[NaNoWriMo #2] On Interdisciplinarity, Latent Work, and Iceberg Effect
I am trying a new ritual started by the Clear Writing community of Amit Varma. We write at least 200 words every day of November and see where it goes. The pictures are my street photography shots.
Imagine a great building with a fancy statue on the top. Like the Edificio Metropolis in Granvia, Madrid. Everyone remembers the statue, Victoria Alada for its elegance, but a few talk about the beautiful pillars and the nice windows. It may feel like an off example, but Interdisciplinary work has an "Iceberg effect". People remember the presenter more than the people who worked on it. I know, it is a common thing in corporate situations. It is common enough for IT Crowd to do a small sketch on it. The part I am talking about is between 0:38-2:21.
I call this The Iceberg effect. Where in a traditional and big (or growing) company there are roles and work streams that are above the surface and other roles are below the surface. The part below the surface holds the whole thing and makes it float. This is of concern to interdisciplinary talent inside the teams who are below the surface. Write code bits that connect things so the design team can get the data to design the demo. Or Prototype several circuits to find the one that works, and put those pictures in the presentation for the client managers to present. A lot of interdisciplinary work goes into connecting other disciplines, syncing them, and making sure they work. A lot of this work is never recognized. A lot of this work is Latent Work.
For the majority of their time, the interdisciplinary professional is experimenting, hybridizing, and re-inventing their way of working, what they do may not always work. It is a work in progress. They thrive in ambiguity, are ready to fail, and want to keep moving things until they fit. An organization, not used to this (even if the website has a poem about multi/trans/inter-disciplinary work), may consider this bad for credibility. This is when they do the work they are meant to do. Try, Test, Fail, and Learn. The lack of credibility arising from the nature of work may affect interdisciplinary talent from getting recognized inside the organization.
Many times, There is a difference between "The work" and "work". This may be more relevant in a services company rather than a product one. The work is an effort that gets you more business —The great presentation, the negotiation of the century, etc. Work is the effort that makes "The work" possible. In interdisciplinary teams, a large part of "work" gets unnoticed in making "The work". You can see what happens in the "IT Crowd" episode when the IT team gets thanked for their work. They cry.
Interdisciplinary professionals should make people understand the nature of their work. We connect the other disciplines. Communicate the process. Make the team comfortable with ambiguity.
As creative industries become more mechanical, I think the industry needs to save these Latent workers. These places are ones where ambiguity is cherished and no "design method" can solve that. Companies have to be redesigned to let the interdisciplinary workers do their thing, and change their lenses of looking at performance. I hope.