Explorers wanted: “hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” Ernest Shackleton, Antartic Explorer, 1914
Reading this quote on a wall at the Cape Canaveral Space Center, I thought about the many ups and downs, the days, months or even years of patience and frustration that are often the daily life of innovators.
The Space Center is actually an inspiring place for innovators of all ages. These guys in the 60’s had to invent everything from scratch to be able to land a man on the moon. And to do it, they only had pens and brains…and crazy explorers ready to die in the sky.
But they did it ! And we can get some innovation learnings out of it…
1) Pick a mind-blowing goal
Would you be ready to work day and night or even to die to reach an everyman unchallenging goal ?
What stays in History are men doing big things. Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon, Nelson Mandela getting Black and Whites to talk to each other in South-Africa. Nobody will be inspired and follow you if your goals are too tiny. You want to enable men to live on Mars once the earth is too polluted. You want to find a technological solution to global slums unhealthy living conditions. Nothing else.
So, what’s your bold goal ?
2) Be the best story-teller ever
Before to reach the glorious day when masses crowd to use or buy your innovative product or solution, you will have to progress on a road full of labyrinths, twists, cracks, gatekeepers and carcasses. If you intend to keep progressing from base to base up to mount Everest peak, if you want your team and followers to keep walking along, you need communicative faith, some wins and a loud inspiring voice – or the one of your sponsor.
Your followers have to keep dreaming – or be afraid of what could happen if you did not make it…The US had a positive vision, be the first on the moon and a threat to fight, the rise of the red ideology.
Up to you now ! To keep them walking, get your inspiring story right and tell it well !
3) Ask “God” to be your innovation sponsor
The road to success can be very long and failures along the path can be outstanding – and public… Many early-stage space rockets exploded. Millions of dollars turned into smoke in seconds. Men even died to reach the moon. But they tried again and again and they did it.
Few men in an organization can withstand blow after blow without collapsing or being shown the door. The higher your sponsor is, the easier it will be to get continued credit for your team even against heavy contrary winds. You need (wo)men of power to defend the long-term approach that supports innovation breakthroughs.
4) Tap resources from a bottomless well
More often than not, every innovation project is constrained by resources. Is it not common to lack the extra budget or extra guy with the skill-set needed to solve some of your main challenges ? The US lunar program had a major advantage over many innovation projects: 400,000 people were working on it all over the country and money could be printed without end.
If you do not have this luxury, open innovation and crowd-funding could be your bottomless well…
5) But also bring your “MacGyver” kit
Sometimes, budgets are like a dry river. Sometimes you just don’t have the tools required. In such cases, a “MacGyver” or “resource based” approach can be instrumental to innovation success. Look at what is at your disposal and be smart. An elegant solution is not always what you need. The first moon rover did not have the best look or most comfortable seats. But it did the job with smart ideas in every corner to adapt to the lunar conditions. You can develop at a later stage a more evolved version with Recaro seats and a Pininfarina design 😉
6) Learn by doing and improve incrementally
Trials and errors belong to the fundamentals of innovation. The US lunar program had to try everything for the first time ever. Every step was giving them a new understanding of what was possible in a situation and how to handle it. Each problem was a new step and new learning opportunity. Knowing that a man could survive a launch did not prove that he would not burn when entering the atmosphere on the way back.
Hence, make small steps but don’t stay in your lab. The Truth Is Out There !
7) Never give up
Obviously, the odds of success are extremely low for every new product or idea given the number of choices to make at each development step and given the moving environment around you. Obviously, something that does not work well is not ideal. Obviously, you need to convince many people, sponsors, followers, early adopters, and finally users or buyers.
But ultimately, if your idea was good, if you found the right path, if you had the right support and if you had some luck, you could really bring your positive stone to our world.
So, Never Give Up !