On our first day at the University of Pennsylvania, I huddled in with fifty freshman from the Jerome Fisher Dual Degree Program in Management and Technology (M&T) at an afternoon tea session to listen to the program’s esteemed director explain its origins.
“Since the industrial revolution the world has increasingly valued specialization. Each worker would master one task on the assembly line and perform it over and over again. In academia, scholars would receive bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees in the same subject and then conduct research in the same field with little interaction across departments for the rest of their lives. The 20th century was all about building deep nodes in the system, but in the 21st century, those who can connect different nodes in the system will be best placed to unleash the most value.”
The M&T program’s founding director, Dr Bill Hamilton, was one of the first to explore the relationship between two of the system’s deepest nodes of business and engineering. After receiving a Masters from Penn Engineering and a Wharton MBA, Dr H moved to the corporate world and realized that engineers and business people couldn’t speak each other’s language or understand each other’s mindsets when solving problems. Fast forward to 2015 and the ability to bridge these world’s has landed Dr H with an impressive roster of board directorships, an illustrious academic career and thousands of glowing fans who have graduated from M&T over the last 4 decades.
Just the other day my wife sent me a quora post entitled “How can I be as great as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Richard Branson”. The highest ranked answer (which you can find here) stated that by far the most important determinant of success is having an open network. The burgeoning field of network science has shown us that organisms tend to congregate with similar organisms, leading in humans to closed networks of people who think and act in similar ways. But those that straddle two or more of these communities with open networks have a broader set of ideas to draw from, a broader set of people to work with and the ability to generate breakthrough innovation. Steve Jobs exemplified this concept in leveraging his experiences with typography , eastern thought and music in the development of his products at Apple, now the world’s largest corporate concern.
At Amasia (admittedly not yet as substantial a concern as Apple), we focus on helping our portfolio companies traverse geographic boundaries but the concept of venturing across borders also applies in our overriding approach to growth, curiosity and open networks.