Learning & Innovation

Can a group of people, using a process designed to stimulate lateral thinking specifically targeted at very difficult engineering design problems, find new and innovative solutions to them (especially when their bellies are full of salad and pizza courtesy of the company)? That’s just what we sought to answer today. A few dozen of the best and brightest at our company, which makes them some of the best and the brightest in the world at what they do, were brought together to be presented with 10 difficult problems our current or past customers would like to have solved.

They were then introduced to a process designed to stimulate consideration of solutions not necessarily within the discipline these engineer/scientists are accustomed to dealing with. We set up a wiki specifically for the purpose of enabling ongoing discussion and collection of data and information, presented them with the problems (and the salad and pizza), showed them the tool, let them play with it a bit in search of some quick brainstorming, then set them loose.

I’m not sure anything will come of this. Obviously, we’re looking for solutions we can sell (can you guess the government – in one form or another – is our ultimate customer?), but will we be able to come up with novel solutions to itches that have wanted scratching for some time? It’s precisely because these are difficult . . . really difficult problems, that we’re trying an approach we’ve only come close to attempting once before and that was somewhat different than this iteration.

The prospect of a very stodgy engineering company kicking up its heels a little bit is very exciting to me. I can’t wait to see if these guys can take to the wiki. I suspect it’s going to be a bit painful, but they’ll have a little help from some of the younger involved engineers, as well as the business development and program management people who were there to supplement the teams.

We’re not looking to solve interesting problems for the sake of their solving, though there certainly is a large component of curiosity and wonder that infuses the people who attend these kinds of sessions. What we’re really after though is contracts; contracts to give us the opportunity to move forward on securing some truly commercial contracts. This is going to be a major transition for us and I know it’s not going to be easy for some of these guys. I’m hopeful the transition won’t be too painful, but having some quasi-commercial contracts will ease some of that pain I think.

About Rick Ladd

I retired nearly 13 years ago, though I've continued to work during most of the time since then. I'm hoping to return to work on the RS-25 rocket engine program (formerly the SSME) which will power our return to the moon. Mostly I'm just cruising, making the most of what time I have remaining. Although my time is nearly up, I still care deeply about the kind of world I'll be leaving to those who follow me and, to that end, I am devoted to seeing the forces of repression and authoritarianism are at least held at bay, if not crushed out of existence. I write about things that interest me and, as an eclectic soul, my interests run the gamut from science to spirituality, governance to economics, art and engineering. I'm hopeful one day my children will read what I've left behind. View all posts by Rick Ladd

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