Working Together - The Chronicle

Teamwork the key to success, The Chronicle, 4 August 2015

In 1990, as the Voyager 1 spacecraft was leaving our solar system, astronomer Carl Sagan persuaded NASA to turn the camera around and take one last photo of earth. In the image, our planet appears as a pinpoint in the midst of space.

The photo – known as ‘Pale Blue Dot’ – hangs on the wall of my Parliament House office, as a reminder to keep things in perspective. But the fact of the photo is also an awesome reminder of what humans can achieve together.

Lately, we’ve been seeing extraordinary photos from Pluto, a dwarf planet on edge of our solar system. Pluto is 3 billion kilometres away, meaning that if you could fly at the speed of a 747, it would take you 370 years to get there.

The images of Pluto are strikingly beautiful. An initial shot of the whole planet showed a heart-shaped geographic pattern, and close-ups depicted a planet with mountains over 3 kilometres high. The surface is largely ice, and relatively unscarred by impact craters, suggesting that the surface is considerably younger than had previously been thought. Pluto’s five moons also turn out to be fascinating. One of them, Charon, has a dark region that NASA’s Tolkien-loving scientists currently refer to as ‘Mordor’.

Over the next 16 months, data will continue to be downloaded from the New Horizons spacecraft, prompting one scientist to describe it as ‘the Christmas that keeps on giving’.

Humanity’s ability to send back detailed images from the outer edge of our solar system is a reminder of how much more ‘we’ can achieve than ‘I’. Our culture loves stories about single heroes, but the fact remains that very little of substance was ever done by a lone person. It takes a team to build a bridge, win a football match or make a great wine. As the African proverb notes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Success on the battlefield depends crucially on teamwork, and great companies tend to be those with a strong internal culture, not merely a clever boss.

In my own field of politics, I’m often struck by how important teamwork can be. Leaders matter, but their ability to be effective depends on the sense of common purpose that they engender. Lasting changes – such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme – depend on the collective action of thousands of people.

So as you enjoy the bewitching images of Pluto, remember the joint effort that has gone into creating them. Take a moment to smile not just for what is out there, but also for what humanity at our best can achieve when we work together.


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