T-shaped academia : bridging interdisciplinarity

As I was listening to the The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization by Thomas Kelley, on my way to school. I listen to audiobook while I walk. It is a good way to get a break from scientific reading. Anyway, the idea of a special kind of people got me thinking about interdisciplinarity.

T by chrisinplymouth

In an interview, IDEO CEO Tim Brown talked about T-shaped people. They have two main characteristics :

    • Wide breadth of knowledge across disciplines
    • Deep knowledge in one or two specific areas

The vertical stroke of the “T” is a depth of skill that allows them to contribute to the creative process. That can be from any number of different fields: an industrial designer, an architect, a social scientist, a business specialist or a mechanical engineer. The horizontal stroke of the “T” is the disposition for collaboration across disciplines. It is composed of two things. First, empathy. It’s important because it allows people to imagine the problem from another perspective- to stand in somebody else’s shoes. Second, they tend to get very enthusiastic about other people’s disciplines, to the point that they may actually start to practice them. T-shaped people have both depth and breadth in their skills.

I think that in academia, we should also try to be more like T-shaped person. This could build more bridges across disciplines and create new forms of knowledge production as Kincheloe proposed with the idea of researcher as bricoleur (2001).

Bridge reflection by Mundoo

As bricoleurs recognize the limitations of a single method, the discursive structures of one disciplinary approach, what is missed by traditional practices of validation, the historicity of certified modes of knowledge production, the inseparability of knower and known, and the complexity and heterogeneity of all human experience, they understand the necessity of new forms of rigor in the research process. (Kincheloe, 2001, p.681)

As researcher, we tend to dig deeper in our field, elongating the vertical stroke of the “T”. And our horizontal stroke get shorter in comparison, making it harder to cross the gap to another discipline. This mean even more rigorous work so the bridges we’ll build wont collapse at the first crossing over.
Kincheloe, J. L. (2001). Describing the Bricolage: Conceptualizing a New Rigor in Qualitative Research. Qualitative Inquiry, 7(6), 679-692.

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