The Career Path that Finds You: Tim Brown on Choosing Wide over Choosing Deep

June 5, 2015

No matter which field of study you decide to pursue, you will always have two choices: Do you become a specialist in your field, with a singular, lifelong focus? Or do you embrace a more interdisciplinary approach, where you can draw from a much wider and more varied knowledge base as you delve into complex problems? For IDEO's Tim Brown, it's all about which is the best fit for you.

In your career, what choices are you making between going deep or going wide?

Tim Brown idolized the work of his "heroes, iconic designers like Dieter Rams, Ettore Sottsass and Philippe Starck, whose bodies of design work have spanned everything from timeless furniture to spectacular architectural monuments." So much so, that Brown originally planned to embrace their singular focus and follow in their footsteps. But when he joined the team at IDEO, an award-winning global design firm with "a human-centered, design-based approach," Brown's world opened up.

"While I did stay on a design career track, it followed a path I never anticipated," Brown says in a Design Thinking blog post. "Rather than diving deep into the single discipline of industrial design, I accidentally discovered the joys of working across disciplines."

But while Brown' choice to "go wide" was the right choice for him, "going deep" — the path chosen by Apple's Jony Ive — demands a whole different set of skills, personality, and focus. Brown speaks to the differences inherent in each:

"Going deep requires incredible focus, lifelong commitment to a single cause, a willingness to be patient towards achieving success, and the confidence to follow a path others may not understand or value. Whether it’s as a research scientist, designer, chef or software engineer, committing to a single discipline and pushing it as far as you possibly can, holds the potential to make a significant dent on the planet."

"Going wide, on the other hand, is about making connections between what you already know and what you’re curious about discovering. It requires systems thinking in order for the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts. It means developing the skills to collaborate for the purpose of learning. It’s about seeing the creative possibilities in breaking down boundaries and describing the world, your organization, the problem in new ways. It probably means having a difficult time describing to your parents what you do."


Discover More About Tim Brown
Read the rest of Tim Brown's Design Thinking blog post, and check out his book, Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation.

By Lisa Merlini

Tag: Exploring Education

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