Shooting for Mars May Help Us on Earth

November 24, 2009

At the TEDx NASA conference, I had some amazing conversations with people in the “green room” while preparing to take the stage.

One individual had spent his entire career with NASA focused on travel to Mars.  This was his life’s passion.  But now that he has moved out of the space program into the private sector, he wonders if the money spent on space travel should be re-focused.  He wonders if we should spend the money fixing problems here on earth.

We had a lively debate.  One thing I suggested was that shooting for Mars MIGHT be the way to fix some of our issues here on earth.

Shooting for Mars

From my experience, when trying to solve problems, we attempt to move from point A (where we are today) to point B (where we want to go).  But often we fall short and end up at A’ (as depicted in the graphic on the left).

However, if we shoot for point C, even if we fall short, we might just hit point B.

You can debate the value of flying to the moon or looking for life on Mars.  But it is hard to debate the incredible technologies that have been developed as part of the space program and how they are integrated into every day life.

There is a great webpage that lists a number of these spin-offs.  One example spin-off from the Hubble telescope is the use of its Charge Coupled Device (CCD) chips for digital imaging breast biopsies. According to the website – “The resulting device images breast tissue more clearly and efficiently than other existing technologies. The CCD chips are so advanced that they can detect the minute differences between a malignant or benign tumor without the need for a surgical biopsy. This saves the patient weeks of recovery time and the cost for this procedure is hundreds of dollars vs. thousands for a surgical biopsy. With over 500,000 women needing biopsies a year the economic benefit, per year, is tremendous and it greatly reduces the pain, scarring, radiation exposure, time, and money associated with surgical biopsies.”

The site continues to make a compelling case for why space program investments are good investments.

Here’s the question for you and your innovation efforts…

How often do you shoot for “B” and miss the mark?  What if you shot for “C,” fell short and hit “B” instead?

Instead of just going for what seems possible, shoot for the seemingly impossible.  Try wild and crazy ideas.

I discussed the general concept of making the impossible possible in an entry called “The Magic of Innovation.”  Be sure to check it out.

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Innovation @ TEDx NASA

November 22, 2009

This past Friday I had 6 minutes to share a message about innovation with the world at TEDx NASA.  It was a fantastic event with 29 speakers, authors, musicians, aerospace engineers, a neuroscientist and more.  1,700 people were in attendance and it is reported that nearly 100,000 people watched via video streaming on the internet.

Given that my typical speech is 45 minutes long, preparing a 6 minute presentation was a bit of a challenge and required me to script it out to make sure I did not go over my allotted time.  Below is what I prepared.  Within the next two weeks, I will be able to share the actual video footage – where I am sure I said something completely different.



It’s not rocket science.

We hear people use that expression to describe something that’s not that complex. And although I would never suggest that aerospace challenges are simple, sometimes, even rocket science isn’t rocket science. What I mean by that is sometimes the most creative solutions to aerospace challenges can be found outside the realm of rocket science.

The issue is, you are experts. And your expertise might be the very thing that is preventing you from finding the most creative solutions.

Let me explain why with a simple example.

Think about a time when you lost your keys. After searching everywhere, upon finding them, what did you inevitably say to yourself? “Can you believe it? They were in the last place I looked!” Well of course, who finds something and continues to look for it?

The same thing is true when looking for a solution to a problem. Once your brain finds a solution, it stops looking. And the greater the level of your expertise, the quicker you find a solution. Unfortunately, your idea may not be new, innovative, or the best solution.

The key is to look outside your domain of expertise and to assume that someone else has already solved your problem. Because the odds are, someone HAS solved your problem. So, if you are working on an aerospace challenge, the solution may in fact not be rocket science.

Let me give you a few simple examples.

A high margin item for office supply companies is selling refilled toner cartridges. The challenge is however, very few customers return the used cartridge. During a brainstorming session designed to find creative solutions to this dilemma, I asked the question, “Who else has solved this problem? Who sends you something and is guaranteed that you will send it back?” The first response was the IRS. But the next response was NetFlix. They send you a DVD. You can keep it as long as you want. When you are done you return it and get another one. We investigated and implemented a NetFlix style subscription model for toner cartridges. This worked out great for the company, because they had a 100% return rate on empty cartridges. And customers love it because they never run out of toner and they get great discounts.

It’s not rocket science. Someone else solved this problem.

Or consider engineers who have been searching for better ways to locate and seal cracks in gas pipelines. This is a pressing issue for the industry. Then, one day, while a Scottish engineer was working on this issue, he got a paper cut. Unlike most people who would be annoyed, he was thrilled. What he realized is that his finger is like a cracked gas pipeline. By making a connection between capillaries and a pipeline, he was able to quickly develop an inert coagulation ingredient that would seals these cracks.

The solution wasn’t rocket science. Someone else, in this case the human body, had already solved this problem.

Or consider a snack food manufacturer that wanted to find a way of reducing the amount of fat in their potato chips. The best solution wasn’t found in their laboratory. In fact, the solution wasn’t found in any laboratory. The person who discovered the best solution had no experience with food production. He was a musician. He knew that sound vibrations travel through solid objects and that if an object is light enough it, too, will vibrate. The solution was to place speakers above the conveyor belt and use loud music to literally shake the fat out of chips.

Clearly, this was not rocket science.

Quite often the most creative solutions arise when you assume that someone else has already found a solution. When you look outside your domain of expertise.

Or, as Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Inc, once said, “Creativity is just having enough dots to connect… connect experiences and synthesize new things. The reason creative people are able to do that is that they’ve had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

When you become masterful at connecting dots you find new and creative solutions.

That’s the wonderful thing about this conference. They could have put 20 aerospace engineers on the stage. But instead they brought in artists, musicians, authors and neuroscientists. This is a chance for you to connect the dots. To learn from unrelated disciplines. If you have 100 aerospace engineers working on a challenge, the value of adding the 101st would be incremental. But adding a biologist, a neurologist, a nano-technologist, or a musician, may lead to a breakthrough.

[at this point I show a picture and tell a funny story…but you’ll have to wait for the video for that]

It is about making connections. It is about connecting the dots. It is about looking outside of your domain of expertise.

You are all experts. And you are admired for your deep understanding of complex technical issues. Having said that, sometimes, the key to creative thinking is to recognize the best solutions aren’t always rocket science.

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November 19, 2009

I am now in Newport News, Virginia preparing for my speech tomorrow at TEDx NASA.  There will be 1700 aerospace engineers and scientists in the audience. My topics is titled “Innovation is in the Space.”

I have only 6 minutes for my presentation.  This may prove to be my most challenging speech yet!  Blaise Pascal (not Mark Twain) once wrote (originally in French), “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

45 minute speeches are easy.  I can do them in my sleep.

Other speakers at this event have as much as 18 minutes. I know, from a conversation with one of them that 18 minutes is proving to be a challenge.  Imagine what it is like to prepare for a 6 minute speech.

They asked me if I could deliver anything meaningful in 6 minutes!  I responded that my TV interviews are usually 3 minutes long – and the interviewer is talking half of the time.  So 6 minutes is plenty.  Hey, Toastmasters champions are able to deliver a powerful speech with 7 minutes.

If you want to see me and everyone else (including Mitch Albom) live through your computer, join us at 10AM EST at

My speech is from 2:20PM – 2:26PM EST.

I will post a transcript of my speech next week.  And I believe that the video will be available sometime in the near future.  Enjoy!

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FT Innovation Conference Highlights – Part 1

November 18, 2009

I just returned from a week in London where, amongst other things, I spoke at the FT Innovate conference. There was an impressive line-up of speakers including the CEOs of Jaguar, EMI and Best Buy. This is the first of two blog entries with conference highlights.

Jaguar Land Rover

David Smith, CEO, Jaguar Land Rover, provided the state of the luxury car market. He described it as a “capital intensive fashion industry.” A car these days, he noted has 150 CPUs in them. To show how advanced the technology is in cars, he humorously said, “What if a car took as long to turn on as a computer did to boot up.” It is also worth noting that Jaguar has moved from some of the lowest quality levels to being #1 in the US, now ahead of even Lexus.


Next up was Elio Leoni-Sceti, CEO, EMI Music. He suggested that one innovation challenge for EMI is finding the consumer in the new world of music. As the formats change (i.e., digital), it is harder to get direct access to the buyer. As things move digital it also presents a new challenge.

  • The current sale of music by volume is 30% physical (e.g., CD) and 70% digital.
  • Piracy of physical product is only 5%. 95% of people legally purchase these products
  • Piracy of digital product is 95%! Only 5% of the downloads are done legally.

Elio suggested that what is needed is more “relevant” innovation. Innovation that deals with consumer needs. For example, after a Coldplay concert, you can download free music. Or Nora Jones has an “LP” on iTunes that includes more than just the music and is interactive. Depeche Mode has an iTunes Pass that is a one-time fee for content with exclusive singles, remixes, and video. Abbey Road Live allows fans to buy a CD of the concert they just attended because it is recorded, mixed, and mastered on site. He described it as bringing the studio to the gig.

Elio closed with 3 thoughts on how to bring innovation into the organization.

  1. Leave your baggage behind. What worked in the past is irrelevant.
  2. Ask the customer first
  3. Work with your market


Next on the stage was Genevieve Berger, Chief R&D Officer, Unilever. She is a fascinating woman with PhDs in physicals, medicine and biology. Wow! She talked about cross-category R&D programs. The objective being to take technologies from one category (e.g., food, personal care, and home care) to another. My favorite was how the toothpaste group developed a new tooth whitening approach by borrowing from the laundry detergent group. The concept is simple. For years, laundry detergent has used bluing agents as a way of making whites look even whiter. It is an optical effect that blocks the reflection of yellow. They developed a bluing agent for toothpaste that makes your tooth appear whiter without actually whitening them. I wonder if your teeth glow under black light they way clothes do due to the bluing agent.

The next blog entry will include highlights from GE’s CMO, Best Buy’s CEO, and more.

P.S. Be sure to read Alan Patrick’s comments from the event.  It is entertaining and insightful.

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Complete Idiots’s Guide to Target Marketing

November 17, 2009

My good friend Susan Friedmann just released her next book today, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Target Marketing.”

Do you want to get the word out to buyers about all the great things your business has to offer, but a big-bucks marketing campaign just isn’t in your budget? Now you can get the expert information you need about how to get the word out.

Susan’s book is full of clever, practical, and easy-to-use strategies to help you get your message out to the right people, at the right time, and in the right place. In this Complete Idiot’s Guide®, you get:

  • Savvy ways to identify your most lucrative niche markets.
  • Viral marketing, blogging, webinars, and other web marketing ideas to reach your buyers.
  • Creative public relations strategies that can help you reach your goals inexpensively.
  • Powerful buzz-building methods to reach and impress your target market.
  • The most effective ways to build and maintain strong customer relationships.

And much more…

If you order a copy today, you’ll receive a bonus pack of downloadable e-books, audio, and video programs, special reports, and articles – hundreds of dollars worth of free materials from some of the country’s most successful business strategists.

One of the free items is my Personality Poker® self-assessment and a 30 minute video. This simple quiz allows you and your team to determine your innovation style – and what it means to your organization.  Think of it as a Personality Poker® simulator.

I’m told that today is the only day that this offer will be available — so act now!

For more details about this offer and to buy your copy of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Target Marketing” go to

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London FT Innovate Conference

November 9, 2009

My schedule has been crazy lately!  My work with InnoCentive, my speeches all over the planet, and a manuscript due in a few weeks.  My blogging has become the victim of this.  But that will change.

This week I am one of the speakers at the FT Innovate conference in London.  I will also be blogging about the lessons learned from each of the presenters.

My topic is Innovation Personality Poker.  This is a bit less “serious” than most of the other topics on the agenda.  But immediately afterward, I am leading a roundtable discussion on Open Innovation.

Next week I am speaking at the TEDxNASA conference where my topic will be “Innovation is in the Space.”  And the week after Thanksgiving I am speaking at an Open Innovation conference in Florida.

Stay tuned.

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