Innovatus Interruptus

From our friends at National People’s Public Radio, a fabulous nugget about creative thinking in an oppressive, bureaucratic and process-heavy workplace…  

First, take a look at this video, which runs just under 10 minutes.  Some folks at NASA captured cultural behaviors that stuffed innovation and creativity a bazillion different ways into next week.  Funny yet sad* – and true to many large organizations, whether you work in government, academia or the commercial sector.   And also, whether you’re building complex systems, or managing the daily operations of a medical facility, or managing a restaurant…

Short version (for those of you who are too tired, busy or “attention deficient” to spare the 10 minutes):  Allegedly bright young engineer brings forward a new design concept for a space craft, then is repeatedly told “not our job”, “not what you’re working on”, “we’ve never done things like this before” and so on… The script is a compilation of actual “Poo Poo-ing” delivered at Johnson Space Flight Center.  Poor kid is crapped on a thousand different ways, yet undeterred, she continues to press forward with her innovative concept.

My first reaction?  “Oh, yeah!  We gotta show this to the ancient boat-anchors, “Princess Poopy Pants”** and all the other creativity-challenged members of the “Nerd Herd” in my office!  The fossils who wouldn’t recognize innovation if it bit them in their polyester stretch pants, chewing clean through the frayed elastic waist bands.  

But what’s the alternative?  If we all spend our time “thinking crazy shit”, brainstorming until our brains fall out of our eye sockets and running down every rabbit hole of possibility?  We won’t do Jack Shit.***  Before i can trot this out – simply as an amusing “hey, guys — boy, don’t we do this sometimes? Ha ha ha…” awareness session, i need to have a better way… that magical balance of productivity and innovation.

Sure, we’ve got some bright folks – but if they pull some “creative” solution out of their clever little heads, and run with it?  We could end up with electrical engineers playing spin the bottle with hydrazine, blowing us all into nerd-shrapnel.  Watching the video again, i had to ask “but what does that kid really know about space craft design? What if she’s been hired because of her expertise in thermo-molecular computational modeling and happens to have found a spacecraft design in a lost episode of Star Trek?”

In times of juicier resources, we used to allow folks about 10% of their paid workday to just fart around, chase crazy shit, and think deep thoughts.  No pressure to deliver product, and a stated tolerance for “failure” – because in research if you’re not failing every now and then, you’re not really testing boundaries.  Or maybe we should just put shock collars on them… and keep the annoyances to a minimum? -- i love these people...

* Giving them an “A+” for creativity, but i’ve seen better acting in amateur midget porn and the “Left Behind” movies…

** Genuine call sign for a senior scientist in my organization who can take a steaming dump on the best idea ever – simply by laughing in a geeky, derogatory manner and saying “You could do that, but it would be stupid…”.  Honestly?  i’d prefer her taking an actual dump than dropping that line at the beginning of a brainstorming session…

*** NOT an actual call sign for a member of the team.  But i’ll keep it in my play book for future prospects…

11 thoughts on “Innovatus Interruptus

  1. Shock collars are always fun, but what if they start to enjoy it? I fulfil a similar role to Princess Poopy Pants in my organisation, although my approach is generally along the lines of “We could do that. What’s the budget?”

  2. I used to be in the military, so this all hits home pretty well. One time, when I mentioned that we should consider keeping our retarded conductive metal uniform belt buckles (that routinely fail catastrophically and fall off) away from expensive radar absorbent coatings, fast spinny turbine things, and electrically fired ordnance(!), the chief said, “John Paul Jones didn’t scrap the uniform whenever HE felt like it.”

    Never mind that John Paul Jones died a century before anyone thought to land a flying machine on a metal boat.

    And he did too scrap the uniform. Which I mentioned. Then I had to scrub corrosion off of bomb racks.

  3. HB8 – you’ve either dealt with a bureaucracy or two, have been stomped on by non-creative ass-covering tools, OR have been subjected to well intentioned folks trying to implement positive cultural change to develop a more inclusive “out of the box” environment…. i’m not sure which is worse.

    nm – no, i think that’s pretty much “nerds in their natural habitat”, but i was giving them the benefit of the doubt!

    kyknoord – that’s not “poopy”. that’s called “prioritize, folks”…. i think it’s different. sorry. you’ll have to be MUCH MORE NON-VALUE ADDED to qualify as a true “Princess Poopy Pants”.

    casey – so, ummm… guessing you are NO LONGER in the military?

    imeantno – bible-thumper for a roommate my freshman year. she made me watch it – or she wouldn’t share the booze…

  4. but how much senior leadership brain power is wasted chasing down idiotic ideas in the name of “nurturing creativity”? i know it’s a tender balance. and i’ve no clue how to define what the limits are. just shaking my head. BUT, comma, that is no excuse for allowing people like Princess Poopy Pants to automatically and publically shoot down every damn idea… kill her. kill her now. or reassign her where she can’t hurt anyone.

  5. Here’s a Youtube video for Honda and their encouraging of Failure in an effort to find success. I know it’s a promotional advertisement, but it’s the counter to the “No Way” mentality of the other video.

  6. I think it’s turning into our societal norm to squash creativity. Especially with our couch-sitting, video playing next generation. Ain’t nobody building bike ramps anymore.

  7. gnu – unfortunately, Princess Poopy Pants has an annoying tendency to cry… when she worked for me, i made a decision that didn’t go her way, and for 3 days i had a steady stream of people come into my office to let me know she was crying. Finally, i started telling them “Yes, it’s because of something I DID”. And then i asked her to either go home or shut her door… we can’t kill them… and reassignment of those with highly specialized skills is impossible….

    squirrelqueen – LOVE IT! My Dad always told me that you never learn anything when you get it right, it’s usually through failure that we grow… If nothing else, the video is worth it just to see Danica Patrick’s eyes – they are the most gorgeous brown eyes i think i’ve ever seen! Plus? She kicks ass…

    Lynn – Welcome to The Park! Nice to have a real live lesbian in the house… Conformity is easy, and couch surfing is safe. You’re right about the bike ramps – don’t see the in the driveways around here any more. my son and his friends (now 20-somethings) were rabid about building ramps, boxes, rails… and that wasn’t all that long ago!

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