• 9/20/2023 7:04:57 AM

Transdisciplinarity, A Growing Trend

Barış Onur Örs

Interdisciplinary studies address two significant approaches: Multidisciplinarity and Transdisciplinarity. Although these two approaches may come across as similar at first glance, they come with fundamental differences. Multidisciplinarity signifies the convergence of different disciplines, each preserving its uniqueness, and addressing the same problem from different perspectives. In contrast, transdisciplinarity goes beyond just bringing these disciplines together, promoting interaction among them, resulting in a new, integrated, and holistic understanding and knowledge. In science, technology, and the business world, the transdisciplinary approach is becoming increasingly vital for solving complex issues.

The prefix "trans" in Latin means "beyond". Generally, this prefix implies transcending certain boundaries, norms, or categories. For instance, the term "transmodern" expresses a global dialogue that seeks to go beyond modernity and postmodernity and embrace experiences of non-Western cultures "Transhumanism" refers to a perspective beyond human biological limitations. Transdisciplinarity aims to surpass the existing boundaries between disciplines in pursuit of holistic knowledge.

The idea of transdisciplinarity emerged in the latter half of the 20th century when the limitations of isolated academic disciplines in understanding and solving complex societal and environmental issues were recognized. Jean Piaget, one of the figures defining the term in the early 1970s, positioned it beyond interdisciplinary studies, seeing it as a completely new structure emerging from the interaction between sciences. Eric Jantsch viewed transdisciplinarity as multidimensionality, recognizing it as a characteristic of evolution and complex systems. Edgar Morin linked the concept with the principle of the indivisibility of knowledge. Nicolescu argued that transdisciplinarity is not just an interdisciplinary approach but forms a new type of knowledge that fills the gaps between various scientific branches. By the end of the century, issues like globalization, ecological crises, social inequalities, and technological transformations underscored the importance of transcending interdisciplinary boundaries.

Transdisciplinary approaches merge methodologies from different disciplines, allowing multifaceted problem analysis, encompassing both qualitative and quantitative research methods. The essence lies in knowledge integration. The vast amount of knowledge inherent in topics covered in transdisciplinary activities demands skills in interrelation, transfer across disciplines, collaboration, and mediation. This cooperation typically involves not only researchers but also all actors related to the subject at hand.

Transdisciplinarity in the Business World

Recently, the business world has been increasingly embracing the transdisciplinary approach. Its primary advantage is the capacity to combine knowledge and methods from different disciplines, creating more holistic and innovative solutions. For example, Google combines areas like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing to develop new products and services. Amazon integrates supply chain management, customer service, and data analysis to enhance the customer experience. Tesla utilizes automotive engineering, computer science, and energy storage to produce electric vehicles.

Transdisciplinarity promotes innovation in product and service development. Apple, while developing the iPhone, approached it from various disciplines, from design to marketing, from engineering to user experience, creating a comprehensive product. Companies like Unilever adopt this approach within sustainability and corporate social responsibility frameworks, leveraging knowledge from diverse disciplines to craft sustainable business models.

Teams are encouraged to adopt a transdisciplinary approach, integrating knowledge and skills from various fields. Companies aim for better results in specific projects by bringing together employees from different functional areas. Transdisciplinarity is also crucial for customer-centricity. Airbnb's innovative approach to the travel industry emerged from integrating disciplines like lodging, technology, design, and social sciences.

In conclusion, the business world's adoption of a transdisciplinary approach grants companies the capability to produce more holistic, innovative, and effective solutions. This helps in finding integrated and holistic answers to complex problems.

Knowledge Ecosystems

In the modern world, information exists within intricate ecosystems intertwined with networks. Transdisciplinarity can form a comprehensive knowledge network within these ecosystems, examining how a piece of knowledge can traverse between disciplines and how one can approach a problem from varied perspectives.

In modern companies, employees from various departments and expertise areas are encouraged to brainstorm together. Such activities are concrete examples of a transdisciplinary approach. During these sessions, professionals from marketing, engineering, design, and many other fields converge to generate new ideas. Transdisciplinarity not only aids in resolving current problems but also paves the way for innovative ideas shaping the future. Sci-fi writers, filmmakers, designers, and scientists can make futuristic predictions through a transdisciplinary approach. Consider BioArt, a compelling example of the convergence of art and science. In this field, artists and scientists combine advanced sciences like genetic engineering and biotechnology with artistic expression, revealing both the aesthetic dimension of science and the functional aspect of art. Or a music producer could collaborate with a sound engineer, addressing the nuances of acoustic science and the emotional aspects of sound, crafting a comprehensive music piece.

Transdisciplinarity has also been inspired by Charles Darwin's evolutionary biology. It is believed that ideas, just like living organisms, can evolve, adapt, and merge with information from different disciplines to form new, more advanced concepts. In nature, many organisms can live in more than one habitat or ecosystem. This can be a biological metaphor for a transdisciplinary approach. For instance, amphibians that can live both in water and on land, or certain plants that thrive in different climates, exhibit nature's transdisciplinary traits. In summary, knowledge ecosystems illustrate how information can travel between different disciplines, how it can merge with different subjects, and ultimately how it can form a new, holistic meaning. In this ecosystem, transdisciplinarity is a guide; it allows us to combine different sources of knowledge and paths to reach a broader and deeper understanding.

Facing the complexities and ever-changing dynamics of the modern world, transdisciplinarity is gaining increasing importance. The integration of knowledge and skills from different disciplines is the key to formulating more holistic, innovative, and effective solutions in both science and business. A transdisciplinary approach not only provides integrated solutions to current problems but also paves the way for innovative ideas that will shape the future. Within knowledge ecosystems, this approach serves as a compass in a world where ideas, strategies, and solutions are constantly evolving, adapting, and interacting with each other.