Here is a quote from Why The West Rules – For Now by Ian Morris – explaining some of the issues with the inter-disciplinary approach he has taken in writing the book:
This courts all kinds of dangers (superficiality, disciplinary bias, and just general error). I will never have the same subtle grasp of Chinese culture as someone who has spent a lifetime reading medieval manuscripts, or be as up-to-date on human evolution as a geneticist (I am told that the journal Science updates its website on average every thirteen seconds; while typing this sentence I have probably fallen behind again). But on the otehr hand, those who stay within the boundaries of their own disciplines will never see the big picture.
And therein lies the problem. Science updates every thirteen seconds – it’s impossible to keep up with that much new knowledge. Our only hope is to filter the flow somehow.
This helps with the information overload problem, but it creates a new one. Big ideas come at the edge of specialisations, and, particularly, at the intersections. To come up with big ideas you need to be outside of the core (see this post for some ideas on how to do this).
This is another tension in innovation – the need to be both in the core and at the edge. As usual, the best answer is to change this from an either/or into a both/and.
Both/and solutions are hard to execute. You have to accommodate yourself to conflicting intellectual demands, and you have to be comfortable with a relatively high level of uncertainty. That’s what makes innovation both challenging and rewarding.
(photo from flickr/contemplative imaging under a Creative Commons License)