Innovation: Selectively forgetting the past

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Last week I was struck by a thought shared by Vijay Govindarajan, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, at the Front End of Innovation Conference in Boston.  In his talk on the “Business Model of Innovation” he shared a 3 stage model that included, 1) Managing the present; 2) Selectively forgetting the past and 3) Creating the future.   It was the “selectively forgetting the past” that resonated with me the most.  It reminded me of the quote by Alan Kay, “In some sense our ability to open the future will depend not on how well we learn anymore but on how well we are able to unlearn” and by John Maynard Keynes who stated that “The difficulty lies, not in new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.” 

 

This was the sense I had last month when I walked from booth to booth at the incredible Innovation 2010 event at the NASA/Johnson Space Center.  The event had booths and presentations that were filled with engineers, scientists, information technology specialists, human resources and other disciplines sharing their innovations.  Mixed in amongst incredible technology would be a booth that broke from the traditional practices at the Center.   An idea that challenged the status quo and “selectively forgot” what was accepted as a standard practice for JSC.  Listening to these innovators caused me to pause and reflect on the “Why” of NASA. 

 

What is it that people associate with NASA beyond the landing of the moon?  Whenever a survey is done the impression that is heard over and over again is that NASA does that stuff that can’t be found anywhere else.  It is the place where we “selectively forget” or suspend what is possible.  Or as was a popular phrase years ago, “Where Science fiction is made science fact.” 

 

NASA is truest to its “why” when it can escape from old ideas. It is when we pursue the disruptive (game changing) technologies that the NASA Chief Technologist, Robert Braun is asking the agency to invest in that we fulfill the expectations from the world.  It is so easy to stick with the vast amount of knowledge that we have gathered over the past 50 years of Human Exploration, but sometimes we need to unlearn what we have discovered in order to open new paths to the stars.

 

Sharing the Vision,

Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

 

10 thoughts on “Innovation: Selectively forgetting the past

  1. Mark Parrott Post author

    Innovation is always built on old ideas. Innovation can also be built from old hardware. For example, The first american aircraft carrier was built from a modified battleship. I bring that comparison up because NASA will have an old battle ship floating in space in about 10 years. I refer to the ISS. I believe plans should be made to reuse major components of that 300,000 lb resource. This would have to be planed for now, not when the time comes to decommission it. Lets strap a few solar sails and a few boosters on those old solar arrays and go somewhere with a few intelligent robots. Lets grab those robotic arms and take em to the Moon. How about setting up a new/old, smaller station at the Lagrangian point between Earth and the Moon? Lets innovate with some old hardware already in space. The stuff will be free in 2020.

  2. Mark Parrott Post author

    Innovation is always built on old ideas. Innovation can also be built from old hardware. For example, The first american aircraft carrier was built from a modified battleship. I bring that comparison up because NASA will have an old battle ship floating in space in about 10 years. I refer to the ISS. I believe plans should be made to reuse major components of that 300,000 lb resource. This would have to be planned for now, not when the time comes to decommission it. Lets strap a few solar sails and a few boosters on those old solar arrays and go somewhere with a few intelligent robots. Lets grab those robotic arms and take em to the Moon. How about setting up a new/old, smaller station at the Lagrangian point between Earth and the Moon? Lets innovate with some old hardware already in space. The stuff will be free in 2020.

  3. Steve Post author

    Right On!

    Pursuit of game changing technologies entails some risk. A good analogy is the practice of venture capitalists who invest in start-up businesses; some go bankrupt, several survive, a few wildly exceed expectations – these few create a lot of wealth. If none of your research and development projects fail, you may not be trying hard enough.

  4. jimmy devid Post author

    Thanks for showing up such fabulous information. I like this post, keep writing and give informative post…!

  5. Anita Post author

    I try to be as innovative myself as possible. See for example my blogs on two very different subjects: on one hand, and on the other…

  6. Dave Cruise Post author

    Sometimes new brilliant ideas are born when you completely shake off the past, not relying on the foundations that may learn you to follow the beaten track, breaking the wings of your imagination and brave ideas.

  7. william Post author

    a few wildly exceed expectations – these few create a lot of wealth. If none of your research and development projects fail, you may not be trying hard enough

  8. Vijeth Post author

    Vijay Govindarajan is an excellent speaker. I have heard his talks. His way of thoughts are so inspirational. His messages are very true intact if you analyze it deeply. Happy to read about him here.

    Vijeth Kumar
    Website:

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