Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Front End of Innovation Day Two May 24 9am

Just back from a talk given by Burt Rutan, who was responsible for the first private space flight. Burt gave one of the most interesting talks I've heard, about how to create breakthroughs. Burt suggests that most breakthroughs happen very quickly and almost accidently. Breakthroughs are created by people somewhat outside the mainstream, less influenced and governed by the politics and rules of an organization. Breakthroughs are often developed inexpensively.

Burt used the Wright Brothers as an example. The Wright Brothers spent relatively little money and were not considered aviators since they were bicycle mechanics. Yet from the time of their first flight in 1903 to 1913, hundreds of airplane manufacturers were created and thousands of people had flown an airplane.

Burt went on to note that many scientists and inventors were inspired by some exceptionally interesting invention or occurance in their lives when they were young. Many scientists and inventors in the 30s, 40s and 50s were inspired by airplane flight and the Wright Brothers. Many of the scientists and inventors today were inspired by Apollo and the moon landing.

This poses some interesting questions: what does your organization do to inspire people to create new products and services? In many firms, a new product or service must be carefully planned, designed, signed-off, etc. Yet most breakthroughs never passed through these long and arduous processes. In many cases we are organized to kill the potential for breakthroughs.

Fear is also a great innovator. Burt noted that Sputnik and the early "space race" that the Russians appeared to be winning forced NASA to create new ideas and concepts at an incredible speed. He noted that the first moon shot, Apollo 8, was also the first manned flight on the Saturn Rocket. So, the first time we used a Saturn Rocket for manned flight was also the first time we tried to send a man to the moon. Clearly the desire to be first overrode all the testing and sign-off usually necessary to develop a new technology and make it available for users.

So, how does your firm motivate its innovators? Does it inspire them with examples of what others have done? Or does it point out the challenges from competitors and encourage you to win?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:06 AM


Anonymous Jack Hipple said...

The fear within organizations of what happened to the last group of pioneering innovators 15-20 years ago is still resonant. An organizatioin cannot turn the innovation spigo on and off as it feels like. To motivate and inspire first and foremost requires credibility and honesty.

The number of executives that I have heard over the past 5 years talk about the "hard" times and downsizings being "over", so now let's innovate is incredible!

The other inspiration challenge is the balance between Six Sigma (doing everything the same in great detail at all times in all ways) and the natural out of the box nature of innovation.

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