Established disciplines of research, theory and practice all tend to be rather set in their ways and expect scholars and practitioners to follow disciplinary paradigms. Where today's universities are concerned, consequences of departmental structures, limited research funding, and excessive "protective" and financial bureaucracy constrain academics to work within the prescribed boundaries of their disciplines, and of course, what they teach also reflects these boundaries. For example, despite substantial efforts to communicate the importance of the work, very few universities seem to have grasped the lessons of some of our founders' practice (e.g., Hall, W.P., Richards, G., Sarelius, C., Kilpatrick, B. 2008. Organisational management of project and technical knowledge over fleet lifecycles).
There is little place for the kind of lateral thinking that leads to major breakthroughs in understanding. Industry tacitly expects universities to research the theory and technology behind their practice. However, in many areas, such as in the management of engineering knowledge, because there is too little cross fertilization, industry may lead the university by many years in the use of technology without having any deep understanding of how to maximize its value. One of the drivers behind our efforts to form the Kororoit Institute is our frustrations with the apparent inability of the university to look beyond its established disciplinary boundaries. Although lip service is given to the idea of working across disciplines, when it comes down to the formation of work groups to actually accomplish anything the perceptual and administrative barriers are so arbitrary and time consuming that they are practically insurmountable.
Thomas Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"
Writing in the history and philosophy of science, Thomas Kuhn in his well known 1962 book introduced three ideas that help to explain why we think it is so important to be able to easily cross disciplines in our theory building and problem solving work. Many have criticised aspects of his work, but to us the core ideas retain substantial explanatory value. Although he was writing primarily about academic science, these three ideas relate to most knowledge-based disciplines.
- Normal science (i.e., normal practice). Most scientific "progress" takes place through solving puzzles and filling in the blanks within relatively well defined disciplinary boundaries, to refine and strengthen what we already think we know. Kuhn called this "normal science". These days, given the constraints discussed above, most university science is normal science because this is less risky and comparatively easy to fund within existing departmental and granting agency frameworks..
- Paradigm. Most disciplines are defined by a particular mix of shared a-priori beliefs, implicitly held world-views, theory laden vocabulary, and acceptance of "classic" works that are considered to represent how the discipline should be practiced - as is typical for normal science. Most of this is learned tacitly through work in the discipline. Kuhn called this disciplinary matrix of core knowledge a "paradigm". Because most aspects of the paradigm are not easily recalled and expressed at a rational level, people working within a paradigm are unconsciously constrained in the kinds of ideas they can hold and apply to their work.
- Scientific revolution (i.e., disruptive ideas, technologies, etc.). Kuhn is best known for his title phrase, the "scientific revolution". Kuhn argued that science evolved through successive phases of normal science and revolutionary science. Revolutionary science is what may happen when normal science working within an established paradigm, encounter observations, problems etc., that seem important but cannot adequately be explained or encompassed within the framework of the existing disciplinary paradigm. Radical ideas may be proposed that satisfactorily explain things the existing paradigm couldn't, together with accounting for enough of the existing disciplinary knowledge that at least some scientists accept the radical ideas and begin to extend the original work into new directions. This gives rise to a new paradigm, and inevitably new words are invented and existing words acquire somewhat different meanings in order to encompass the new explanations, while early works become the "classics" of the new paradigm. Kuhn observed that the tacitly held diferences between new and old paradigms created major communication difficulties. Because many of the differences were tacit, paradigmatic differences could not be discussed rationally.
Kororoit Institute as a home for multidisciplinary innovation
A common factor among many of our founding members is that we have typically worked outside the bounds of existing scholarly or industrial paradigms, to look at intractable problems in new ways. In many cases this is because either by accident or design our careers have crossed different disciplines to give us a capacity to think outside the constraints of particular disciplinary paradigms. The Kororoit Institute Proponents and Supporters Association, Inc. seeks to build an institute outside the constraints of formal academia that can specifically encourage and nourish cross-disciplinary theoretical development and practical problem solving relating to the worlds looming problems relating to global warming, sustainable urban and regional development, impending "peaks" in the availability of oil and certain strategic minerals and metals on which our technolgies depend, and so on. As noted under Open Collaboration, models for our Institute include the Santa Fe Institute, the New England Complex Systems Institute and Princeton's Institute for Advanced Studies. These will be hard acts to follow, but by constantly focusing on the need to nurture interdisciplinary and potentially revolutionary approaches, perhaps we can emulate or even exceed their successes.