Tag Archives: Innovation

HOW TO WARD OFF DISRUPTION!

Know how to ward off Disruption?  It takes a special kind of person to be inspired by a mandate riddled with risk and having little margin for error, such as the one issued in the early 1990s by NASA to its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California: “Take risks but don’t fail.

Meet Brian Muirhead, who at age 41 accepted the job as flight systems manager of the Mars Pathfinder project and with it the NASA challenge to land a cutting-edge, remote-controlled robotic all-terrain rover on Mars that would reliably beam back images, collect samples, and return scientific data on the red planet.

The only catch: he was given just three years and $150 million to do it.  No one in his or her right mind would want to manage the next Mars project, if indeed there was one.

Brian is a quiet, cerebral, and unassuming rocket scientist. Now chief Project Manager at JPL, he has a significantly bigger title,  less hair, and more white in his beard than when I first met him, undoubtedly as a result of his almost 42 years of intense involvement with high-profile missions in pursuit of JPL’s mission to push the outer edge of space exploration.

One of my all-time favorite stories from Brian is the one he told about the Pathfinder team’s approach to a “don’t fail” strategy. He tells how he was personally disrupted, by one of his daughter’s kindergarten projects. The teacher gave the class an assignment right up Brian’s alley: design a package that would protect a raw egg from being dropped off the school roof. It was an annual event, affectionately referred to as the Great Egg-Drop Challenge.

It was right up Brian’s alley for two reasons: not only is he an expert on momentum, but the radical solution enabling the successful landing of the rover on Mars on July 4, 1994 addressed essentially the same problem.

Brian had an answer in a snap, and coached his daughter in a rather conspiratorial way in order for her to arrive at the same solution, which involved a milk carton stuffed with newspaper.

Together they cut up newspaper, wadded it in the carton, put the uncooked egg in a plastic bag and set it on top of the loose packing. They tested it several times of their home’s high balcony to find just the right amount of padding to allow the egg to land safely.

The whole school gathered for the event. But it was not the teacher who did the testing. It was the school principal, who tested the designs not by dropping them straight down, but by throwing them in what Brian described as a “big, high, looping arc.” Get the visual?

Needless to say, Brian’s daughter’s egg was crushed, as was his daughter’s morale. Brian himself was devastated: here he was building a spacecraft to travel 300 million miles to land safely on another planet and he couldn’t even help his daughter design a landing device to protect an egg.

Brian realized a valuable lesson from the kindergarten experience, and applied it to the Pathfinder project: inevitable, unforeseen and disruptive forces could be the ruin of the project, so there had to be a way to mitigate their potential impact.

Enter what I call the “Gremlin” strategy. Interestingly, the Pathfinder team had just lost their fault systems engineer, so Brian asked another team member to fill the spot. His name was Dave Gruel, but he eventually was nicknamed “Cruel Gruel,” because he was the ultimate Gremlin.

The term “Gremlin” was popularized during World War II, and referred to an imaginary creature that creates problems in normally reliable hardware.

With the kindergarten experience fresh in his memory, Brian tasked Dave with duties beyond fault protection: he asked him to dream up all sorts of challenges to throw at the team. It turned out that Dave Gruel had a real flair for the role, and spent his days and nights devising ways to disrupt the project.

Brian urged them to be cautious, to think things well through, and to make sure they were making the right move. His words of warning went unheeded, though…the team was certain they had analyzed the situation thoroughly, and were ready to roll.

Except…the Gremlin had come in during the night.

As Brian tells it in High Velocity Leadership:

Running a couple of available calibration checks had shown something wasn’t right. Yet the attitude of some of the rover people, so cocky, so certain of their judgment, kept them from stepping back and questioning their decision.

I see this attitude all the time in speaking and doing consulting work with leaders and companies!

In the end, the Gremlin strategy was extremely effective in enabling the Pathfinder team to learn how to deal with uncertainties in a way that positively neutralized disruptive forces. It allowed the team to build robustness, speed, and flexibility into their implementation.

The application to business is clear. If you have a successful business, the chances are very good that somewhere someone is dreaming up strategies that may just throw you for a loop.

So why not beat them to the punch?

Take a page from the Mars Pathfinder story and set up a Gremlin group in your company. Charge them with putting you out of business in new and innovative ways.  Done right, it will not only ward off disruption, it will do more to build innovation capability into your organization than any highfalutin innovation program some big name firm sold you on. Mars Pathfinder didn’t need such a program, and neither do you.

What’s amazing to me is the level of passion, verve and vigor I see inside the Gremlin teams. The level of engagement is a full click above their engagement in their “real job.” Early indications are that this may be a wonderful new wrinkle to the trend toward internal innovation and startup mechanisms like incubators and accelerators, which have replaced the older “skunkworks” approaches.

As for Brian Muirhead, an individual fond of dramatic destinations, I have no doubt that he’s hard at work on his favorite answer to the “what’s next?” question he was often asked: “I’m working on a project that will attempt to land a spacecraft on an active comet and analyze it.”

So, if the word “disruption” is being uttered in the halls of your company (as it seems to be in almost every one I visit),  gather ye Gremlins, and go to work!

(Warning: brave heart, strong will, and intestinal fortitude required!)

More about Matthew E May:

Matt is one of those rare finds on the speaker circuit!  His innovative and creative interaction keeps his audiences engaged
and spell bound. He is the author of 5 New York Times Best-sellers, and his work has been featured in The New York Times, Fast Company, Strategy+Business, The Rotman Magazine, Success, Inc. Forbes, and Harvard Business Review blogs.  He has appeared on MSNBC,  Microsoft Small Biz Academy, and Business Rock Stars. He holds an MBA from The Wharton School and a BA from Johns Hopkins University, but he counts winning the New Yorker cartoon caption contest as one of his most creative achievements. Matt has a deep passion for ideas that solve a difficult problem in an elegant way. He defines an elegant solution as one that is both uncommonly simple and surprisingly powerful, and that achieves the maximum effect with minimum means. To hire Matt for your next event contact us at 888-766-3155 today or
go to Matthew E May

 

Women Inventors Have Changed Our World!

Women Inventors have changed our World!  As you sip your morning coffee you probably don’t give any thought as to how the actual process of coffee brewing came to be. If it wasn’t for a frustrated housewife in Dresden, Germany, you might have to brew your coffee by wrapping loose coffee grounds in a cloth bag and boiling water around it. Suddenly you have a much better appreciation for Melitta Bentz’s invention and innovation.

She knew there had to be a better way, so she cut out some paper from a notebook and stuck it in the bottom of a pot that she had poked full of holes. Then she poured the water over it. This filtered out the bitter taste. It worked and she started manufacturing her “coffeemakers” and selling them at local fairs. They were a hit.

Most people think of Marie Curie as a scientist, but she was also an inventor, and the only person to win two Noble prizes. She invented a chemical process for extracting radioactive material from ore and she also discovered radium.

Anyone who has used a personal computer can thank Admiral Grace Murray Hopper for inventing the first computer compiler. This dramatically changed the way programmers wrote software. They no longer had to write time-consuming instructions for each new software package. She developed COBOL, which is the first user-friendly computer software program.

If you take your lunch to work in a brown paper bag you have Martha Knight to thank for it. She invented the machine that produced them. She was also the first woman to fight and win a patent suit after a man stole her design and put his name on it. He couldn’t imagine that a woman could create such a complex machine. She went on to invent several other machines and tools.

Only 10% of patents belong to women, but the list seems to be growing as women are encouraged to invent. As they say “necessity is the mother of invention” and the world needs more women inventors.

Julie Austin is a sought-after Keynote Speaker, award-winning author, and Inventor of Swiggies – The Wrist Water Bottle by Hydrosport. Coming from a background in the TV & film industry as a commercial actor and TV host, she also has worked in the development of over 1,000 scripts. Julie knows the creative and how to sell it from a business perspective. Miko Carating of Daekyo America says, “Julie’s topic of using innovation and creativity to add value to your business was inspiring. Our Franchisees left with ways to generate more ideas of their own.” Julie knows a thing or two about innovation. She’s an inventor/innovator who turned $5.00 and a lump of clay into an international NASDAQ winning product—the Swiggles wrist water bottle, now sold in 24 countries. However, Julie Austin is not stopping there. “I have much more to conquer,” she says! To hire Julie as your next Innovation Speaker, call 888-766-3155 today!

Why Your Corporation Should Hire a Creativity Keynote Speaker! by Julie Austin

creativity keynote speaker

Today’s markets are so saturated that the only way to differentiate yourself from the crowd is through constant and consistent creativity and innovation. According to a recent Fortune Magazine poll, most CEOs say that innovation is their #1 priority. But the truth is that most companies don’t innovate until a crisis hits.  I’ve found this to be true as a creativity keynote speaker over the past couple of years. To truly set yourself apart and generate giant leaps in innovation, you have to create a culture of creativity and innovation in your company, which includes all of your employees, not just those at the top. A good creativity keynote speaker can inspire, educate, and instill a creative mindset in your employees that literally turns them into idea and problem solving machines.
Here are a few benefits you’ll get from hiring a creativity keynote speaker:New products and services – You may be number one in your market now, but if you don’t innovate, you’ll lose your ranking. The marketing industry is full of stories about companies who had a hit product, but rested on their laurels and eventually went out of business because they didn’t continue to innovate.

  • Boost your bottom line – Innovation isn’t just about coming up with new products. Creative, problem solving employees will also be able to spot areas where your company could save money. This translates into a leaner, more efficient way of running your business.
  • Unique marketing ideas – Word of mouth is the best form of advertising your company can get. It’s also free. But you won’t get people talking about your company if you don’t have something unique and interesting for them to share. Creative employees will naturally generate unique marketing ideas. By turning your employees into innovators, you instantly double productivity while saving money. Make creativity fun and embrace creative failure and you’d be amazed what they will come up with.
  • Improve your pubic image – Innovative employees will come up with unique ideas for corporate social responsibility. If you involve them in the creative process, they’ll also be more excited about participating in community volunteer projects, which will elevate your company’s public image.

Hiring an entertaining and educational creativity keynote speaker for your next meeting will give your company an excellent return on investment by instilling in your employees the techniques of creativity and innovation, and making the process fun.

Julie Austin

Julie Austin is an award-winning author, inventor, and innovation speaker. Her patented product, swiggies, wrist water bottles, have been a NASDAQ product of the year semi finalist and are currently sold in 24 countries. Julie and her products have appeared on The Today Show, The Queen Latifa Show, HGTV, Lifetime, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX News, and the Wall Street Journal, along with dozens of TV shows, magazines and radio shows around the world. She’s a go-to business expert, innovation speaker, creativity keynote speaker, innovation seminar leader, creativity seminar leader, innovation trainer, and creativity trainer.

Her new book “The Money Garden: How to Plant the Seeds for a Lifetime of Income” is currently available on Amazon.

Julie comes from a background in the TV & film industry and has had jobs as diverse as commercial actor and TV host to TV/film distributor/writer, so she knows the creative, as well as the business side, and customizes most of her speeches for the audience she’s speaking to.

She will deliver a dynamic, inspiring, and entertaining speech that is customized for your audience. Corporations will benefit from her knowledge of innovation and entrepreneurial thinking to expand their markets and grow sales. She’s an underdog who’s bootstrapped her way to success from nothing and loves to inspire others to do the same.