to actually get a correct answer. The great advantage of horizontal thinkers is that you are much more likely to ask the right questions, and to be able to ask questions that bridge fields and stitch the disparate answers together.

What's the point of this little lesson? Horizontal thinkers are like yeast. You don't need a great deal of it but you can't make beer without it (and what bread you make will generally be awful). The way our government is organized, it's largely divided up into functional specialties. But what if a problem comes along that falls into multiple specialties? What you end up with is a tug of war where each department tries to pull in as much of the problem into its purview so it can gain power (measured by budget) over its rivals.

What a way to run a railroad.

Posted by TMLutas at February 15, 2004 09:07 AM