the art of bodies in motion

Thursday, September 26, 2019

A Few Thoughts on the Basic Mindset Needed for Interdisciplinary Collaboration

"The Final Gate" © Ann Moradian, 2018.

This path 
is not for everyone.

When we work across disciplines, we are opening up to information outside our own domain(s) of knowledge, experience and expertise. Regardless of the degree to which we retain hierarchical structures of organization, the very concept of working together with those from other domains implies exposure to a certain amount of new information, and with that comes a certain amount of disruption to old patterns, structures, and ideas. We are human, and this can be uncomfortable.

"Your brain craves certainty and avoids uncertainty like it's pain."
(Rock, 2009)

Uncertainty can trigger limbic system to respond as if it were under threat. Interdisciplinary exchange ‘messes with’ this. The objectives in opening up to interdisciplinary or collaborative work might be to expand knowledge and understanding, find new synergies, map out new territories, or develop new forms. These shared adventures are, inevitably, journeys of discovery. If you only search for what you already know, or think you know, you will miss a lot. (I must admit, however, that this is the only viable approach I have found when looking for a lost contact lens.) 

In my experience, it is when we open up to the unknown, and the uncertainty it brings along with it, that things start to get interesting – and hopefully, eventually, also fun! There seems to be a curious balancing act, however, between receptiveness and active engagement that is called for to ensure productivity. I suspect there must be an art to this aspect of collaboration, because there is definitely no reliable manual for it! 

Interdisciplinary work is inherently collaborative – not in the negative sense of the word as in ‘cooperation with an enemy,’ but in the more constructive use of the word that implies working together toward a shared goal or vision. This demands a willingness to share power, and to be open to the unforeseen and unforeseeable. It also demands a willingness to step forward – to risk exposure of our ideas, our wishes, our needs... If you imagine you will be able to do this kind of work without ever feeling vulnerable or uncomfortable, or without ever having to examine your assumptions, you are sorely mistaken. 

Having a shared goal or vision is vital. It is this shared aim that gives us the courage to advance in these unchartered domains, no matter what we encounter. As the martial strategist Miyamoto Musashi said: 

“There is more than one way to the top of the mountain.”

On such a journey, our differences become a strength, rather than a handicap or threat. There should be at least a moment when each person can step forward to shine, and many times when we allow the others to share their knowledge, strengths or skills. A willingness to learn from each other is important. A willingness to share power is essential. This includes knowing when it is necessary to hold one’s ground, and when it is viable or necessary to adjust. 

In my experience, it has been important to collaborate with those who have different but complementary skill sets and experience from my own. In addition, I have found it critical that each member in the team truly wants to be there. This suggests that not only do they have something to contribute through their participation, but they also have something to learn or gain through the venture. 

As we explore the frontiers of our knowing, we will be changed by the experience. If we chose to embark on the adventure of interdisciplinary collaboration, testing out new pathways and possibilities, we will leave an impression of our passing on the terrain. Whether we encounter our own discomforts (which can be richly revealing when we explore it carefully), or new and wondrous marvels, we will not leave this experience unmarked ourselves. And if we are very lucky, when we stumble or are lost in the maze of possibilities – and this may happen many times – we learn to help each other through. 

“Traveler, there are no paths. Paths are made by walking.” 
(Australian Aboriginal saying)

Ann Moradian
26 September 2019


Rock, David (2009). “A Hunger for Certainty,” in Psychology Today. Published 25 October 2009. Retrieved 26 September 2019 from