MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito shares 3 pieces of advice for starting your own multidisciplinary lab | MIT J-WEL

You are here

MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito shares 3 pieces of advice for starting your own multidisciplinary lab

Joi Ito and Julia Reynolds-Cuéllar


J-WEL Higher Education recently held a webinar with MIT Media Lab Director Professor Joi Ito. In his webinar, "Multidisciplinary Engagement at the MIT Media Lab," Ito provides an introduction to the Lab's organization and structure, as well as policies to support multidisciplinary research and engagement.

Below are three bits of advice he shares to start a similar lab based on the Media Lab experience:



1. Senior protection

"When the Media Lab was created, it was created by the then-president of MIT. [Lab co-Founder] Nicholas [Negroponte] said it was like having an 800-pound gorilla in the car because every time you got pulled over by the police, they'd look at the gorilla and just say, 'keep going.' So you actually need somebody to protect you. You also need...a shelter for the culture so that it doesn't get sucked into the culture of the parent.”


2. Discretionary funding

“Discretionary funding is really, really important, and you can get it from different ways. The parent can give it to you or you can come up with a consortium-like model.”


3. Frame it as an experiment

“No one thought the Media Lab would succeed when they created it. So they allowed us to come up with our own IP, rules, all these things as an experiment. So we're like a 35-year experiment that happens to be continuing. I think one trick is to convince people it's just an experiment that's probably going to fail. And then you get them to create rules that circumvent some of the problems.”


In the clip below, Ito describes the Media Lab's shift from demo-ing to deploying new technologies and ideas created at the Media Lab, and why a conversation he had with former President Barack Obama caused him to change the Media Lab’s slogan. He also explains how this shift allows for greater interdisciplinary approaches. 

J-WEL members can watch the full webinar (you must be logged into your J-WEL account).