What is Interdisciplinarity?

The explosion of human knowledge over the last 300 years parallels the explosion of the productivity of economies. Both have been powered by efficiencies achieved through the division of labor and the widespread development of specialists.

Whether on the factory floor or in the halls of the university, the limits of human inquiry and creativity have been expanding exponentially as individuals increasingly devote their lives to the cultivation of specialized knowledge and skills. 

But while this division of labor has increased productivity as a whole, one challenging consequence has been the siloing of specialized knowledge and skills within specific domains and disciplines that may rarely interact. 

Human creativity is an act of synthesis. Synthesis is driven by comparison and analogy. And it requires raw inputs. However, the potential for synthesis is limited by the range of available inputs. If they are all drawn from a narrow domain, the possibilities for synthesis will be constrained accordingly.

Impact innovation is an act of creative synthesis taking place in a global domain. Therefore, impact innovators must dare to transcend disciplinary boundaries. In particular, the story of humanity and civilization as told by “the humanities” must be re-examined in light of social biology, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience developments. The implications for social enterprises are likely profound, but performing such a broad synthesis requires impact innovators to summon the audacity to cross disciplinary boundaries and become practiced at diving deep into unfamiliar waters.