Friday, June 19, 2009

A Penny for Your Thoughts, Really, Just a Penny

So I am mentoring this team of interns who are at Boeing for the summer. Their task is to come up with some sweet ideas and see who has the best one.

Straightforward, right?

Well, the space business has had a way of attracting dreamers for over 50 years, and dreamers have a way of coming up with ideas, and so in 2009 it is a little hard to come up with an idea that hasn't already been thought of.

Ask yourself: What was wrong with all the space ideas that people have thought of up until now? Weren't they any good? Why don't we just go work on those, rather than keep coming up with ideas that we think we are the first ones to have thought of (Until we do a little bit of research and find out that it was someone's thesis in 1974.)

So when I asked the interns to start thinking of ideas, I told them that what they really needed to do was think of an idea that would work. An idea that Mother Boeing could plunk down some cash and go do on a reasonable time frame. That's where the real genius could come in on their part.

Hint: The way to go up and down is a gumdrop shaped capsule on top of a rocket with some rubber stuff on the bottom to take the heat when it reenters.

Once upon a time, there was a guy who thought about sending humans to Mars for the first time. I don't know what his name is. I bet that no one does. It's a thought that many people will inevitably have when they look at the sky with a knowledge that there is a place out there called Mars. Was the person who thought of it first a genius? or was he just paying attention.

So the real value doesn't come in until the idea is thunk, in a do-able way, and then it is done. That's where the lasting value is.

You want to send humans to Mars? To the stars? You can't think them there! Get a degree or job in the space business and make it happen! lobby congress, throw down some cash for stock in an aerospace company and vote for board members who will do the best.

Ladies and gentlemen, people tried to fly for a really long time. Da Vinci had the helicopter and hang glider pretty much nailed down a long time ago. A lot of people failed to implement in the interim. We are languishing in the awkward phase of our technology where we have all these great ideas for expanding permanently beyond low earth orbit but we haven't put it all together just right yet.

I suppose that the purpose of this post is to get people thinking differently about how and what it will take to get humans out doing more of the things in space that we all want humans to do (colonize, mine, explore, learn, etc). What is going to help us cross the threshold is thinking of the standard ideas in new ways. It's like you have to know the rules to break them, right? Well, the rules are the ideas that come to our heads naturally when we look up at the stars and imagine how we go there. The ways to break the rules are thinking about politics, human nature, economics, business, and how the laws of these areas can be bent, avoided, or harnessed to enable progress.

Be the change you want to see in the world. The best way to predict the future is to create it.

So for the interns that I am working with, you are coming from a fresh place, hopefully. Take what new things you bring to the table and think of something different, or think of the same thing in a different way. You are approaching the same brick wall that countless brilliant people before you have hit their heads against. Wilbur and Orville weren't necessarily much smarter than Da Vinci, they just thought about things in a different way and pulled together a few technologies that Da Vinci didn't have to succeed in implementing the standard dream of so many who wanted to fly.

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