This San Francisco Chronicle article describes Stanford's approach to breakthroughs:
The buzzword in higher education is "interdisciplinary," and at many research universities, professors are no longer judged primarily on how expert and rarefied their knowledge is in a particular area. Rather, they're expected to bridge fields to remain relevant in a world with increasingly complex problems -- from global warming to the spread of infectious disease -- that demand interdisciplinary solutions.
Stanford is among those at the forefront of this shift. It's pulling professors from their insular domains to work together in ways that could not only hatch profound new discoveries but also may create novel fields of study.
As described by Pasta&Vinegar, there are potential pitfalls. Done poorly, could this kind of cross discipline exploration lead to an erosion in expertise? Will universities now change how they reward academics, who have been traditionally rewarded for digging deep instead of working across department lines?