Being Versatile

Michael was born in Louisiana to parents who were Lebanese immigrants to the U.S.  Michael learned to sew from his mother, as well as crochet and knit.  He also played the saxophone and was fluent in French.  He later learned German as well.  When Michael wasn’t raising prize winning vegetables, he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.

Michael finished his pre-medical training in two years.  While in medical school, he developed an innovation for transfusing blood.  World War II broke out early in Michael’s career.  One of his achievements was creating MASH units to treat soldiers closer to the action.

When Michael returned from the war effort, his focus turned to heart disease.  He used his wife’s sewing machine to develop the first grafts to replace or repair clogged blood vessels, which were contributing to heart disease.  He also worked with a colleague to develop a knitting machine to make grafts.  Subsequently, Michael became one of the first surgeons to do bypass surgery.  His ability to perform such intricate surgeries was aided by the skills he learned from his mother in sewing and knitting.

Dr. Michael DeBakey was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969 for his pioneering work in treating heart disease.  Think about the versatility that Dr. DeBakey had.  He was obviously very bright, but he was also a skilled craftsman as a result of his early skill development in sewing.  He was very creative, leading to innovations in blood transfusion technology as well as the development of a knitting machine for vessel grafts.  He developed both the right and left sides of his brain growing up.

As our society has become more specialized, we are missing the contributions that versatility can bring to understanding issues we face.  Actors have long complained about becoming type cast and only selected for certain roles.  The bane of many professionals is that they are perceived as being so specialized that they are only assigned certain tasks.

Our educational system has contributed to this lack of versatility.  In many cases, students are asked to focus on certain career paths.  They may never develop hands on skills or be asked to develop their creative talents.  We allow our students to develop self-perceptions of their abilities that may not be valid.

Organizations make special efforts at innovation by bringing together people with diverse but specialized skills.  What would be more valuable would be to put together a team of individuals with versatile skills.

While very few people are as brilliant as Dr. DeBakey, we can all benefit from becoming more versatile.  Our contributions to the places we work will increase, but we will also have more enriching lives.

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“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”  – Charles Darwin

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