Capital University puts collaboration at the cornerstone

“A student can be a really good integrator,” Paul says. “If a student comes here with a burning interest to address hunger issues in a local community, all of the sudden, they can start bringing together different people who haven’t talked with one another, but that they know have something to contribute.”

Some students come to Capital knowing what they want to work on. So they put together a unique set of courses that help them get there. Now, Paul says the university wants to facilitate that kind of approach. While she has only been leading the university since last summer, she’s a believer.

The multi-minded

Focusing on interdisciplinary convergence, however, should not be at the expense of in-depth knowledge.

“That’s the worry of coming to this kind of approach, both in learning as well as in business,” Paul says. “Don’t we need people with the depth of knowledge in a particular area? I think what’s interesting is that I suspect over time our concern about losing disciplines is going to become less and less.”

There should be a sweet spot, where you can have people with depth in a couple of areas.

“You start realizing there are other ways for things to get done, and it opens novel opportunities,” she says.

A broader mindset and more collaboration is also what employers want.

“We hear from employers that they don’t want single-minded people,” Paul says. “They want people who have been exposed to different ways of knowing, who can think outside of the box, who can tolerate ambiguity and can put different kinds of information together in novel and different ways, and who can keep on learning.”

In order to create this kind of culture, it comes back to tapping into the why of individuals.

“Every one of us is trying to do something meaningful in this world. Every one of us is making choices about how we’re using our talents and skills for a particular reason,” Paul says.

If you tap into those reasons, while helping people understand each other from that perspective, it opens new opportunities.

“You learn things about one another that creates points of intersection that can transcend the kind of skill or discipline or department barriers that are the artificial structures by which businesses are organized,” she says.

It may sound nebulous, but she believes it makes concrete problems easier to solve when you’ve laid this kind of groundwork.

“If we work with people as a robot, we’re missing a huge part of what motivates people. And I think it’s worth the investment to figure out why people do what they do, and to try to help them connect with the goal that you’re trying to work toward,” Paul says. “I think it unleashes power and opportunity in people that we often overlook.”