Hanging Out on Corners

July 8, 2009 3 Comments

At IISC, we’ve talked a lot about how huge leaps are made in thinking when you spend time at the intersections between different fields. A recent book, the Medici Effect, puts this out in the popular literature. That it is, in fact, living at the intersections that allows for different views into the world. And at this very moment in time, when the old approaches are falling behind and the world is so in need of new ways of looking at things, it seems a very good time to be spending time on the corners.

I’ve had some direct experience – as when Katy Payne and I discovered that humpback whales use rhymes in their songs. We were studying humpback whale songs, reading poetry and reading about oral transmission of folk literature. Suddenly, we had an “aha moment,” realizing that the patterns in humpback whale songs resembled human rhymes – that they sang the same grouping of sounds at the end of each section – and wondered if humpback whales, as well as humans, may use these repeating patterns as mnemonic devices. We’ll never know for sure – but spending time at the intersection between those fields is what brought the moment forth.

Last week, there was a fascinating New York Times article that described Tibetan monks and nuns studying science. The Dalai Lama sees Buddhism and science as complementary – different approaches to understanding the truth. As well, there is a longing for these Tibetan monks and nuns who are living in exile to not be isolated in one way of understanding the world, but to refresh their understanding and stay relevant. As challenging as it is for the monks and nuns, the science teachers going to Dharamsala from Emory University are also challenged by teaching science to very sophisticated learners who have never studied math or science and for whom English is a second language. So both groups are taking giant steps forward.

This has all led me to think about what corners I’m hanging out on these days. The intersection between social justice and technology is one. And throw in there some other streets – systems thinking, power analysis, race and white privilege, and my own spiritual path. Time to start looking at the overlaps. And to wonder what corners others are hanging out on.


  • Gibran says:

    Thanks for bringing this up Linda, I’m constantly looking for ways we at IISC can do better at fostering such intersections for our clients – understanding that this means bringing in people from outside our sector!

    It also brings to mind that current org structures do not foster any such “hanging out at corners,” but in fact, our work patterns make it harder to do so and therefore end up getting in the way of our doing anything new…

  • Curtis says:

    Just talked to our board consultant today about the possibility of restructuring our board to have a Medici effect to it. Why not make it a place where exciting conversations happen at the boundaries of different fields to both inform our organization and to spread the good word of IISC?

  • Andria Winther says:

    Linda love your whale story as it relates to Medici effectand your aha. Gibran, while organizations will continue to exist we need to work at making them more permeable, the edges more diffuse. Nice idea about the board Curtis.

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