People who can correlate material from diverse knowledge bases and extract tangible results will be prized in the workplace of the future.
“Transdisciplinarity,” the ability to adapt concepts and lessons from outside one’s field of experience to challenge one’s core proficiency, is helping researchers find a solution to America’s obesity epidemic at an unexpected location: IKEA.
The answer isn’t to burn calories by wandering through a mammoth furniture warehouse, however. Instead one must view both public health interventions and retail as complex service systems. An unconventional blend of subject matter experts at IBM’s Almaden Services Research group compared the way IKEA adapts its product design and delivery to customers’ needs with how medical professionals, government health agencies and patients interact to develop workable weight-control interventions.
IBM made this leap by creating an environment where researchers viewed their dissimilar backgrounds as an engine for insights. Transdisciplinary workers, team leaders and thinkers can provide counterintuitive solutions to elaborate challenges in the workplace and the world at large — and can prepare an organization for the unpredictable years ahead.Understanding Demand for the ‘T-Shaped’ Employee
Transdisciplinarity was identified in a report written by the Institute for the Future for Apollo Research Institute, “Future Work Skills 2020,” as one of 10 workplace skills that will help organizations handle disruptive technological and societal change (See sidebar).
People who can correlate material from diverse knowledge bases and extract tangible results — whether for a new business initiative or massive global issues, such as resource scarcity or pandemics — will be prized in the future workplace.
Key to the transdisciplinary mindset is the “T-shaped person,” a concept popularized by Tim Brown, CEO of design firm IDEO. T-shaped individuals possess deep knowledge in a primary field (the upright part of the “T”), but cultivate a broad curiosity about areas of expertise outside that field (the crossbar of the “T”). Brown cites empathy, enthusiasm and a readiness to collaborate as hallmarks of the T-shaped person.