Peter A. Coclanis: Wanted: Dedicated Deep Thinkers for the Business World

Roundup: Historians' Take

Peter A. Coclanis is a professor of history and director of the Global Research Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I'd like to propose the creation of a new position called the CIAO, or chief intellectual-arbitrage officer: Someone to work with the CINO not only to generate new ideas but also to ask new questions, identify new trends, explore new niches, expand geocultural boundaries, project forward, and remember the past. The CIAO would not necessarily have a science/tech or business background—in fact, such a background might detract from his or her effectiveness. Rather, I visualize the perfect CIAO as a liberal-arts type, someone who reads broadly and voraciously, is articulate, knows how to do research, can count a little, has backbone, and likes to argue.

Sounds like at least a few brilliant Ph.D. students in the humanities and social sciences you've met over the years, doesn't it?...

I'm proposing taking that a step further—to the benefit of both humanists and industry. What a successful intellectual-arbitrage officer would bring to the table are questions, ideas, connections, and possibilities from other intellectual, disciplinary, geographic, and cultural "worlds." Lots of "what ifs," "why nots," "did you ever think abouts," "X seems a lot like Y's." Most of those questions would not hold up to strategic scrutiny and market discipline, but a small number might. And for what it would cost a company to fill such a position, one home run—or even a single or a double—would pay handsomely. Believe me, humanists come cheap. As Calvin Trillin famously put it years ago: "The Nation pays in the high two figures."...

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