Collaboration: The key to big breakthroughs in the 21st century
Innovation is a key mantra of building bold visions of the 21st century. It is different from “invention,” which most often is associated with an individual discovery. This was certainly true in the early 20th century. As engineered systems and technology evolved to a higher level of complexity and the missions became bolder (landing a man on the moon!), collaborative efforts emerged as the pathway to big dreams.
As we strive for new missions — from materials genome to a futuristic journey to Mars — the complexity of challenges requires a team approach. We are all familiar with the term ‘team lift.’ While most of us cannot move a 200 pound table individually, four of us can easily. “Team lift” supports the pursuit of grand challenges — creating systems and products that are better, more affordable and have higher functionality.
Ideas. People. Resources.
The three pillars of innovation are: ideas, people and resources. From small start-ups to large enterprises, we see this play out. A start-up begins with ideas; its growth depends on assembling the right people and resources. Large industry locates facilities to areas that support ideation and human resource needs and provide access to markets.
Even the federal agencies have embraced the collaborative model. The National Science Foundation’s Industry-University Cooperative Research Center (IUCRC) program is an excellent example of an academic-industry national laboratory partnership, with exceptional leveraging of funds and resources. Ideas, people and resources.
Collaboration is a winning strategy
In this competitive, global economy, collaboration is the key, and collaboration is a key strategy. Companies reaching across industries to find new solutions, new angles and new distribution channels are winning. Companies embracing universities as “partners” for product and service development are winning.
“Winning” is about staying relevant, and collaboration is a winning strategy that leads to continuous enhancement of deliverables, keeping all relevant.
Collaboration has become even more relevant in recent years — the “Maker Culture” movement has made front-and-center the ideas and ideals of people working together, openly and transparently. It is the youth of this maker movement who are creating a paradigm shift in how we work together. There are new dynamics in the “working” place, and the outcomes are ever-evolving — even somewhat surprising. “Success” looks different to these young makers, and we should pay attention.
Working together is success
In the words of Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”
In my role as director of UNT’s Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Processes Institute (AMMPI), I have seen first-hand successful collaborations. AMMPI has brought together more than 25 faculty members from six different departments across the UNT campus — working together.
Collaboration is elevating our collective ability to develop market-centric, timely solutions. Collaboration is truly the key.
Rajiv Mishra is the director of the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Processes Institute (AMMPI) at the University of North Texas.