On Tuesday, Oprah will start her discussion of the next installment in her celebrated "book club" reading series, which is sure to send the selected work to the top of the best-seller charts. This time, her pick is a Pulitzer Prize winner by an author working to change the world.

Aside from being a celebrated but reclusive author, Cormac McCarthy is a fellow of the Santa Fe Institute. The institute is a cross-disciplinary research community. At a time when most research is driven by special interests or by corporations with mostly commercial interests at heart, this collection of brilliant minds is deliberately going after the bigger picture.

Meet the masters
We'll get to how this helps investors in a moment. Let me just first draw up a sketch of what McCarthy is a part of, here.

Founded in 1984 by a handful of scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the SFI quickly attracted top-notch researchers from wildly diverse fields. We're talking about Nobel Prize winners in physics, biology, and economics, as well as prominent sociologists, computer scientists, and mathematicians.

Duncan Watts, for example, showed that we live in a small world back in 1998, and is about to join Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) as lead social scientist -- a very important post in a company increasingly dependent on social-networking phenomena.

Murray Gell-Mann was the man who gave quarks their name. A driving force behind the SFI, Professor Gell-Mann's interests range far and wide, and he's brilliant enough to earn famed physicist Richard Feynman's jealous admiration.

These people weren't chosen just for excellence in their respective fields, although that is a requirement. Rather, they have to have shown an ability to think outside the traditional field, listen to ideas from other specialties, and make something out of the mixed ideas. Traditional economics mixed with chaos theory and particle physics to produce Brian Arthur's economic law of increasing returns. Evolutionary theory plus computer science spawned the discipline of evolutionary computing and genetic algorithms at the institute. And so its goes.

Master investor Bill Miller from Legg Mason uses ideas and business theories formed at the SFI -- and he might as well, because he's the chairman of its board of trustees. Even the Fool has mentionedSanta Femany times in the past.

Where's the beef?
So that's the environment where Cormac McCarthy hangs out to build ideas for his next book. More importantly, plenty of businesses are soaking in the institute's groundbreaking and rule-breaking thinking. Companies like Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), Boeing (NYSE:BA), and Toyota (NYSE:TM) are regulars at the SFI-sponsored summer camps, mingling with attendees from MIT, Cambridge, NASA, and Stanford while thinking hard about complex systems for two weeks.

There's also a Business Network program. For $35,000 a year, any company can get full access to Santa Fe research, send representatives in for a research sabbatical on the SFI campus, and have networking opportunities with other similarly forward-thinking businesses.

The three faithful camp attendees I mentioned belong to the network, of course, along with about 50 other global businesses. It's an eclectic bunch, befitting the nature of the SFI itself -- computer networking giant Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) rubs shoulders with Oppenheimer Funds and office furniture designer Steelcase, and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) hangs out with State Farm Insurance, as well as farm machinery maker Deere & Co (NYSE:DE).

It's a melting pot of ideas and business contacts that helps all parties involved build collaborations with unexpected partners and come up with revolutionary new products. This makes the member roster a fine starting point when looking for investment ideas, as these companies should be expected to keep an open mind to new ideas and stay flexible whenever a paradigm shift happens in their industries. If they don't, they haven't learned much from Santa Fe.

Further Foolishness:

Intel is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick and Yahoo! is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund is a Google shareholder but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. He once wrote a simple game with artificial intelligence based on genetic algorithms, for college credit. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure will still make sense 20 years from now.