It’s no secret that the best ideas—the ones with the most impact and longevity—are transferable; an innovation in one industry can be exported to transform another. But even more resonant are those ideas that are cross-disciplinary not just in their application but in their origin.
This notion goes way back. When the mathematician John von Neumann applied mathematics to human strategy, he created game theory—and when he crossed physics and engineering, he helped hatch both the Manhattan Project and computer science. His contemporary Buckminster Fuller drew freely from engineering, economics, and biology to tackle problems in transportation, architecture, and urban design.
Sometimes the cross-pollination is potent enough to create entirely new disciplines. This is what happened when Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky started to fuse psychology and economics in the 1970s. They were trying to understand why people didn’t behave rationally, despite the assumption by economists that they would do so. It was a question that economists had failed to answer for decades, but by cross-breeding economics with their own training as psychologists, Kahneman and Tversky were able to shed light on what motivates people. The field they created—behavioral economics—is still growing today, informing everything from US economic policy to the produce displays at Whole Foods.