Fuse beads

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Specialisation of labour enables our modern lives. Where it not for this, we’d all be farmers by necessity, having little time for anything else. Although specialisation allows us to boost our collective productivity, a point made very well by Adam Smith, it comes at a price.

Placing fuse beads on a peg board is like rearranging atoms with a scanning tunneling microscope.

In physics, for example, it contributes to a proliferation of publications in all of its numerous sub-fields. So much so, that there is too much to read and too little time to do so, especially of literature outside your specialisation.  There is little scope for cross-boundary insight if we are all specialists. Like a horse wearing blinkers, each sub-field stays neatly in its lane. Yes, focus is an excellent thing; but so is diversion. Hence, although collectively productive in the manner of details and in the number of publications, focusing too much on the trees and not enough on the forest may reduce the progress of physics in terms of wide-ranging insight.

Children arguably are the opposite of specialists since they lack an extensive training in any particular field. Their interests are wide and varied. While it is true that children can be easily distracted, they do sometimes put their metaphorical blinkers on, becoming quiet and focused. This can happen when they work at a delicate task requiring patience and concentration. One such task is when they’re forming images on a peg board using fuse beads. If you fill up a pot with those beads, then even the task of looking for a nice bead becomes an interesting activity. With a bit of background music they can keep at this task for a while. They are specialists for a bit, focusing on a single task and a single task only, and great productivity ensues.