Generalization

The Deity does not view the human race collectively. With one glance He sees every human being separately … and sees the differences that isolate [every human being from his fellows]. …God has no need of general ideas, that is to say, He never feels the necessity of giving the same label to a considerable number of analogous objects in order to think about them more conveniently.

It is not like that with man. If a human intelligence tried to examine and judge all the particular cases … he would soon be lost in a wilderness of detail. …General ideas do not bear witness to the power of human intelligence but rather to its inadequacy, for there are no beings exactly alike in nature, no identical facts, no laws which can be applied indiscriminately in the same way to several objects at once.

General ideas have this excellent quality, that they permit human minds to pass judgment quickly on a great number of things; but … what is gained in extent is always lost in exactitude. De Tocqueville, Alexis (1869). Democracy in America (Volume 2, Part 1, Chapter 3)

The Deity can afford to place a traffic cop at each intersection. We need to install traffic lights.

The amoeba diagram below illustrates this important concept. We often restrict ourselves to within artificial boundaries, built on generalization+, to the detriment of R&D effectiveness. We artificially limit ourselves in our:

  • Research
  • Team Goals
  • Management
  • Personal Aspirations

We willingly stay within the today’s artificial boundaries missing out on the opportunities available in the broader room for maneuvering. In World Class R&D we seek to break free of artificial boundaries.

In our research we are mentally constrained by past practices, by mechanical responses, by prejudices and by ignorance. We don’t take the time to question what we do. We are too busy going down the track to stop and ask if we’re really on the right track. We’re lazy: it’s easier to just do the work and not to challenge the direction that govern our research. It’s safer to shoot for lesser goals. We all suffer severely from our narrow historical truths. Galenic medicine (i.e., bleeding, humors) remained unchallenged for centuries. Imagine how our great-great grandchildren will laugh at our pathetic research efforts.

We are physically constrained by following rules and limitations that others construct for us based on Least Common Denominator+ thinking. Some crisis or blowup occasions a hue and cry for rules or limits, and those that write the rules pen them having the worst possible offender in mind, even if they’ve never met that person. We all become artificially constrained by this new rule, even if the original blowup is far removed from our present situation. But we weren’t around for the original blowup and have no way of knowing whether the rule should really apply or not.

Pharmaceutical companies routinely step outside the narrow constraints of their drug research. They want to get drugs approved by the FDA for disease indications far removed from those most supported by the evidence. If Alzheimer’s were to give too narrow a customer base for a drug (dotted line), they attempt to expand covered diseases to all manner of related cognitive disorders. Plaintiff lawyers play the same game on the other side of the fence. A drug can be tied to cases of osteo-necrosis of the jaw (ONJ), but this is too narrow a disease for a profitable class action suit. Trial lawyers will readily expand the number of injured parties to include any type of dental disease.

Trial lawyers will be the first to tell you that any particular law only applies to the extent it helps or hinders their client’s case. If a law threatens their client’s interests, then of course the unique circumstances of the case means the law doesn’t apply. Plaintiff lawyers routinely step outside the artificial constraints of the law because they know the law was constructed in response to very specific instances, and each case is unique. Hospital administrators provide yet another case study in the limits of generalization.

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations we can perform without thinking.  Whitehead, Alfred North (1911). Introduction to Mathematics

We routinize operations so anyone can do them. We leverage the labor of the many. The same for our thinking. It's hard to read a book if you have to look up each word in a dictionary. We keep the uninitiated within the confines of the artificial limits. But that’s not how we find blockbuster+ products at the cutting edge of science. We need individuals who break the rules – whose work and thinking cannot and should not be routinized.


There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it." Chesterton, Gilbert K. (1929). The Thing

Before you step outside the inner circle, you've got to be able to tell me why the circle was put there in the first place. Novices should be made to stay within the inner circle until they demonstrate a mastery of the compulsories+. Only then are they allowed to perform the freestyle+ exercises – that is to use judgment and intuition that goes beyond the evidence. Consistently show responsibility and we give you freedom to move beyond the artificial constraints – we give you more room for maneuvering. We allow you many more options in your research and in the way you manage your research funds.

The amoeba diagram lays out the game plan for World Class R&D. We define the compulsories. How is it we expect researchers and managers to demonstrate responsibility so they can gain more freedom in their work? How do we identify individuals who are no longer subject (or are only conditionally subject) to artificial constraints? Our intention is to get out of the way of researchers, both in science and in management, so they can work at the edge of science, where the rules have yet to be written.

First, transfer all your assets to your spouse.

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