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Avi Gadish

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How do we best balance collaboration and individual efforts to solve our grandest challenges?

Collaboration has played a vital role in the research of new ideas and discoveries. In his State of the Union Address, President Obama unveiled upcoming plans to allocate funding and resources to what he called the Brain Activity Map project. The project, which is projected to last a decade, seeks to study the inner workings of the human brain and to develop a complete map of its activity. The project is aims to “solve” the brain in a similar fashion that the Human Genome Project (HGP) did the human genome. The HGP was a huge success both scientifically and economically and involved worldwide collaboration in multiple fields of science.

There is no doubt that collaboration between individuals, especially when spanning multiple disciplines, yields positive results. Certainly, the most effective way to solve some of humankind’s greatest problems (say, diabetes, AIDS, poverty, clean water, etc.), would require the world’s best and brightest to drop everything else and team up! This is total collaboration. It is my belief that, were it possible, the way to solve some of the world's biggest problems would be to pool the world’s resources together in a collaborative, positive, and effective manner.

Of course, there are drawbacks to total collaboration. Many would argue (especially those who may be “drafted” into what may seem like “conscripted collaboration”) that time is better spent researching something one is passionate about, interested in, and invested in! In addition, many other discoveries and advancements may be delayed, or worse, unrealized if all of Earth’s intellectual resources are taken up by a single project.

I open the forum to the TED Community: Does total collaboration hold the future of scientific discovery, and if so, can we really risk putting all of our proverbial eggs in one basket?

Topics: collaberation

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  • Feb 21 2013: Avi.
    Human nature is not the problem, as someone mentioned below.
    Those who believe it is are an indication of brainwashing.
    A comment/belief like that, stops everything in its tracks, which is one motive of spreading such a belief.
    When you hear it or read it, you know its been spread.
    If it were true, we humans would not respond in loving, supportive, helpful and beneficial ways that we have demonstrated for all time.
    A World Commission in 1980 (not sure, 1984 maybe), involving most countries that then existed, put together a study of just how much money it would cost to solve all the problems humans, all life forms, and the planet, face - and need solving along with human desire to solve. The cost for each was astronomical. Some of these you mention above:
    disease, poverty, slavery, clean water, illiteracy, homelessness, etc. The total for everything was only 1/4 of the worlds military spending. When people broach a solution to one of our problems and are shouted down by those crying, "who's going to pay for it?" we see immediately that all of it is affordable.
    Collaboration, or volunteerism, has been present and available for many years now. We see it in action after devastating tsunami's, earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, tornadoes and other catastrophes, including the ravages of war.
    Pooling the earths resources won't do it. Humans are currently our greatest resource and pooling them is the answer.
    Proper management of the earth's resources is also what we need and that too, needs to be a collaborative effort.
    Climate change, the warming of the earth, and the melting of the ice caps, have begun and we cannot stop them, nor reverse them. We may not be able to slow them down either nor be able to gauge just how fast or slow they will occur.

    But, we will always need water as these events move on. Cleaning up the seven garbage patch islands that are destroying "all of our oceans" would be a great collaborative effort by the world, for the world and with the world.
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      Feb 21 2013: I agree with you, RC, that it is in human nature to collaborate and that telling each other something can't happen because of human nature is a convenient way, often, to stop everything in its tracks.

      Further, I think there is a widespread tendency to underestimate other people's potential and good values even among those with great confidence in their own.

      I think many positive activities don't get launched because people are discouraged from the start, too discouraged to want to try.
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      Feb 21 2013: RC,

      Your comment filled me with joy. I completely agree that Humans are out biggest resource!
      Unfortunately, as G. Lockwood commented below, human nature may one hinderance, as people are usually unhappy with collaborating on such a high level, especially if they feel that their personal contributions might not get enough recognition.

      However, I personally feel that the human race holds an intrinsic yearning to problem solve and to move forward and when it comes to our largest and most important problems, more often then not, the solutions will be the fruit of a communal effort rather than a single individuals effort!
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        Feb 22 2013: Why do you say that "people are usually unhappy with collaborating on such a high level, especially if they feel their personal contributions might not get enough recognition?" What specific evidence has convinced you of this?
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          Feb 22 2013: True, I shouldnt generalize. I believe that someone may argue that collaboration in large groups can lead to some contributors not getting the recognition they deserve.

          For example, the 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien for their work on green fluorescent protein. However, Douglas Prasher was the first to clone the GFP gene and suggested its use as a biological tracer.Prasher's accomplishments were not recognized and he lost his job. In fact, Wikipedia goes as far as to say that "when the Nobel was awarded in 2008, Prasher was working as a courtesy shuttle bus driver in Huntsville Alabama."
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        Feb 22 2013: There is no doubt that in collaborations, some people tend to get more recognition than others. What I questionned was not whether people get different levels of recognition but rather how important a factor recognition is in motivating high level creative thinkers to engage in important projects.

        What about the draw of doing fun, challenging, and important creative work?
        • Feb 25 2013: WELL SAID!

          I find the more i collaborate the more I am appreciated. As long as my 'home' is where we want to be (and we are) then increasing my value to others starts mattering more.

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