Stand on the Shoulders of Giants

One hot buzzword in business today is “innovation.” No surprise there: in this era of technology-fueled rapid change, new ideas are being developed and disseminated—and even discarded—every day. There’s no time for resting on laurels. Anyone who wants to stay ahead needs to keep looking forward.

Innovation involves coming up with new approaches, new practices, and new outlooks. But embracing the new doesn’t mean rejecting the old. Looking backward has its benefits, too. As I’ve pointed out before, examining where you’ve been helps you see where you’re going. Just as importantly, though, knowing where you’ve been helps you avoid wasting time and money on duplicating prior efforts. It gives you a solid spot from which to launch your own discoveries.

During the late 17th century, the English mathematician and physicist Isaac Newton became one of the first great thinkers to widely publicize the notion that human knowledge is incremental and, in a way, collaborative. Rather than begin at the same starting line each of his intellectual predecessors used, Newton decided to start at their finish lines and build on their work. In his famous letter to his rival Robert Hooke, written in 1675, Newton wrote:

What Des-Cartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, & especially in taking the colours of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

Newton understood that his achievements arose not only from his own intellect and original thinking, but also from the foundation that those before him had built. This lesson holds true not only in science, philosophy, math, and other scholarly fields (Google Scholar even has “Stand on the shoulders of giants” as its motto!) but in pretty much any area you can imagine—including business.

In Newton’s day, the exchange of ideas took place mostly in books (which were incredibly rare and expensive), journals (also rare and expensive), and handwritten letters. Today, we have access to so many more ways to share information. In addition to printed materials (which are now inexpensive and widespread—and, thanks to print technologies, much more legible than Newton’s handwriting!), we have digital media.

In spite of the great technological and social changes that have taken place over the centuries, though, today’s innovators depend a great deal on the approach that Newton adopted. Rather than reinvent the wheel every time they want to go for a ride, innovators focus instead of building on the foundation that’s already there. They look at what those before them have done—and then go from there.

Can you apply this approach to the staffing industry? Of course! In fact, that’s one of the main purposes of our branded and custom magazines. Not only do our publications serve as excellent outreach and marketing tools to help you communicate with your clients and prospective clients more effectively, but they contain valuable information that can help your targets run their businesses better. Each issue features articles by industry thought leaders about some of the latest research and trends relevant to the HR and staffing fields.

Building on the work of others and “standing on the shoulders of giants” is an approach that can benefit both you and your clients. By taking note of the ideas and research that already exist in your field, you can then see far enough to bring innovation to your own organization!