He opens his argument with the story of Alexander Fleming. You know the standard bit-- Fleming finds his experiment with bacteria has been ruined by fungus which is killing every piece of bacteria it touches. So he has a flash of insight, redirects his attention to the fungus, and voila! Penicillin!
Except that, as Satell points out, is not it. Fleming makes his discovery in 1928. It doesn't become widely used until 1943. In between someone had to stumble across Fleming's research, figure out why it was important, figure out how to make the new wonder drug, and finally how to make it to scale. And Satell doesn't even address other steps such as publicizing the new drug widely enough that physicians would catch on to and promote its use.
Satell's point is that we need to drop the lone genius story. Simply having an idea isn't enough, and that such ideas don't happen in a vacuum to begin with-- you're always standing on somebody's shoulders.
He reminds me of this old video clip about First Followers. Favorite line: "A first follower turns a lone nut into a leader."
But both Satell and Dancing Guy both remind us that the guy who comes up with an idea is not much more important than the guy who can recognize that the idea is worth pursuing and developing.
This kind of first follower, first developer skill is especially on point in an age in which the whole skill set of 'research" has changed. Back in my day (sonny), research meant combing the stacks of the library hoping to find one or two sources. But kids these days can find a mountain of sources-- the trick is to figure out what is worth paying attention to.
Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong were jazz geniuses who created solos that were profoundly awesome. But they were influenced by musicians that came before, they were creating those solos while playing with other musicians, based on songs composed by other writers, and they continued to draw influence from a myriad of sources-- some that no authority could ever have predicted (fun fact-- one of Armstrong's favorite bands, which he would often go listen to when they played the same town, was the sweetly unjazzlike Guy Lombardo). No musical genius was ever a lone genius.
We often default to a classroom model in which each student is supposed to be a Brilliant Idea Generator-- a lone genius. A gifted soloist. But perhaps it's a better idea to work with a model that fosters not simply collaboration, but an interlocking set of roles and an ability to separate wheat from chaff, Coke from New Coke, potatoes from potato chips. We still favor an approach that tells every student to keep her eyes on her own paper, but perhaps we should be telling her to look at everybody's paper-- and figure out which one is worth supporting, following and developing.
Satell is ultimately arguing in favor of more public-private-government partnerships. That's fine, I guess, sometimes. But I'm more interested in the human level. It's very American to think that one is either a mighty, heroic leader, or a schlubby drone. But collaboration, innovation, progress, success and culture come out of a much more complex web of relationships, skills and mutual support. This is one more reason that every student should be in band or choir or play on a team. And I'd like to see the rest of us find better ways to bring this reality into the classroom as well.