In order to do a good job as a geophysicist, it is important to be on top of a lot of important detail (see Sweat the small stuff). However, at the other end of the spectrum it is equally important to see the big picture. Since we live in an era of super-specialization this is increasingly hard to do. An integrated project in any area of geophysics involves data acquisition, modelling, analysis, and interpretation, and in the mid-70s every geophysicist was expected to be on top of all of these aspects. But, in the early 21st century, no one person can be a specialist in even a sub-set of these different areas. So how can you be expected to juggle the need to understand the details with the importance of seeing the big picture? I think that the answer to this lies in two directions: collaboration and self-education. Let me discuss these two different strategies.
As I mention in Sweat the small stuff, collaboration is important when you integrate your expertise with the expertise of others. In that approach, you simply rely on others for their detailed knowledge. However, in doing this, take the time to ask them about the important ideas and literature in their field. For example, although you may be familiar with the way a geophysicist looks at anisotropy, why not find out how a reservoir engineer looks at the problem? It will probably be quite different. As another example, you may be familiar with the seismic response of shale overlaying a carbonate reef, but what are the important parameters that a geologist is interested in? Again, they will be quite different to your ideas. While discussing the project, try to put yourself in the other specialists’ shoes, and see what questions they might have about the way you are approaching the problem. Take all this information and try to expand your horizons. In other words, try to see the big picture.
The next step in improving your knowledge of fields outside of your core area of expertise is to start educating yourself about these fields. This can be done in many ways. You can attend in-company seminars. You can sign up for industry short courses, assuming that you have an enlightened management that considers continuing education as part of your work experience. Continuing education courses are ever more accessible online. Or, and this is my preferred route, you can search out and read the key literature, both in industry journals and textbooks. I am a dinosaur who likes the feel of paper but, more and more, this material is available in electronic form, which is both cheaper and more portable. This will mean that the next time you are on a long flight you can turn on your preferred electronic tablet and educate yourself about some area of the business that is not in your field.
We have never before been in an era of such super-specialization. However, we have also never before been in an era where information is so readily available via the internet. So at the same time that you are learning about new developments in your own area of specialty, embark on a life-long learning adventure to keep abreast of the big picture.