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?

http://despair.com -- 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…