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Why interdisciplinary collaboration can help us get past blind spots

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SmartBrief is partnering with Big Think to create a weekly video spotlight in SmartBrief on Leadership called “VIP Corner: Video Insights Powered by Big Think.” This week, we’re featuring Jonah Lehrer, author and journalist.

Collaboration is a go-to topic for today’s thinkers and thought leaders, particularly that which brings people together from different fields and backgrounds. But this easy acceptance is not translating to serious support for interdisciplinary collaboration, says Jonah Lehrer, whether in terms of providing funding or accepting that research backs up the method.

Bringing in experts to tackle problems is a sensible move. However, those experts don’t always need to have expertise in the field where the problem lies. In fact, Lehrer says, sometimes you want an expert who doesn’t have expertise in the field at hand; he or she will often know “enough to understand the terms of the question but doesn’t know so much that they run into the exact same stumbling blocks” as the in-house expert.

The idea of cross-disciplinary teamwork is not merely “feel-good,” Lehrer notes; research and real life back it up, as seen with and General Electric’s Ecomagination Challenge.

“I think we come with this tacit assumption that if you’re struggling with a really hard problem, you’ve got to give it to the guy who knows the most, to those expert insiders,” Lehrer says. “But sometimes, when it comes to creativity innovation, sometimes knowledge is a blind spot. Sometimes we can know too much.”

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