“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”
This advertisement ran in a London newspaper in 1913 for an Antarctic exploration led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. When I read this ad it struck me that 100 years later this could have been and ad for an innovation project. Innovation nowadays has so many similarities with voyages of discovery and expeditions in the past. These explorers inspired me to create a structured approach to innovation, which I present in my new book ‘The Innovation Expedition‘.
In 1492 Columbus sailed off the map and thought he discovered a western route to the East. The road to the East was cut off to European traders due to the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. Unfortunately Columbus guessed the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan to be about 3,000 Italian miles (3,700 km, or 2,300 statute miles), while the correct figure is 19,600 km (12,200 miles). He called the inhabitants Indians being sure that he had reached the Indies. Actually he landed at Watling Island in the Bahamas and discovered the Americas. Columbus himself was a kind of outsider. He had nothing to lose. Potential profits were a strong motive. He had an agreement with Queen Isabella of Castile that if he succeeded, he would get a cut of all the proceeds of his discovery. New techniques of navigation, better knowledge of Atlantic currents and the development of caravels made it possible for Columbus to sail much closer to the wind.
Sir Edmund Hillary had been part of a British reconnaissance expedition to Mount Everest in 1951. After eight failed attempts on Everest The British Himalayan Committee replaced the 1951 expedition leader Eric Shipton by Colonel John Hunt. They needed someone to get them on the top, before the French had their chance. The 1953 Everest expedition consisted of a huge team of over 400 people, including 362 porters, 20 Sherpa guides and almost 5.000 kilogram of baggage. Bourdillon and Evans attempted the climb but due to a failing oxygen system only reached the South Col, around 100 metres below the summit. Then Hillary and Norgay got their chance. The higher you get on Everest the more courage you need. A crucial last part of summiting Everest is a 12 meters rock face, which Hillary managed to climb. It’s now known as the Hillary Step. Hillary and Norgay reached the 8,848 meters high summit, the highest point on earth, at 11:30 am on May 29th 1953.
Neil Armstrong learned to fly in the summer of 1946 at the age of sixteen. It was rather unusual that he earned his pilot’s license before he got an automobile driver’s license. On April 12, 1961 the Soviet Union stunned the world when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human space traveller. President JFK had to restore America’s respect. He declared “I believe that this entire nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth. There were three options for landing on the moon: Direct Ascent, Earth Orbit Rendezvous and Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR). To the surprise of many experts, NASA selected in July 1962 the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous. If the Rendezvous failed the astronauts would be too far away to be saved. Most important was that LOR was the only way by which the Moon landing could be achieved by Kennedy’s deadline of decade’s end. So there I was, 9 years old. Woken up in the middle of the night at 04.00 by my parents. On a black and white TV I saw Neil Armstrong making his first little jumps on the moon. While he spoke his famous words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
In the voyages of these great explorers you can find are ten lessons for innovation.
I wish you lots of success on your own innovation expedition. Go for it!
Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) helps organizations to start innovation effectively as author, speaker and facilitator.
He is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. With FORTH he create attractive innovative products and services with great internal support with a multidisciplinary team. In his latest book ‘The Innovation Expedition’ he makes innovation very accessible by telling the story in a visual way. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organizations. Gijs also trains and certifies facilitators in his method.
He is a keynote speaker at international innovation conferences and was chosen by LinkedIn as one of their 150 Thought Leaders.