de la Bédoyère’s Maxims No 10

1 It may be a great benefit to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. The specialist bores one very deep hole, the generalist knows how the holes relate to each other. Which is why so many discoveries are made by men of breadth, and few by men of depth.

2 Education increases the ability of competent people; in incompetent people it removes what native wit they had and replaces it with second hand notions.

3 If we lived our life in accordance with the evidence and the probabilities it would be very different. And very dull

4 To change a man’s mind from white to black it is only necessary to interpose enough shades of grey.

5 We are not flattered by compliments about qualities we know we possess, only about those we hope we possess.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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6 Responses to de la Bédoyère’s Maxims No 10

  1. Daisy says:

    10.2 This sounds very judgmental. Perhaps people seem incomptent just because they haven’t had the opportunity of education. I had to change schools a lot so I never got a thorough education. I’ve tried to put that right, but I still make bloomers. Would Quentin still call me incompetent?

    10.4 I don’t know what this means (perhaps because I am incompetent?). Can anyone explain, please.

  2. kouin says:

    If you’ve made your mind up on a subject you’ve made a decision.
    Obviously, even if you are correct, someone out there will disagree.
    A handicapped olympic competitor would take issue with an able-bodied , but incompetent pro-choice abortionist. a winning position would cloud the issue previously so black and white.
    A creditor with a clear position would deter an incompetent chancer or rather borrower.
    An InterFaith leader has in its nature of dealing with totally competent authoritives, to be incompetent.
    A competent gardener would call a daisy a weed whereas the incompetent gardener would sit to bind a daisy chain.
    Were Quentin to add green not grey i.e. spell it without the; y but with; en , gre, (or try adding at) we might find ourselves in the hands of the 1970’s computer programmer (man).

  3. Daisy, many people who, for various reasons, didn’t have a full orthodox education end up by being even better educated, precisely because they have tried to put it right. They may make bloomers from time to time so – join the gang!

    10.4 is about a facet of human nature. Over a period of time opinions can completely reverse, but no one notices because each change is so small that we scarcely notice, and soon become accustomed. Then comes the next change, then the next. A classic example at the moment is the erosion of personal privacy and the growing capacity of the State to control our lives. I was writing about this in CH long before it began to be a public issue. Do you think I got reader support? Nary a one. I didn’t have powers of prophesy – the writing was in large letters on the wall, but very few lifted their eyes to read it.

  4. kouin says:

    If you will forgive this rant :
    People have enabled science -through non-fasting but with their strenth to will of celibacy over their natural ceiling or social consciousness -suffocating those under creating the Roman nose. A centurion follows the code and through mistakes and unable to admit them wants a reclarification.
    There is no universal language only an individuals forgiveness of trespasses. Fairness and justice is won only by high and mighty egos becoming humbled or those seeking it asking humbly.
    Refusal does hurt.

  5. tim says:

    10.1 Foxes and hedgehogs? It’s very plausible that generalists make more discoveries than specialists, though it would be good to see some figures. Inventions are almost invariably combinations of what is known – and the less obvious ones are the more unlikely combinations (a tautology). If you don’t know too much about a topic, you may pursue, with ultimate success, a line that a greater expert would reject as unlikely to work.

    10.3 I don’t see much reason to think this. We are poor judges of probability in many instances. And the odds are only odds, not certainties. Quite often there is no evidence, or only partial evidence, or misleading evidence (the fixed stars), or evidence we don’t properly assess. No doubt life would be different, but I doubt it would be less diverse, or even much more predictable: and I don’t see why it should be less fun.

  6. Reflections on Tim’s comments:
    10.1 No figures here, I fear. We would have to do an analysis of all inventions and discoveries throughout history to achieve this. Perhaps de Bono helps. He does not deny the value of systematic, expert, study (nor do I), but he stresses that we also have to stand back from these and do lateral thinking, so as to open ourselves to the possibility of an approach which is radical and viable. But lateral thinking is at its best in a broadly cultured view, where experience in altogether different fields is relevant. This is psychologically harder for the closely focussed expert, who is emotionally tied to his own path. The history of medicine provides several examples of where the expert ‘establishment’ rejected radical ideas which we now take for granted.
    10.2 I think the truly rational person is a non existent ideal. We all interpret experience through our own pair of glasses. This makes, I would argue, for variety and surprise. Of course Tim is right about probabilities, and we have an excellent example in the current financial upheaval. Here, the experts used sophisticated models to assess the risks of different financial strategies. What they failed to factor in was the interdependence of the banks, which created a domino effect well outside the carefully predicted margins.

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