Today’s global challenges and opportunities call for a certain type of thinking. This is referred to variously as integrative thinking, systems thinking, or multidimensional thinking.
The Kaleidoscope is a perfect visual metaphor for this profound perceptual shift. “The microscope has been the dominant image of research, manifested in the reductive approach of taking things apart into their separate components. It was, and continues to be, a highly successful source of knowledge. A new metaphor, though, is apparent – the kaleidoscope. Turning the tube of this popular child’s toy creates shifting shapes and colors, resulting in new and unpredictable patterns and hues.” (Julie Thompson Klein — Interdisciplinarity and complexity: An evolving relationship Vol. 6 Nos. 1-2 Fall 2004 pp. 2-10).
A multidimensional thinker is someone “high in cognitive complexity”. They “are able to analyze (i.e., differentiate) a situation into many constituent elements, and then explore connections and potential relationships among the elements” Streufert, S., & Swezey, R. W., 1986).
Multidimensional thinking draws from a wide range of competencies, for example divergent and convergent thinking skills. It involves the ability to see the big picture and details. “Multidimensional leaders stay objectively alert in order to make strategic decisions within a context of ever-changing circumstances, parameters and variables” (http://clomedia.com/articles/view/developing-multidimensional-leaders).
Dr. Charles Piazza observes that those leaders, who are multidimensional thinkers, are able to:
- Hold and utilize multiple viewpoints as critical lenses
- Dialogue with radically divergent viewpoints
- Develop a whole picture from which a creative solution can be devised
In a similar vein, ’interdisciplinary thinking and learning‘ helps individuals:
- Increase ability to synthesize knowledge and see new connections
- Create meaning from disparate contexts and perspectives
- Appreciate multiple perspectives, points of view, and values
- Gain understanding of interdependency
- Cooperate more effectively
- (Integrative Curriculum: A Kaleidoscope of Alternatives. Educational Horizons 68 (1), 12-17: Harter, P.D., & Gehrke, N.J., 1989)
Neuroscience supports the value of interdisciplinary learning. The human brain “actively seeks patterns and searches for meaning through these patterns”(Schomaker, 1989, p. 13). It also “integrates new knowledge on the basis of previous experiences and the meaning that has developed from those experiences. It processes many things at the same time, and holistic or integrative experiences are recalled quickly and easily” (Cromwell, 1989; Caine & Caine, 1991). Caine and Caine (1991) state that search for meaning and patterns is a basic process. “The brain may resist learning fragmented facts that are presented in isolation.”
The idea of interdisciplinarity is moving from academic into the corporate sector. Companies increasingly foster learning across all organizational disciplines. This in turn supports critical as well as creative thinking as well as knowledge transfer. Employees today must have the skills to analyze, organize, interpret, and communicate myriad bits of information in a coherent holistic way. Companies are also therefore establishing Interdisciplinary Learning Zones and using Interdisciplinary Strategic Games. This “enables industry involvement to build up cross-disciplinary management exchanges between employees and provides real-life case scenarios for interdisciplinary research projects” (Anshu Saxena Arora, Learning Organization, The, Vol. 19, 2012).
Prelude is a learning game system that helps cultivate multidimensional thinking and foster interdisciplinary teamwork. It harkens back to ancient models like the Mandala and Medicine Wheel designed to cultivate holistic perception and perspectives. What was old is new again in the global knowledge society and economy.