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Why engaging your audience is an interdisciplinary adventure

An Opinion piece

Having the advantage and benefit of being able to search for whatever you want and learn whatever you want is an unbelievable privilege in today’s world. To not use an interdisciplinary approach to everything we do, is pretty much impossible. Unless you’ve specifically chosen to remain disconnected.

This opinion piece was inspired by a post that David Chandross, PhD had placed on LinkedIn. His post was about looking at learning and game-based learning from a different angle, in this case from the angle of the field of physics (experimental, quantum, etc.). I have an interest in physics, and a long time ago I had wanted to study physics, but circumstances in life prevented this. The interest remains though, and the post from David ignited an idea in me about how having a healthy interest in a great many varied things can help with your professional life and more.

The interdisciplinary approach should be a starting point for any situation, problem, or ‘thing’ that you are dealing with. In all honesty, I wouldn’t know how else to approach something, due to the life I’ve had, the family I have, the friends I have, and the interests and education I have, my default approach is interdisciplinary. It also feels that it would be very boring if it wasn’t this way.

And when I consider how organisations engage their audiences, the boring experiences tend to be the ones that only have a single linear approach. If the outcome isn’t from an interdisciplinary start or a multidisciplinary team, then it tends to be lacking for the broader audience member’s experience.

This is why audience experience and engagement (AEX) design is at its core interdisciplinary. It incorporates gamification, business strategy, marketing, psychology, and storytelling; both visual and linguistic. And the majority of these are also interdisciplinary themselves.

My belief and experience are that using the interdisciplanary3 (cubed) approach when designing engaging experiences for audiences creates a more holistic outcome that speaks better and more to the varying individuals in any audience.

Reasons for the interdisciplinary approach

The interdisciplinary approach or a cross-discipline approach isn’t anything new. Everyone has heard of the term or experienced it in some way. It usually goes hand in hand when a surprising solution was discovered where two or more disciplines decided to work together to get to the desired outcome.

However, it at times seems that these events are solitary celebrated when they happen and are celebrated. The reality is that they aren’t isolated, they happen every day. Or rather, if they don’t, then they should happen every day. When searching for solutions, solitary singular solutions simply aren’t good enough. Multiple approaches and angles offer solutions that are better for the whole.

I am sure that those of you who are reading this are likely thinking that their fields and professions are filled with interdisciplinary activities and that this is the norm for you. That’s brilliant, you should be proud and happy if this is the case.

But this isn’t the case for all fields and disciplines. Many professions that rely on engaging their audiences are stagnant in broadening their thinking and their approaches. One example, it can be argued, is in the field of traditional education. In many countries, this glacial behemoth is stagnating. Injecting a healthy amount of interdisciplinary approaches into this field would likely benefit it. And some countries do this, Finland is a good example. But other national institutions resist, for various reasons.

Resistance to the interdisciplinary approach

One of the reasons for resisting an interdisciplinary approach is that it would likely dilute and diminish the processes and methodologies that have worked for decades or centuries. The adage of ‘if ain’t broke don’t fix it’.

This isn’t a bad argument, I’m sure that there are examples where bringing in (too many) angles has resulted in slowed down procedures and maybe also led to less than perfect outcomes. Though these are still learning points, better to fail faster and more often to learn better than never to try at all. I know from my work that not everything works, and once I know this, I know to adjust it for the next time.

Another argument, one more directed at engagement practices with audiences and customers, is that bringing in interdisciplinary approaches somehow promotes a negative aspect. An example is an aspect of utilising behavioural psychology and understandings derived from the psychoanalysis of visuals and language used in storytelling. When using these to create more engaging experiences in say marketing campaigns, many may see this as an attempt to falsely manipulate people into doing something that they don’t want to do.

Fortunately, this is untrue. Or unfortunately for those who want to try to manipulate. As B.J. Fogg, Daniel Pink, Nir Eyal, and many others have said, you cannot force someone to do something that they intrinsically do not want to do.

However, the purpose of this example is rather that interdisciplinary approaches and their inherent methodologies are tools, and should be used correctly. Naturally one could manipulate someone into doing something they want to do, but shouldn’t. Just as equally as we can try to manipulate someone to do something they should, but currently don’t feel like doing. Some casinos are notorious for manipulating people who are on the edge of having a gambling binge due to an addictive personality. While on the other side of the coin, many fitness organisations and brands are masters at manipulating people who were always on the edge of getting healthier and now are thanks to the mechanics and triggers employed. Imagine if sports brands hadn’t used an interdisciplinary approach to creating technology that motivated millions of individuals to build better and healthier habits.

Another example of resistance is when the outcome is believed to turn the current experience into something frivolous. This is usually when anyone discusses gamification. There is a belief that doing this will turn the experience into a game and therefore make it less effective and diminish in value. This is also untrue. Gamification, which I use in my engagement designs, comes in many shapes and forms. Some of it does turn things into games, others simply make the experience more engaging by using elements and learnings from the art of games. And if the sales of the games industry are anything to go, then games certainly don’t make subjects less effective or diminish their value.

Promoting an interdisciplinary approach

What you should take away from the handful of examples of resistance to interdisciplinary approaches, is that you must always have an open mind and continue to be and/or remain inquisitive. The main reason for resistance is always a lack of understanding, and this is true in everything in life. What we don’t understand we are naturally afraid of. Thankfully the solution for this is to learn more and to be more multidisciplinary yourself.

A good starting point for promoting the interdisciplinary approach is using the methodology from Field Philosophy. It has a process where you go out into the (real) world and approach problems, not from inside the specialisation or the specific field, but to explore the wider field to see if there could be other solutions to the problem.

David Epstein in his book Range has a great example of two lab teams trying to solve a problem. One remained in their field and held true. The other team was set up, using something similar to the field philosophy approach and was a diverse multi-disciplinary team. Spoiler, the multi-disciplinary team solved it from an unconventional angle several weeks ahead of the mono-disciplinary team.

If you need more apparent or popular examples, then you don’t need to look any further than in the field of game theory and behavioural economics. Watch A Beautiful Mind with Russel Crowe as mathematician John Nash. The fact the film exists and its subject matter are both huge proponents of an interdisciplinary approach.

Final Thoughts

Be open to new ideas and new experiences. I’ve found that trying to figure out what engages audiences is an exercise in figuring out what engages me and the people around me. If you are interested in a variety of subjects and have a varied circle of friends and family then you will likely be better at engaging your audience as well.

One of the most important skills to have when trying to figure out how to engage people is to be self-reflective. Too often resistance in yourself or another can be solved by being self-reflective and figuring out what that reluctance is, and what the aversion is to the interdisciplinary approach. As I said before, usually it’s the fear of not knowing and not understanding.

And the only way to solve that is to be open and to try different approaches and disciplines to solve the problems you have. They may not always work, but you will have learned something. And it could turn that they may work for something else or someone else. As the title suggests, it’s an adventure.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Do check out the other posts on æ, and do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

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