Definition: literacy in and ability to understand concepts
across multiple disciplines.
Many of today’s global problems are just too complex to be
solved by one specialized discipline (think global warming or
overpopulation). These multifaceted problems require transdisciplinary
solutions. While throughout the 20th century,
ever-greater specialization was encouraged, this century
we see transdisciplinary approaches take center stage.
We are already seeing this in the emergence of new areas of
study, such as nanotechnology, which blends molecular biology,
biochemistry, protein chemistry, and other specialties.
This shift has major implications for the skill set that
knowledge workers will need to bring to organizations.
According to Howard Rheingold, a prominent forecaster and
author, “transdisciplinarity goes beyond bringing together
researchers from different disciplines to work in multidisciplinary
teams. It means educating researchers who can
speak languages of multiple disciplines—biologists who have
understanding of mathematics, mathematicians who understand
The ideal worker of the next decade is “T-shaped”—they
bring deep understanding of at least one field, but have the
capacity to converse in the language of a broader range of
disciplines. This requires a sense of curiosity and a willingness
to go on learning far beyond the years of formal education.
As extended lifespans promote multiple careers and
exposure to more industries and disciplines, it will be particularly
important for workers to develop this T-shaped quality.