Innovation from Competition and Cooperation


If that seems obvious – the innovation is sparked by competition, it’s because it’s one way people are hardwired. But the act of participation can be as important to the participant as  the final comparison. Why? It will have made them more confident and expanded their capabilities just by trying. In other words, the act of competing is a way that a group or industry cooperates to improve its capabilities collectively.

A recent example is the NASA call to the aviation industry to forecast the airliner of the future, such that specific performance goals are met or exceeded. But can this model be used in interactive education?

(image credit: NASA/Boeing)

What was most interesting were the results: from a present situation where almost all aircraft look nearly identical to many future visions which share little in common. The entries all look totally different in order to meet the same set of goals and from the same starting point (present technology and infrastructure).

This uniqueness can’t all be attributed to engineering, since the results would tend to be similar and rather conventional. There is an element of play at work – the designers want the aircraft of the future to look distinctly different – not just for performance reasons,  but to show their capabilities unbounded by more immediate practical matters. In fact the distinct lack of conventional designs was an indication that the competition had the desired effect – to get the industry to think outside the current solutions and to show eachother that the team down the street will be thinking outside of the box next time, too. The industry as a whole benefits in becoming more aware of its own capability; the competition results in the industry as a whole cooperating to realize its own future.

So, that’s the corporate world – does it apply to education and to interactive learning?

NASA could certainly find out with a competition for school age kids to enter their designs for the airliner of the future, providing a set of tools and challenges that engage them fully at their level.

A quick example of what’s possible would be an interactive simulator or designer, like the one I made here. Tying this to social media and sharing can demonstrate that other students are equally interested and providing a community that can collectively improve its skills and knowledge and creativity. This follows a design pattern that starts with the raw concept and uses tools built around it to enable a creative community of similar interest. In short  moving from Equation to Simulation to Game to Community.

I hope that in the future organizations who offer industry innovation prizes also mirror these efforts with similar tools and incentives for educators and students who are interested in getting beyond the textbook.

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