Necessity - or frustration, is the mother of invention – and often leads to 'out of the box' thinking.
At the recent LG Professionals SA conference, Eyal Halamish (CEO and co-founder, OurSay) spoke about innovation and invention - and how frustration with the status quo often leads to entrepreneurs developing a new approach to solve problems. He cited recent examples such as UBER, which responded to a market need for fast, reliable and cost-effective transport.
However, innovation, out of the box thinking and rapid prototyping is not a recent phenomenon.
Two examples come to mind from the past:
1. Apollo 13. One of the most incredible stories of adversity and out of the box thinking in history. After a catastrophic failure that left the Apollo 13 command module with very little power, little oxygen and failing systems, the task fell to the ground team in Houston to work out how to save the astronauts.
It’s a long story but there were a number of innovative – not to mention risky – decisions made to enable to crew to come home. One of the most courageous was the use of the rocket motor in the LEM (Lunar Module – designed only for landing on the moon) as a boost rocket to propel the stricken command module back towards Earth, after they swung around the moon.
This rocket motor was only designed to be fired once – to lift the LEM off the moon - but this maneuver required it to be fired twice. History shows it worked, but in terms of our of the box thinking – you don’t get more 'out of this world' than that. (by the way, the Flight Director for Apollo 13 was Gene Krantz - a really good read is his book, 'Failure is not an option' - you can check it out here.)
2. The Army DUKW. The second example comes from the 2nd world war. Troops were very vulnerable when landing on beaches as they needed to leave the relative safety of the water craft and make their way on foot across the open beach. The Army realised what they needed was a craft that could carry troops on water – and then drive up the beach towards cover. This need (or frustration) led to the development of the Army DUKW. (colloquially, the DUCK)
The DUKW is widely acknowledged as a great example of responsiveness to a need, because it was developed quickly using an existing truck design as a basic platform, it was designed to be easy to make and able to be made in great quantities - and was quickly put in to effective service. It was also constantly improved throughout production - long before the phrase “continuous improvement” became fashionable!
It even included innovations such as central tyre pressure control, allowing the operator to adjust the tires for hard surface roads (high pressure) or sand (low pressure) from the driver's seat. This is now a feature of the military HUMVEE and even some modern buses, trucks and 4WD passenger vehicles.