Enlightenment Begins

Thanks for letting me extend my vacation a bit to catch up on all the accumulated work that found its way to my desk. 

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share a couple of pictures from my vacation, especially since they play into this posting.

Athena falls at Rocky Mountain National Park Emerald lake at Rocky Mountain National Park

Sometimes I completely believe that the invention of the National Park is the best thing that America has ever done.  But then I realize that the opportunity to get away from the ordinary, into the natural world, is truly meaningful.

You can really believe that “Enlightenment begins where the pavement ends”!

Ok, I’ll confess, that is a slogan that was printed on a T-shirt I saw on the trail.

But the more I thought about it, the less kitschy it becomes and the truer it sounds.

Going somewhere you have not been before, getting out of the ordinary, seeing new things — all these start your thought processes in new ways. 

Returning to work, I have attended two different conferences on innovation that the agency has sponsored.  How do you innovate? How can people creatively find solutions to problems?   We had plenty of case studies and examples; some good and some not so good.  One principle stood out:  creative solutions come from unexpected places and generally from people who have a variety of different experiences.  If you look to people who all have the same background, all have the same problem solving skills, and all have the same life experiences then expect to get similar reactions to a challenge, and a very limited set of potential solutions.  To get a diverse, innovative solution set, it is important to go where not many have been, to experience life in ways that the average folks haven’t, and then to recognize and utilize these insights.

A frontier is a place where innovation is fostered.  The old cliche’ is “Necessity is the mother of invention”.  True, true.  And nowhere is there more “necessity” than on a frontier, a long way from the tried, true, and comfortable. 

Jules Verne wrote an interesting introduction to his book “From the Earth to the Moon”.  It smacks of 19th century nationalism, but listen to it anyway:  “The Yankees, the first mechanicians in the world, are engineers– just as the Italians are musicians and the Germans metaphysicians– by right of birth”

Nowadays, of course, there are plenty of Yankee musicians and metaphysicians, and the Italians and Germans make pretty good engineers, along with the Chinese and Indians.  But why would Jules Verne say that?  And why would the world embrace that?  There must be some basic truth there.  Invention was the glory of 19th century America.  Innovative solutions to the problems posed by a New World, the frontier, or the distance to other more advanced technology centers (like Europe) drove American innovation and creativity. 

Space is a frontier.  Space exploration (and exploitation) requires ingenuity in the face of new challenges: distance to technology centers (like earth!), lack of resources (air, water), and new and different resources to be understood harnessed (microgravity, vacuum).  I wonder how life on Earth will be affected by the discoveries and innovations of the 21st century and the new “frontier imperative”. 

You can learn a lot where the pavement ends.  I cam personally recommend at least one place in Colorado where the pavement ends at 12,000 ft MSL.  But there is no pavement on the moon, either. 


A lot to be learned out there.



Two weeks

Don’t look for an update to my blog or any new posts for the next two weeks.  We’re off on vacation and I won’t be electronically connected.  I hope to come back with new inspiration!