As I am writing this it’s only 24 hours since Team New Zealand lifted the America’s Cup. They highlighted the ability to cross boundaries with their thinking. Pete Montgomery made the observation that ‘all the teams had the same rules given to them’, but it was ‘team New Zealand who were best able to think beyond the limitations’ of the way things had always been done. To paraphrase Daniel Pink, Team NZ prepared for their future, not the America’s Cup past.
And that’s what we need to do with our students. Teach them to think in cross-disciplinary ways. Just imagine the startled faces when somebody at a planning meeting piped up with, “Let’s dress in lycra and put bikes on the boat, it’ll help pump the hydraulic fluid faster!” The silo-dweller mindset would have baulked at the idea. (People who erect silos and refuse to look beyond their own walls in any sphere are called silo-dwellers…I think I first heard the term at a conference but I forget the key-note speaker who used it…sorry) Combining cycling technology with sailing? That sort of inter-disciplinary thinking just isn’t on! The No.8 fencing wire mentality is the perfect starting point for getting our students proud of the perceived New Zealand ability to think outside the square. In my head I think the equation goes something like this:
Problem + (No.8 Fencing Wire/Kiwi Ingenuity) = Innovation
And the America’s Cup success is just the tip of that interdisciplinary iceberg that we can draw on for student inspiration.
So why haven’t interdisciplinary studies caught on more quickly? The readings say that one possible answer is that it’s a reflection of the politics of the time. That certain political ideologies see the mingling of academic disciplines as ‘alternative’ and somehow detrimental. If that’s the case then the political climate worldwide must be cause for concern educationally. As the United States of America retreats into a more isolationist political position and as the United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union, surely those are troubling indicators of a ‘silo-dweller’ mindset. How can an interdisciplinary philosophy flourish when the prevailing climate overtly says, “stay in your own building, hunker down, don’t mingle with others.”
It looks like it is once again up to the education system to lead the way on this. We cannot allow ourselves to be trapped in old ways of thinking. A colleague of mine said recently that a ‘sea-change’ is coming, and I love that expression. Firstly, it ties nicely to my America’s Cup theme :); secondly, it comes from The Tempest and you can’t go past Shakespeare for a decent quote; thirdly, it sums up, for me, the magical nature of the change that is draping itself over education like a cloak. I mean, it’s a ‘sea’ change! What even is that? I’m on land….will it affect me? Of course it will. It’s interdisciplinary, the change rolling in off the sea like a fog is going to affect the land-lubbers as well as those already out in their boats. We have to be ready….or even better, we have to grab the rudder, steer the course, and be leading the charge.