I’m always on the lookout for people whose intentions and actions change the world for the better, because they want to see what’s over the horizon and push the boundaries of our knowledge and experience ever further and that way give us the opportunity, and sometimes force us, to stretch our own thinking as well.
The article below is one such example that beautifully illustrates all that.
It is based on something we read in the French newspaper Le Monde (The World), with parts of it translated, others put into our own words and some of our own ideas thrown in too.
It’s too good to not to share and we wanted to make it available to a wider audience.
So here it is:
For True Innovation think like an ALIEN!
You’ve probably heard about the plane flying around the world powered entirely by solar energy.
This achievement is not only astonishing but as well a textbook example of the principles applying to innovation in organizations large and small.
Throughout time the following five rules have been put into practice by the “Conquerors of the Impossible”!
Rule #1: A as in Anthropology
The first rule is to observe the world and the human beings in it like an anthropologist, seeing problems as they are and not how one wishes them to be.
As Terry Pratchett, the famous British author of the Discworld novels, often wrote: “The hardest thing to do is to see what’s really there.”
Bertrand Piccard, one of the pilots of Solar Impulse and the first person, together with Brian Jones, who flew a balloon non-stop around the world writes in his book “Change of Altitude” that they were refused the permission to fly their balloon through Chinese airspace. Initially they had demanded access based on the international right for freedom of navigation but Beijing refused them twice. When they changed tack and asked the Chinese politely if they would possibly consider granting them the right to fly through their airspace they complied and allowed them access along a corridor where they could monitor them on their radar screens. Turns out China at that time only had radar installations along its borders and the international flight routes.
Thumping the book of international navigation rights would not have produced results, because it wasn’t about that, and simply being polite instead did because it gave the Chinese the opportunity to address and solve the problem themselves.
Rule #2: L as in Lateral
When Piccard and his collaborator and the other pilot of the plane, Andre Borschberg, first started floating the idea of a plane with the wingspan of a commercial jet, the weight of a small car and capable of flying day and night only powered by solar energy all aviation experts told them “Impossible”!
To build this plane they had to connect areas of research, engineering and manufacturing which had never worked together before and that way created a breakthrough.
Solar Impulse was born from the collaboration between a psychiatrist/explorer and an engineer/entrepreneur who had never built a plane before. This allowed them to be open to new ideas and technologies and created a critical mass which derived its energy from their different ways of thinking.
As Piccard said: “An innovation is not one more new idea, but one old certainty less.”
Rule #3: I as in Imagination
It takes imagination, obviously, to see new paths, overcome obstacles and create new worlds.
When Bertrand Piccard was 11 years old and watching astronauts taking their first steps on the Moon in July 1969 he decided what he wanted to do with his life. In 1960 his own father, Jacques Piccard, together with Don Walsh, had been the first people to explore the deepest part of the ocean and the deepest location on the surface of the earth’s crust, the 10,916 metres deep Mariana Trench, and Bertrand had grown up with his father’s stories of exploration.
Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Rule #4: E as in Experimentation
Imagining and dreaming alone doesn’t get a solar plane built. You have to experiment and overcome obstacles, sometimes for a long time. It’s about accepting failures, dusting yourself off and having the courage to keep going.
For Piccard success is achieved if you go for it one more time than the number of failures you experience. Of course, he says, a condition for success is to go about it differently every time. If you don’t it’s called bullheadedness and not perseverance.
To explain this Piccard uses the example of a balloon: the pilot can’t change the force or direction of the wind, but he can change the altitude to find a different layer in the atmosphere where winds blow differently and steer the balloon that way.
Rule #5: N as in Navigation
The fifth rule of innovation is about navigating the ship: bringing others on board, motivating them by sharing your vision and values and creating a team capable of attaining the goal. Despite the doubts from the aeronautical industry, Piccard succeeded in assembling 80 industry partners around Solar Impulse, only two of which are from the aircraft sector and has a team of 100 people supporting the mission.
A-L-I-E-N, as in Alien.
All five rules have been constantly brought to bear during the development of Solar Impulse and they are all a fixture in the history of great explorations and breakthroughs.
Piccard concludes that creativity and innovation don’t usually come from within a system, which normally finds itself bound by what has been previously proven as “fact”. It’s not the candle manufacturers who have invented the electric light bulb and it’s not the established car manufacturers who are making the best electric car.
In order to innovate and create something truly new you have to think differently, like an ALIEN.
Based on an article by Jean Revillard, AFP, and Cyril Bouquet, professor of strategy and innovation at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, and published in Le Monde on 8/7/15.
So, are you thinking like an ALIEN yet?
- Think like an Anthropologist: observe the world and the human beings in it like an anthropologist and see problems as they are and not how you wish them to be.
- Think Laterally: be open to new ideas and technologies and begin thinking your way “around” problems instead of expending a lot of energy trying to break through them (and I’m using the word “try” very deliberately here).
- Be Imaginative: see new paths and explore new avenues on your way to creating new worlds.
- Experiment: be open to experimentation and accepting failures as feedback, dust yourself off and have the courage to keep going.
- Navigate: have a support team and ensure you are a true leader to them.
Please let me know if you know any Trailblazers who are changing the world by their example and actions.
I’d love to interview them and share their journey with you!