As the world becomes ever more complex, the need to collaborate to discover the best and most effective solutions will become increasingly important. For educators preparing students to work in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields especially, it’s essential that from a young age, the children in their care have the opportunity to practice working with others.
By encouraging collaboration among children of diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives, project-based group work also gives students the ability to develop crucial social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. These interpersonal attributes are vital to thriving personally and professionally.
In our white paper, “Learning Social-Emotional Skills Through Invention Education,” we explore how educators can use invention education, solving real-world problems by creating invention prototypes, to help every student build these essential SEL and collaborative skill sets.
We invite you to read an excerpt from this white paper that explores the increased importance of teamwork in today’s quickly evolving workplace:
The Need for Collaboration
One of the key advantages of a quality SEL education is its ability to teach students how to collaborate in ways that promote the quality of a project’s outcome over the desires or ego of individual team members.
The ability to work with others has never been more important due to the increasing complexity of the world around us. In an article published by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Emily Stone, senior research editor of Kellogg Insight, explains that a growing reason why collaboration is essential has to do with “our individual knowledge base becoming more and more specialized.”
Using the research of Benjamin Jones, a strategy professor at the Kellogg School, to explain this phenomenon, Stone explains that with complexity comes the need for people with specialized knowledge to come together and work toward common goals. Jones’ paper uses the example of 1975 NIHF Inductees Orville and Wilbur Wright. In 1903, it took the efforts of two individuals to design and fly the first airplane. Fast forward to today, and it takes dozens of specialists to build a single functioning airplane engine. To get a plane safely off the ground, it takes the productive effort of many different teams, with each member possessing a specialized set of skills and working in collaboration.
However, there can be such a thing as “too many cooks in the kitchen,” and having larger groups does not automatically lead to higher levels of innovation. In another paper authored by Jones and fellow Kellogg School professor Brian Uzzi, the researchers found that it isn’t enough to have large teams whose members contribute novel or even conventional ideas. Instead, true innovative collaboration occurs when members of a team have both an understanding of the subject at hand and a willingness to pursue a novel direction.
“You want to be grounded in something that’s well understood and yet be adding in the piece that’s truly unusual,” Jones said in an article explaining his research. “And if you do those two things [and] stretch yourself in both directions, then you radically increase your probability of hitting a home run.”
Uzzi adds that success in innovation often takes combining the expertise of disparate fields to produce impactful results. “Many of these novel combinations are really two conventional ideas in their own domains,” he explained. “You’re taking established, well-accepted ideas, which is a wonderful foundation — you need that in science. But when you put them together: wow. That’s suddenly something really different.”