THE BLOG
12/30/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Be Thankful For Fresh Thinking

I'm giving a speech on Monday about authentic leadership - with references to President-elect Obama sprinkled liberally throughout - to an association of municipal government professionals. One of their goals in 2009 is to pursue integration: they realize that the compartmentalized, fragmented delivery of social services weakens the strength of the total offering, and deeply frustrates both providers and recipients. In government, the times they are a changin'.

There's no doubt that fresh thinking is dearly needed. Which made me think of the New Radicals, and how they are moving between sectors and silos like never before (New Radicals are people who've found ways to leverage the skills acquired in their careers, and put them to work on the world's greatest challenges - for more, please see archived articles).

For instance, there's a huge migration of executives from the corporate world moving to the not-for-profit sector - and cross-fertilization of ideas and practices is a natural by-product. The TED Conference is another well-known example of this unprecedented meeting of minds. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, though its scope is much broader today. It's been called the U.S. alternative to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, and was described in a May 14, 2007 New Yorker article by Michael Specter as, "One of the few places on earth where you can see Bill Clinton, E.O. Wilson, or Philippe Starck chatting amiably with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Cameron Diaz, or Paul Simon."

As a result of the wake-up call that often leads emerging New Radicals onto new career paths (traumas such as divorce, job loss, or illness are powerful motivators), they tend to be open to new ideas and experiences. And, therefore, are more inclined to come up with fresh solutions. All of which our world sorely needs.

Consider what Thomas Homer-Dixon, director of the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies and professor of political science at the University of Toronto, has to say on the matter. In his book, The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, he argues that human beings can either choose our future or have it thrust upon us. He also identifies actions to take if we want to choose a positive path forward.

One of these actions is to reduce the force of underlying stresses, "Experts of all types have generated a considerable quantity of good ideas about how we can reduce the force of the tectonic stresses I've identified in this book - population imbalances, environmental damage, climate change, and income gaps. Yet too often the experts operate only within the silos of their disciplines and professional communities. Demographers don't talk to energy specialists, agronomists don't speak to economists, and climate scientists don't talk to epidemiologists. Instead, experts usually target the problems they understand, and because they don't think much about how to integrate their ideas with the ideas of experts focusing on related problems, the policies they propose are too narrowly focused."

New Radicals are at ease moving between silos and even straddling disciplines in ways that traditionalists might frown upon. Ken Caldeira, once an information technology (IT) consultant on Wall Street, now a climate scientists at the Carnegie Institution - is a good example. He came to the filed later in life, so he brings a different perspective than the people who have worked in it all their lives. "I am the fox, running around looking into all kinds of things. That's a rarity in science - jumping around in a world that's all about deep expertise. I think I'm good at seeing the forest, and I know when to call in the people who've got the depth of expertise on particular trees that I don't have."

How are you breaking the rules and bringing people together in fresh and world-changing ways? What stories have you heard that might help others do the same? Please share how you're dismantling walls and building bridges - something that we can all be thankful for. Simply comment below, or email me directly at julia@wearethenewradicals.com. Happy Thanksgiving to all our American friends stateside and around the world!