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Transdisciplinary Knowledge for Holistic Innovation

By: David Elliott and Rob Barker
Posted: June 1, 2012, from the June 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

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“Each DPU is responsible for discovering and developing potential new medicines in its particular area and seeing those through to early-stage clinical trials. They are also responsible for developing a three-year business plan and managing a budget, being held accountable for the final decisions and deliverable.”2

This—using “multidiscipline” researchers—is an interesting development that has shown good initial results per GSK’s annual results report for 2011.3 However, it does perhaps fall short of that strive for holistic innovation in that, despite drawing on a pool of very talented scientists, it still fails to recognize different thinking styles. It is likely that the DPUs as mentioned are predominantly left-brain thinkers—highly qualified scientific thinkers who may occasionally, at critical points in time, be so immersed in the details that they miss a crucial point. They may then miss a “Eureka!” moment. Why is this?

What Fuels Creativity?

In a study published in Behavior Genetics in 1973, researchers set out to investigate the possibility of a genetic component in creative ability. The research in 117 pairs of twins failed to provide any convincing evidence of a genetic component in creativity.4 Thus we must look elsewhere for clues to determine what fuels innovation—and more particularly, holistic innovation.

The death of Steve Jobs has led to much discussion on what was behind this man and what enabled him to make such an impression on so many people. Author Walter Isaacson, who knew Jobs perhaps as well as anyone, describes his success as an interesting distinction between intelligence and genius. Jobs valued experiential wisdom over empirical analysis, intuition over “Western rational thought.”

Isaacson compares Jobs to Benjamin Franklin, who was able to intuit the relationship between different things, such as flying a kite in a thunderstorm and electricity. This art of applied creativity seems to link quite different men operating in quite different times. Real creativity and real innovation seem to have been created by those who stand at “the intersection of the humanities and science,” according to Jobs. But the questions is, how can beauty business organizations create environments to produce innovation that can have a real impact?

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