Erin Millar in The Globe and Mail:
One September morning in 2003, a group of engineers gathered for a marathon brainstorming session at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif. Their intent was ambitious; they wanted to dream up a new way to land spacecraft on Mars.
The meeting stretched to three days of scribbling options on whiteboards, and the solution they came to for landing the SUV-sized rover Curiosity was radical. When Curiosity was 10 kilometres above ground, a contraption they called a sky crane would detach. Then rocket engines would slow the crane to 3 kmh, so it almost hovered above ground as it gently lowered the rover on cables to the ground before flying off and crash landing a safe distance away.
The idea marked a dramatic reversal in NASA’s design philosophy by favouring a complex, risky technology over the simpler, safer, albeit imprecise, previously used options of airbags and legs. Observers thought it was crazy. But on Aug. 5, 2012, after a nail-biting entry into the atmosphere of Mars, Curiosity landed safely.
The sky crane typifies a modern sort of innovation; the big, transformative ideas of today are often complicated and collaborative. Innovation is no longer necessarily about inventions produced by a single person, but about collective knowledge and team-based problem solving.
So if innovation requires people who thrive on collaboration, why are our education systems so focused on individual achievement?