Image of two people talking

"Interdisciplinary communication is where truly great ideas emerge." Carl Seger, Intel

March 1, 2018
Writer: Ben Taylor

Young aspiring professionals attending Brigham Young University-Idaho see the value in a broad perspective. Through a Major in Interdisciplinary studies they have the freedom to combine two or more courses of study to meet their future career goals. These Interdisciplinary Studies Majors have the potential to be a strong force for innovation and collaboration in their future careers. Their broad perspective sets them up to effectively communicate, collaborate, and innovate.

Collective Cognition: Two Brains Are Better Than One

Collective cognition refers to the idea that when a group of people pool their thinking abilities, they will outperform any individual performing the same task on their own. To put it simply, two brains are better than one.[1]  Each person comes with different backgrounds, experience, and expertise. When the best aspects of each person are highlighted we can reach heights that were otherwise unreachable. All major progress in civilization, from agriculture to the internet, can be attributed to this special ability to collaborate and find solutions to the problems we face together. We can apply this principle today, so long as we are able to effectively communicate. Communication, in many ways, is the hallmark of collective cognition; for without mutual understanding, there can be no progress. In an epistle to the Corinthians, Paul refers to the body of the church all members having their own unique abilities and purposes. "If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? [...] There should be no schism in the body" (1 Cor. 12:17 & 25). Just as the body in this analogy, individuals that work together can more readily fulfill the purpose of the collective.

Interdisciplinary Communication: A More Powerful Teamwork

Interdisciplinary communication refers to the ability of professionals to mutually understand each other and to draw on each other's expertise. When communication is fluid and ideas can flow freely, our ability to achieve and problem solve will improve. Carl Seger, the Senior Principal Engineer and Chief Architect of Intel, worked with a diverse set of professionals from different disciplines during a year's sabbatical. Seger said that it took about six months before he, the physiologist, and the engineer could all understand what the other was talking about. The team pressed on, eventually finding mutual understanding, which allowed them to find new and innovative applications for both engineering and physiology. Reflecting on this experience Seger said, "Interdisciplinary communication is where truly great ideas emerge." [2] In a multidisciplinary team, each individual may use distinct vocabulary that is specific to their respective professions. A member of such a team that takes the time to think beyond their own paradigm by broadening their perspective, could play a key role in facilitating communication for all the parties involved. That team member, with a multidisciplinary perspective, would be the key to unlocking the collective cognition of the team. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, over 78% of hiring managers look specifically for candidates who demonstrate strong teamwork skills[3]. A well rounded professional who can look at a problem from multiple perspectives would be a key asset to any professional team.


[1] Clément RJG, Krause S, von Engelhardt N, Faria JJ, Krause J, et al. (2013) Collective Cognition in Humans: Groups Outperform Their Best Members in a Sentence Reconstruction Task. PLOS ONE 8(10): e77943. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0077943

[2] Balliol College (2007). The Forefront of Computing. Floreat Domus, 13. Oxford, Oxfordshire, England. Retrieved from https://www.balliol.ox.ac.uk/alumni-and-friends/floreat-domus/2007/the-forefront-of-computing

[3] Bortz, Daniel. (2017. Monster Worldwide. Retrieved March 1, 2018, from https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/5-skills-employers-want-in-new-grads-and-arent-finding