There may be one name on a product – the company name – but under the lid a team of individuals ensured they could deliver that product with pride. In our global markets a team comprises a collection of individuals spread wide across the organization, across the globe. Men and women who daily measure their own contribution towards a collective goal, until the final product is delivered to a waiting market.
Disappearing is the era of the solitary contributor who produces a work of genius, a slice of ground-breaking technology all on their own, and good riddance to that era. We are in a collaborative age where ideas and innovations are collectively birthed, moulded, and realized. Difficult problems bond teams together and cultural mix can offer fresh ideas and perspectives.
Now no innovation, no discovery appears to validate a collaborative approach better than the discovery of DNA. In the early 1950s James Watson from Chicago and Francis Crick from Northampton worked together at Cambridge University studying the structure of DNA. At the same time two other scientists, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Wilson at Kings College London were using X-rays to investigate DNA. Crick and Wilson harnessed the Kings College findings and in April 1953 published their discovery. As Francis Crick put it to Watson in a Cambridge pub on 28th February 1953,
“We have discovered the secret of life.”
It was from start to finish a collaborative discovery and the 1974 documentary clip of Francis Crick and James Watson reminiscing over a pint is truly inspiring.
Here is some of the dialogue from that clip,
“Well Francis do you think we were lucky to have solved it, or was it real brain-work on our part?”
“Well I guess we were certainly lucky… we were lucky I think for two reasons. We were thinking about the problem at the right time. And then the two of us by collaborating, when one of us got on the wrong track the other one could get us out of it.”
Francis Crick goes on to acknowledge that working alone it’s too easy to get fond of your own ideas and theories. The pair had a strong working relationship and were not in the least afraid of being candid with each other to the point of being rude. They believed that without constant interchange and chatting together it would have been impossible to solve the mystery of DNA.
I’ll leave the final thoughts to Francis Crick again,
“This is the importance of collaboration, we sort of pooled the way we looked at things… we both did it together and switched roles and criticized each other and this gave us a great advantage over the other people who were trying to solve it.”