Why interdisciplinarity?

Interdisciplinarity is the practice of using the skills, knowledge, and methods of traditionally separate disciplines in one cohesive application.

Customarily, people are trained to become “experts on the most minute aspects of their subject,” which can and does lead to:

  1. A certain specificity when approaching problem-solving that is dependent on a singular approach,

  2. Distrust against other approaches and failure to take advantage of deep collaboration,

  3. A higher barrier of entry to radical innovation, which necessitates a degree of uncertainty.


In other words, missing the forest for the trees.

Interdisciplinarity is more relevant now than in any time prior. Increased specialization and a connected and complex modern society are in diametric opposition. As various forms of technology permeate into daily life, “real world problems rarely arise within orderly disciplinary categories… and neither do their solutions.”

“We need to answer complex questions, solve complex problems, and gain coherent understanding of complex issues that are increasingly beyond the ability of any single discipline to address comprehensively or resolve adequately.”

Case Study: The EyeWriter

In 2003, Tony Quan was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, leaving him completely physically paralyzed except for movement in his eyes. Better known by his street tag TEMPT1, Quan came from a community of LA-based graffiti artists and activists who, upon learning about his condition, began developing a technology that would allow him to continue artistic pursuits despite his disabilities.

Together, members of Free Art & Technology, OpenFrameworks, the Graffiti Research Lab, and The Ebeling Group developed a device and its matching software called The EyeWriter, which allowed Quan, and other ALS patients, to draw on a computer screen using only their eyes. The EyeWriter was intentionally low-cost and open-source, using eye-tracking technology built into a standard pair of sunglasses, which costs about $50 to build, compared to commercial eye-trackers that ranged from $10,000-50,000.

By publishing the tutorial on the website Instructables.com, the team enabled anyone to construct their own EyeWriter, resulting in prolific uses and extensions of the device. Developers connected The EyeWriter to a projection that allowed Tempt1 to project, live, his eye writings onto the sides of buildings. Another set of developers paired the glasses with a robotic arm for real-time physical drawings on paper. Yet another used Tempt1’s tag in explorations of his PrintBall robot, a giant InkJet printer that used a paintball gun as its print-head.

The EyeWriter’s implications in the health field are similarly exponential. It is a low-cost medical device that can dramatically improve the quality of life for those suffering similar full body paralysis, roughly 1 in 50 Americans, allowing those affected to not only communicate, but to creatively express themselves in dynamic and individual ways. And all for the cost of less than an iPod shuffle.

Interdisciplinarity is the crossing of knowledge boundaries, the necessity of team building, and the developing of radical innovation.


Sustainable creativity in the workplace

Sustainable creativity in the workplace

Creativity is crucial in the workplace. Many studies have demonstrated the critical role employee creativity plays in the success of a corporate team. 60% of CEOs select creativity as the most important skill to have in a leadership role. 76% of Americans feel that being creative is valuable to their country’s economy and societal development. 82% believe our country is not living up to its creative potential. Most agree that they spend less time creating at work than they do outside of work.

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 1.16.06 PM.png

Creativity in the workplace accomplishes two major things:

  1. Internal engagement (performance and culture): A study on meaningfulness in the workplace stated that, “employees find meaningfulness in creative work, which increases work satisfaction and engagement, and, by extension, performance and retention of employees.” The study found that this is especially true if employees believe that they can and will be creative in their work. This deepened engagement aligns with a clarity and appreciation for a company’s mission, which increases productivity and improves corporate culture.

  2. External offerings (new products and services): In the early years of Google’s initial public offering, they implemented the 20% project - allowing engineers to spend 20% of their time on personal passion projects that interested them outside the scope of their daily work. Google’s 20% time initiative developed some of the company’s most prolific products, including Google News, GMail, and AdSense (which now makes up 23%, or $15 billion, of Google’s total ad revenue.

But the issue of implementing creativity cohesively into the workplace is that it lacks sustainability. Google’s 20% time initiative, despite being incredibly fruitful, proved ultimately unsustainable, leading to anecdotal reports of its unofficial termination in 2013. An employee stated that a change in the initiative’s policy, requiring prior approval from reluctant managers whose team productivity was closely monitored, stagnated the program. The problem with creative sustainability is that too often, creative “injections” into the workplace are temporary. Traditional creative engagement initiatives, like workshops, retreats, and even Google’s 20% time initiative, take employees out of their day-to-day existence, aligning the increase of creativity with new conditions that that creativity requires to exist. Recent research by Gensler uncovered a statistical link between the quality and functionality of the workplace and the level of innovation employees ascribe to their organization. High-performing workplaces were ones that created an ecosystem of innovation across the organization. It’s difficult to take an employee out of their daily activity, require that they perform creatively, and then place them back into the old environment expecting their creative performance to translate.

Developing a way for employees to take advantage of all of creativity's benefits while still dedicating enough time and energy to their daily tasks requires the building of a creative infrastructure, which constantly reiterates the benefit and support of persistent creativity.


Make creativity sustainable: an inherent component of an employee’s work, rather than a supplement to. Positively reinforce the necessity of and permission to taking creative risks. Dive deeper and disrupt aggressively to increase the innovation output of your employees and your company.