Trans-Disciplinarity and Padawans: Say What?!

Claire Haidar
Oct 16, 2016 · 4 min read

There are rare moments in life: one of those rare moments that I relish when it happens, is when I hear a new word for the first time and it rolls off of my lips and forms perfectly inside my mouth. It’s been a week in which I’ve learnt two new words.

The first word was padawan. Our designer, Nor, used it to explain his struggle in dealing with suspense and not knowing the outcome of something. He used the phrase: “… so I will wait like a patient padawan…” A padawan is a jedi in training. Good to know. Noted. Thank you Nor ;) If you are a Star Wars fan, do not roll your eyes at me because I did not know this!

The second word was trans-disciplinarity. The two words on their own are regular parts of my vocabulary but together they open an entire new stream of thinking inside my brain.

I was introduced to the word during a call with Donna Patricia Anne Eiby who is leading a new initiative around future skills training. The organisation is called the 4th Industrial Revolution and will be soft launching in November this year. They are creating a platform whereby individuals can access resources to upskill in the areas that have been identified by the Future Institute as the core skills required in the future. I have been invited to be part of this. As a company we are working in very similar areas with Lisa Talia Moretti’s paper on what differentiates humans from machines and what the most immediate impact this has on the workforce. Being able to partner with Donna and the broader team is an honour.

Trans-disciplinarity has been identified as one of the 10 skills for individuals to embrace within the world of work moving forward. This is the skill that has been assigned to me by Donna to work on within the group. The research identifies 6 drivers of change and then it identifies 10 skills that are required within these drivers of change.

In short, trans-disciplinarity is the ability of an individual to continually reinvent themselves by developing a t-shaped skillset.

The best way to visualise it is by thinking of the letter T.

Individuals need to have deep domain knowledge in select areas but their overall skillset will require them to be broadly able and capable across multiple functions.

A practical example of this could be a designer:

Deep skills:

  • Adobe products
  • Design thinking
  • Niche design skills such as illustration or UX

Broad skills:

  • Application of design thinking to sales collateral to enhance the sales team’s ability to connect with clients
  • Application of design thinking to the People function to improve team collaboration and individual performance
  • Application of design thinking to the operations department to support the smooth functioning of the company as a whole

Implications of this are broad and impact leadership, a company’s systems, processes and the individual.

Leadership implications:

  • Leaders will need to manage people more broadly as people will be doing work across multiple functions. This increases the complexity of management. The most immediate impact is that to remain effective, it will take longer because more tasks, outputs and actions will need to be considered.
  • Leaders will need to manage measurable output as well as behaviour. There is a difference between hitting targets and being a great team player. Targets generally take preference but behaviour has greater impact long term.

Process and system implications:

  • Connected systems that tie people’s tasks to real-time feedback are no longer going to be a nice-to-have. They will become essential. To date HR systems are seldom integrated into task management systems and this will need to shift drastically. Social connection is one of the prisoners in this area but enhanced workflow management capability is still sorely missing.

Individual implications:

  • BA degrees have greater relevance than ever before: a few years ago, they were seen as fallback degrees. Now, the critical thinking and creativity that is taught within these degree programs are essential skills.
  • People will need to reskill in order to remain competitive. These skills will not come from traditional degree and training programmes but from niche specialised schools and academies.
  • Creative pursuits will have direct implications on people’s ability to function optimally in work.

Turns out padawans and humans have a lot in common… the future of work is demanding of us to be constant padawans.

Here’s to becoming a jedi ;) The future of work excites me. I kinda like the idea of constant personal reinvention.

Nor says Anakin and Luke have been the best padawans and Obi and Yoda the great masters. Time for this brain to be educated in all things Star Wars.

Claire Haidar

Written by

CEO of a startup redefining the future of work — part chaos, part rocket fuel. Find me on

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