The World Has Deep Areas of Expertise. We Need Agility and Context

How do we mitigate the isolating effects of specialization and create a common space where people in every field can share ideas?

Most academics work alongside other academics in the same field to arrive at the deepest possible understanding of a particular subject. At the MIT Media Lab, researchers focus on breadth, not depth, of knowledge. 


The mission of the Media Lab - symbolized by its glass walls - is to mitigate the isolating effects of specialization by creating a common space where brilliant people in every field can share ideas, English major to mathematician.

That is why, in a lesson on Big Think Edge, the only forum on YouTube designed to help you get the skills you need to be successful in a rapidly changing world, Ito, the MIT Media Lab's executive director, says “the world is full of expertise, what it lacks is agility and context.”

Sign up for a free trial subscription on Big Think Edge and watch Ito's lesson here:

In Ito's lesson on Big Think Edge, we consider the following questions:
- How much interdepartmental collaboration happens in your organization?
- What are the structures that support or thwart interdepartmental collaboration in your organization?
- Does innovation in your company come from the top? Or is it encouraged at every level? 
In this lesson, you will learn to:

Leverage the Diversity of Team Members

  • Identify and respond to the individual needs and contributions of your team members.

  • Promote access to information resources; each team member is responsible for his or her own context.

  • Synthesize the diverse talents with the group.

  • Channel the collective momentum.

  • Organize for agility.

  • Take your team to the next level.

    For expert video content to inspire, engage and motivate your employees, visit Big Think Edge

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    Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

    It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

    17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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    In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


    Image from the study.

    As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

    Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

    "The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

    It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

    Image by authors of the study.

    Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

    The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

    “In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

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