29 November 2008

Innovation happens at the seams

My student's father said this, and he is a scientist that lives this success story. This is probably more true today than ever before. His point is that people working in so-called 'different fields' are often working on related projects, but they are so specialized, they can only look at the problem before them through a certain lens.

His belief was that if people at the intersections of different arenas, like chemistry and engineering, for example, were to study a problem together, they would approach it in new (and likely better) ways.

I was just talking with a friend who has experience in computer science, economics, business and government, and she said her colleagues were working on the exact topic that other people in a totally unrelated field were studying. We talked about how much overlap there was in these 'different' disciplines, and it made me wonder how much of this labeling was useful and necessary.

Like the nation-state, which is, in some ways, losing power as the world becomes more global, maybe different academic departments will also become more fluid with time. Different countries can still retain their cultural distinctive elements, and we will love the different nations like we love our different family members, but there will be less emphasis on the borders. Less 'mine' and 'yours,' less 'us' and 'them.'

But the world would erupt in utter chaos! The academic departments wouldn't know where to situate their offices! Social order would degenerate into complete anarchy! Right. I sound like a communist. Or a socialist, at best. I'm living in La La Land. I know. But! What if the idealist got their way? If everyone were on board, and no one took advantage of that openness, wouldn't the world be an interesting place?

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