Thinking Beyond Disciplines: Why We Need it

What is Transdisciplinarity?

The Institute for the Future and the University of Phoenix Research Institute list transdisciplinarity as #7 in a list of skills critical for Workforce 2020. They define it as “understanding concepts across multiple disciplines.”

Why is it Important?

Why is it increasingly important to understand concepts across multiple disciplines?

  • The problems we are trying to solve are increasingly complex.
  • The view from within any one discipline can be too narrow to provide a clear solution to a complex problem
  • Looking beyond the boundaries of knowledge that define a discipline can help us solve problems and understand complex information in a new way, using a broader view.

Transdisciplinarity connotes a research strategy that crosses many disciplinary boundaries to create a holistic approach.

Transdisciplinarity at

How Does Thinking More Broadly Help Us Lead Responsibly?

Broadening our thinking is particularly helpful in understanding concepts like “ethical leadership” which involves leading within multiple interrelated systems and meeting the needs of multiple constituents responsibly.

Sometimes looking at a problem from a single perspective may cause us to overlook important systems that are not completely within the scope of that one perspective.

Systems don’t stop where the boundaries of a discipline stop. That means that we need to broaden our view to avoid missing important pieces of the problem we’re trying to solve or the responsibility we’re trying to fulfill.

Looking at the research and information across disciplines helps us understand complex, connected systems and problems in a broader context. That broader level of thinking is the level that we’ll need to use to solve today’s complex, connected problems.

Transdisciplinarity and Ethics

Transdisciplinary ethics seeks to describe ethics in ways that transcend any particular discipline or profession.

 “Transdisciplinary Studies are an area of research and education that addresses contemporary issues that cannot be solved by one or even a few points-of-view. It brings together academic experts, field practitioners, community members, research scientists, political leaders, and business owners among others to solve some of the pressing problems facing the world, from the local to the global.”

“The values embedded in the transdisciplinary vision are basic: sharing, respect, and resolve.” “It is a distinctly postmodern point-of-view, calling on women and men, on “transdisciplinary-minded persons of all countries” to join in bringing this vision into reality, into “everyday life.” It is a bold vision; some might even say an impossible one, filled with a zeal for justice, equality, inclusion, and true democratic decision-making.”

Transdisciplinary Studies,

“As the prefix trans indicates, transdisciplinarity concerns that which is at once between the disciplines, across different disciplines, and beyond all discipline.” – Basarab Nicolecsu, 2002 quoted by the Woodbury Institute of Transdiciplinary Studies

When solving difficult problems, consider looking across disciplines for clues. Stepping back far enough to look across disciplines may lead you to an elegant solution.

Learn More

These articles discuss the broad values and value of interdisciplinary research, thinking and ethics.

Overview of Transdisciplinarity as Methodology McGregor Consulting Group

Unity of Knowledge From Transdisciplinary Research on Sustainability by G. Hirsch Hadorn

From Inter-Disciplinary Ethics to Trans-Disciplinary Ethics  NCBI,


For more, see new book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses 
© 2011 Leading in Context LLC 


  1. Linda, this is really great information concerning the need for men and women from different fields and expertises to critically solve complex problems. I am hoping that transdisciplinarity ethics can address the dearth of quality leadership in for profit and non profit organizations that causes such a major riff and values difference wise from the common worker.

    Our business models have changed little over the past twenty years and most organizations still practice coercion or top down management styles. The average worker suffers economically and emotionally because their situation doesn’t change. They simply don’t think managers and their leaders are honest and ethical. As long as executives place such a high value on their power, control base, compensation, and benefits they will be quite reluctant to change values wise. They think they are transparent and honest because they hide behind codes of conduct, ethics statements, employee handbooks, employee hotlines, and whistleblower programs.

    However, these are only words and they mean nothing without real corporate values being practiced and enforced up and down organizational lines. The amount of discrimination, bullying, and now increased retaliation against whistleblowers by senior managers is a growing problem. It has to stop at some time or equality, democracy, justice, and inclusion will never be achieved.

    Keep up the great work and I will try to help and add to the discussion any way I can.


  2. Linda, a very interesting viewpoint. I think that H.R. is a discipline that needs reminding of other perspectives; I am often disappointed at the way that H.R. generalists think along narrow tram lines; as though the only purpose of the H.R. discipline is only about reducing the people costs to a corporation. When it should be about a much wider agenda involving, innovation, employee engagement, trust, personal development and better ethical leadership. My comment will probably irritate the H.R. community but I believe that they need to reflect on how they sold their soul for a seat in the Boardroom. Read more about my views on ethics at:


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