Standing on Shoulders of Giants

You’ve probably read the quote from Isaac Newton:

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

The idea is that we can leverage the work of people before us in order to do things that wouldn’t be possible on our own.  If you want to create a new type of time-saving computer application, you don’ t have to start with inventing a computer.  You don’t even need to completely understand how a computer works in order to leverage it for your success.

Learning to use the results, accomplishments, and skills of others doesn’t always come naturally.  While you might not be tempted to reinvent the computer, it can be very easy to overlook the input from your friends and co-workers.

Computer programmers are notorious for doing this–opting to create things on their own rather than use components that were made by someone else.  This led to this quote from Alan Cooper:

It has been said that the great scientific disciplines are examples of giants standing on the shoulders of other giants. It has also been said that the software industry is an example of midgets standing on the toes of other midgets.

When I am looking for a camera, I’ll call up my brother who is a photographer and ask him to tell me what he thinks about a particular model.  When I need backup software, I email friends who I know have worked with a bunch of different systems and ask what they recommend.

Your ability to develop and cultivate a network of people with different areas of expertise is crucial in making sure you have access to others who are “giants” in different areas than your own area of expertise. Sometimes, the best way to develop a relationship with people outside normal circles is to offer to help them with an area that you are particularly skilled in.

Make sure you aren’t spending hours that could be replaced with a five minute call to a “giant” friend.  It is a two-way street.  Also, make sure you are always willing to lend some advice to your friends in areas where you may be the “giant”.

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