Chilean miners were saved by collaboration, WUSTL expert says

R. Keith Sawyer says successful rescue effort is a result of ideas coming together from around the world

The world has been captivated by the amazing rescue of 33 miners trapped underground for 69 days in Chile.

The miners’ survival and rescue were made possible by collaboration, says a creativity and collaboration expert at Washington University in St. Louis.

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Chilean miner Mario Gomez, 59, emerges from the mine Oct. 13.

“We’ve all been watching as the most impressive mine rescue in history took place,” says R. Keith Sawyer, PhD, associate professor of education and of psychology, both in Arts & Sciences. “We saw pictures of the narrow capsule that barely fit into a tiny tunnel that carried out the miners, one by one. What made this amazing feat possible? Collaboration.”

Sawyer, an expert on the science of creativity and collaboration and author of Group Genius, writes in his blog that the men were saved by a collaborative web of technological innovation coming from the four corners of the earth.

“This was not a story of creative genius; it was a story of small ideas, each from a different team, coming together in Chile,” Sawyer says.

Sawyer sums up that collaboration as follows:

  • The drill bit that allowed the just-wide-enough tunnel to be dug. It was created by the company Center Rock Inc., in Berlin, Pa.
  • The high-strength cable that held the capsule was from Germany.
  • The fiber optic communications cable was from Japan.
  • The camera that sent photos of the miners to the surface was in a Samsung cell phone that had its own projector.
  • The miners wore special socks, made with a copper fiber, that prevented bacteria from infecting the miners’ feet. Those came from Cupron Inc., in Richmond, Va.

Sawyer says this is the nature of innovation today: it brings together many distinct, creative ideas.

“The biggest problems facing the world today are going to take the same kind of collaborative approach,” Sawyer says. “They’re complex problems and they require many distinct creative moments. More likely than not, some of the critical ideas are already out there somewhere.

The key to successfully solving the most challenging problems facing the world today: bring people and ideas together into collaborative webs.”

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