An Innovation Story Worth a Film

External views matter. Even in technicalities.

Do you remember that scene in the movie ‘Armageddon’ with those new mortal heroes walking in slow motion in their orange-NASA-‘patched’ uniforms?  They walked as if approaching you from the front. How not to rember it? The confidence in their faces, the synchronisation of their steps, the determination of their gazes and of course the soundtrack making all that look so triumphal.armageddon-original-e1301532044264

What a ridiculous frame no? Well-drilling engineers become spacial heroes over the night. So cheesy. So dreamy. Nothing more unrealistic.

Unless… Wait a minute… Unless something similar happened in real life. Really?

Well, kind of:

In the late 60’s the NASA had set a goal. We all know the story. It was to make the unreachable, reachable. The impossible, possible. The moon was the aim.

In short words, the group on charge of designing and building the space rocket ‘Saturn V‘ found a problem to isolate the temperature of two distinct fluids in the spacecraft. A particular problem arose when the need to make the spaceship lighter presented itself as a priority. Donald Binn, one of the members of the scientists team, explains that the compartments where such fluids were “stored” were too close to each other, and both needed extremely different temperatures to work properly without causing trouble. For such a problem, fatality might be a better term.saturn V image

The presented problem was complex. Lack of time and uncertainty made the situation really complicated. Evidently this was a problem requiring the highest scientific knowledge and the best theories to put into practice. Right?

Actually no!

In order to insulate these liquids’ temperature from each other, they were trying to apply honeycomb insulation into the chambers where the liquids were deposited, but this was pumping off the vessel in early testing. Clearly, they were doing something wrong.

What happened? They found the solution by observing the surfers in the beaches of california applying this honeycomb insulation to their boards.

One special issue was that it was necessary to understand the optimal amount to use and to apply it properly. They ended up hiring surfers to solve the problem. Yes! The NASA hired surfers to trade off the lack of skill of their scientists. Rocket Scientists.

I find extremely pleasant and I consider what happened a rich lesson for everyone in the corporate innovation jungle.

It’s important to bear in mind that these people were the spacial engineering group from the NASA in the USA. Needless to say anything else on their intellectual profile and hence maybe in their egos.

However, they were brilliant enough to accept that they had found a simple solution for a complex problem outside their knowledge. Completely out of the boundaries of their thinking.

Their thinking was such a proof of openness for the sake of progress, such it was that they decided to hire the surfers to work in the spaceship in the facilities of the NASA in California.

Wow! This problem was probably not big, but it was important enough to have caused a big delayed on the race to the outer space in late 60’s and with a delay of this magnitude maybe the story we know would be different.

It happened this way, and it worked. The issue was solved. The engineers got a lighter spaceship working safely with the intervention of a group of surfers, who had nothing to do with rocket science. Maybe they have rocketed before, but just in theirs minds and aided by some ‘method’ 🙂

Morale: Overcome the “not invented here” syndrome. Never stopped looking around with contemplative eyes. Try to recover your capacity of wonder from wherever it went and appreciate the little and small subtleties of our life around us.

Of course, this surfers were not as good looking as Ben Affleck, but maybe a little more effective in what they were doing for humanity. As President Kennedy said himself!

A short telling of the story here:

http://www.sciencechannel.com/video-topics/space-videos/moon-machines-surfers.htm

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