By Colleen Knechtel
What interdisciplinary competencies are required for innovation? How can such interdisciplinary competencies be implemented to foster innovation?
Keys to stimulating innovation are cultivating interdisciplinary mindsets and skillsets. Interdisciplinary mindsets involve recognizing diverse knowledge to enable collaboration to enhance collective creativity, whereas interdisciplinary skillsets embrace relational competencies, work experiences, the sciences, humanities, trades and technologies. Integrating such diverse knowledge and skills is key to innovation.
Strategies for implementing interdisciplinary competencies
1. Recognizing prior knowledge and skills
A ‘growth mindset’ that focuses on strengths and competencies that is grounded in transformative learning strengthens confidence, affirms lifelong learning abilities, and motivates individuals to identify and address learning gaps.
Key to this is recognition of prior learning which can be prompted through interviews, focus group discussions, collaborative problem-solving, journaling, life history narratives, journey mapping, collages, drawing, photo-voice/-documentary, as well as kinaesthetic forms of self-expression such as music and dance.
2. Flipping the innovation pyramid
This approach to innovation invites people with first-hand knowledge and expertise of the situation or problem to drive change, while at the same time creating opportunities for cross-training and lifelong learning.
Flipping the innovation pyramid provides opportunities to take leadership roles, as well as to share insights and work collaboratively with others to improve ideas. Deep listening and dialogue need to be practised to transform diverse ideas into collaborative action.
3. Thinking inclusively and relational responsibility
The principles of interdisciplinarity allow for synergy of ideas from diverse disciplines, address individual differences, expand relational competencies and support on-going development of transferable skills.
In addition, relational responsibility involves respecting different cultures, languages, educational backgrounds, aptitudes, skillsets and worldviews, which in turn leads to opportunities that broaden abilities to create innovative solutions.
4. Transforming ideas into action
Transforming ideas into action requires the capacity to communicate and access collaborative knowledge and skills for effective team efforts. Leveraging solutions includes the need to value and understand diverse worldviews.
This means that our way of solving a problem may not be congruent with how others see the same problem or solution, nor will our values and priorities necessarily align. It is often difficult to negotiate a solution that works for everyone, and dialogue is critically important to this collaborative and consultative process.
This involves acknowledging the process as one of knowledge transformation rather than knowledge transmission. In knowledge transformation, everyone involved is an active teacher and learner to improve continuous learning and professional practice. In a knowledge-technology society, polishing and sharpening both mindsets and skillsets are vital to bridging the theory-practice gap to develop interdisciplinary competencies for innovation.
5. Micro-credentials and mini-qualifications
An important strategy to develop interdisciplinary competencies is online courses and accreditations such as webinars through professional associations and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These provide micro-credentials that anyone can access for free.
Mini-qualifications demonstrate knowledge, skills and/or experience in given proficiencies. Compared with traditional diplomas or degrees, micro-credentials tend to be knowledge- or skills- specific ways to sharpen and polish interdisciplinary knowledge and skills to enhance collaboration and innovation.
6. Reflective practices of unlearning and reframing
Developing interdisciplinary competencies through reframing and unlearning using reflection is another key approach to implementing interdisciplinary competencies.
Interdisciplinary competencies involve reframing what we already know and how we think about problems and solutions. Expanding what we know requires unlearning and reconsidering what we think we know by seeing things through different lenses and adjusting our perceptions and interpretations.
Being flexible and agile – that is, thinking in new ways – can be accomplished by critically reflecting on our own narratives and appreciating the distinct narratives of others as valid worldviews and approaches to problem-solving. This idea of unlearning and reframing what we already know calls upon analytical and critical thinking to cultivate curiosity and inspiration for enhanced creativity.
Interdisciplinarity is key for innovation to solve complex problems. In a knowledge-technology society, using interdisciplinarity to stimulate innovation is helpful within a range of settings, including in research, education, and individual career development. We must pay attention to building interdisciplinary competencies for collective creativity.
Do these ideas resonate with your experiences in your education, research, scholarship, and work life? Do you have other ideas for using interdisciplinarity to stimulate collective creativity for innovation?
Biography: Colleen Knechtel is an interdisciplinary scholar and educator who has worked in career development, disability management, and community engagement. Intrigued by possibilities for career-integrated-learning in schools, she is currently completing a PhD program in the department of Secondary Education at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.