Cross-Pollinated Knowledge

What do we gain from interdisciplinary conversations?

Like plants and flowers, our minds benefit from a diversity of input; we might come up with something new and exciting through exposure to an idea from outside our normal area of interest.

I recently attended a conference where 28 different countries were represented. The topic of the conference was open enough that it included sessions led by medical engineering professors, librarians, coding experts, government employees, and improv performers. We were all there to talk about technology and human society; and yet we spent a great deal of time discussing art, poetry, politics, ethics, and inspiration.

The discussions we had were so exciting and filled me with the wonder of human innovation. Talking with someone from a field I would otherwise never interact with in a professional setting pushed me to think about how I describe the work I do, how I relate to others, and where I seek inspiration. I love the peer-to-peer interactions I have at conferences with others in my field, but it was even more exciting to find commonality with people I might never collaborate with otherwise. When I leave a conference, I usually have one or two big ideas I hope to share or pursue; on the flight home from this conference, I had an entire notebook full! As I talked it over with my coworker the following week, I could hardly get the words out fast enough. Pretty impressive for a small, two-day conference!

Somethings to think about: Who do you talk with about new ideas? Do you run those ideas past someone outside your “normal” area of operation? Who are you not talking to or overlooking? Who are you assuming is not interested in your ideas? What ideas are you assuming aren’t relevant to you?

As I walked around the city of Toronto one evening after a full day of interesting sessions, I found this piece of graffiti art I love; it perfectly illustrates the experience I had at the conference. I took a picture of it, and then laughed aloud as I noticed what it said. I did not read it ‘right’ at first — the power of gestalt in the brain made me see possible rather than popsicle. This image contains feeling of possibilities, the importance of play and whimsy, and most importantly the potential to miss the real message if we aren’t looking closely. I hope for more experiences like this in the future; when we make space for cross-pollinating, interdisciplinary discussions anything is possible. And popsicle.