26 Sep Innovative teams point the way to discovery
(Pick me! Pick me!) I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t the kid that ended up being first choice when they were picking teams in the schoolyard. Okay, I wasn’t second or third choice, either. I got used to waiting it out, and it built character and lots of patience.
Funny thing, however, is that I ended up being a whole lot better at teamwork than most of my schoolmates – maybe because when I finally got on a team, I tried like hell to stay on it for fear of having to find another one.
So hear I am, some 30 (or is it 40?) years later and I’m hanging out with some really important people and telling them that their companies need more teamwork, and they are actually listening (or at least paying!)
But seriously now, isn’t this just a bunch of feel-good talk. You know, esprit-de-corps, rah, rah, let’s all pitch in for the good of the company type of talk? Some of it is, but there’s something else going on as well.
It seems to me that the world, and most of its problems, are just getting too darn complex for any one person to understand, much less solve. I grew up in a century of single-minded, single-handed wonders. Edison, Ford, Bell, Einstein, Carnegie, Armstrong (you know, “One small step”), and Jobs (hey, I’m an Apple guy…) etc. I was taught that one person can change the world. I believed it, and I still do.
But as I was busy trying to change the world, something happened. The world got very, very big, uncertain, and awfully complex. And that’s where solo flights began to take a back seat to team acts.
I’ve long suspected this to be the case. But then I began doing a bit of research on my own, and what I found has me looking at this with a whole new appreciation for the importance of teams.
The most recent evidence of the rise of teams came from an article I saw in Science Magazine (you read that regularly, don’t you?) Actually, I ended up getting hooked on it when I accidentally bought a 10-year subscription – don’t ask. I thought it was a quarterly. It’s a weekly.
I’m six months into it and already I have enough issues to keep me reading for the next 10 years! I keep stuffing the excess copies into my 12-year old daughter’s magazine rack, edging out her People magazine.
In the May 18th issue, there’s a short article about teams – The Increasing Dominance of Teams in the Production of Knowledge. It’s not exactly People Magazine, but the point they make is even more amazing than Joan Rivers’ 17th face lift.
After researching 19.9 million (not a typo) scientific papers written over a period of 50 years and 2.1 million patents, the authors uncovered a distinct and significant trend towards teams in new discovery. In fact, the trends are so compelling that in some areas the trendlines indicate that by 2020 Science and Engineering discoveries will result almost exclusively from team efforts.
I’m not surprised. None of us should be. But still it’s a bit like a brick over the head. Time to wake up. It’s a different world, and it needs different skills. Today’s problems are just too big to solve any other way.
It’s funny, though. I see grown ups who talk about teamwork, but only if they are at the top of the team. It can’t work that way. We need to learn some drastically new behaviors and embrace some new tools.
Previous Innovation Zone articles by Tom Koulopoulos
• Tom Koulopoulos: Flat world could make dotcom bubble look tame
• Visions: Innovating like Madonna and Willie Nelson (and Steve Jobs)
• Visions: Benson touts embedded innovation
• Fusion 2007: IT threats make risk management paramount
• Fusion 2007: Innovation drives productivity in post 24×7 world
• Innovation expert speaks on the business-IT balancing act
• Innovation expert says Milwaukee has all the tools
• Peters: Innovation the only edge that remains for American business
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