Let’s Try More Interdisciplinarity!

There are some words which I don’t like at all but which stand for some­thing I like very much. One of those words is inter­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty. Most def­i­n­i­tions of inter­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty focus on what it is rather than how it’s per­formed.

Klein and Newell refer to inter­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty as a process, but in a more gen­er­al way:

A process of answer­ing a ques­tion, solv­ing a prob­lem, or address­ing a topic that is too broad or com­plex to be dealt with ade­quate­ly by a sin­gle dis­ci­pline or pro­fes­sion… [It] draws on dis­ci­pli­nary per­spec­tives and inte­grates their insights through con­struc­tion of a more com­pre­hen­sive per­spec­tive.

Last week­end, we co-organized a hackathon in Munich, the WEARABLE DATA HACK 2015, as the first hack day on wear­able tech appli­ca­tions, data and design. In this claim alone, lies some inter­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty: one of our goals was to bring data and design experts togeth­er, in order to cre­ate some­thing new, some­thing nei­ther data nerds nor design wiz­zes would be able to come up with if work­ing in their respec­tive domains, alone.

And how that idea worked out!

Every­body par­tic­i­pat­ing in this week­end was thrilled at the end: data sci­en­tists and hack­ers added their bina­ry wis­dom to the artis­tic and intu­itive per­spec­tives the design­ers came up with. Most hack­er teams con­sist­ed of both, nerds and design­ers. And with just a gen­er­al guid­ance „coöper­ate, please“, the teams formed them­selves, worked close­ly togeth­er for 48 hours and respect­ed each team member’s indi­vid­ual value added. That’s my def­i­n­i­tion of inter­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty.

I’m quite sure: nobody said the “i‑word” word dur­ing the week­end. And prob­a­bly nobody has every vis­it­ed a work­shop to learn to work in an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary way — as it is offered in many cor­po­rate envi­ron­ments. The par­tic­i­pants of the WEARABLE DATA HACK 2015 just did it: they coop­er­at­ed and each of them added her best indi­vid­ual value to cre­ate new ideas and projects togeth­er.

A good sum­ma­ry of the team’s projects is pro­vid­ed by Anika Kehrer in her arti­cle for Make mag­a­zine (Ger­man only).
A very inter­est­ing and unique expe­ri­ence for me was the “Design Think­ing“ ses­sion by Oliv­er Szasz who teach­es design at Macro­me­dia Uni­ver­si­ty, Munich. He asked us to ana­lyze the process of gift­ing peo­ple and come up with new ways for gift­ing. That was an inten­sive expe­ri­ence with some quite inno­v­a­tive solu­tions to opti­mize gift­ing in dif­fer­ent liv­ing sit­u­a­tions. The great­est aspect here, again: the ses­sion was most­ly vis­it­ed by hack­ers and nerds who, typ­i­cal­ly, don’t focus on the aspects of gift­ing. But in that inter­dis­ci­pli­nary envi­ron­ment it worked pret­ty well — and brought some great results.

My con­clu­sion: just bring togeth­er some cool, curi­ous peo­ple from dif­fer­ent fields of exper­tise, pro­vide them with a com­mon goal, a gen­er­al guid­ance, and let them work. That’s true inter­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty. And it’s so much fun, even if the word sucks.

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