Breaking Taboos – Two Lessons for Innovators

During WWI there was tremendous demand for bandages and sterile dressings for Allied wounded on the Western Front.  The US company, Kimberly-Clark, developed a new cotton-like material from wood-pulp.  It was highly absorbent.  They manufactured this in large quantities to supply gas-mask filters and field dressings.  When the war ended in 1918 the company was left with large stocks of materials... Read More--

A Revolutionary Idea – Thinking Inside the Box

McLean in 1957 Containerization was a massively important innovation which powered the expansion of global trade but it was a difficult idea to implement. Before containerization,  goods were physically manhandled as break bulk cargo. At the factory or warehouse goods were loaded onto a truck, driven to a port and then offloaded to await the next suitable ship.  The dockers (aka longshoremen) piled... Read More--

When the Idea is Ahead of the Technology

  Sometimes the idea is tremendous but it fails because of the current state of technology or infrastructure.  Consider the common remote control for your TV set.  The Zenith Radio Corporation launched the first wireless remote control for TVs in 1955.  The ‘Flashmatic’ shone a beam of light onto a photoelectric cell in the TV.  Unfortunately, sunlight or other strong light could also... Read More--

Today’s Common Practices will become Obsolete

Joseph Lister In 1865 an eleven year old boy, James Greenlees, was run over by a cart in Glasgow.  He was rushed to the Royal Infirmary with a gashed leg containing a multiple fracture.  The normal outcome of this kind of injury at the time was either amputation or death through infection (or sometimes both).  Fortunately for Greenlees, the surgeon who treated him was Joseph Lister, At that time... Read More--

The Raid on Entebbe – A Tale of Two Leaders

Idi Amin Yitzhak Rabin                     On June 27 1976 Air France flight 139 from Tel-Aviv to Paris was hijacked following a stop at Athens airport.  Security at Athens was lax and four terrorists boarded the flight.  Two were German, Brigitte Kuhlmann and Wilfried Bose and two were Palestinian.  The plane was forced to fly to Benghazi, Libya,... Read More--

Lessons in Innovation from Rome’s Arch Enemy

Hannibal (247 – 182 BC) was an illustrious general of the North African state of Carthage, Rome’s enemy and rival for control of the Mediterranean.  His father was a Carthaginian general, Hamilcar, who made his 9 year old son swear undying enmity for Rome.  As a boy Hannibal went to Spain, which was under Carthaginian control, and trained to be a soldier.  At the age of 26 he was put in command... Read More--

How will we Solve Problems like Global Warming?

The great advances mankind has enjoyed in health, prosperity, food production and longevity are largely taken for granted.  Around one billion people have been taken out of extreme poverty in the last 20 years.  The march of progress in technology is remarkable – the computing power in your mobile phone is many times that which first put men on the moon. Science, innovation, entrepreneurship... Read More--

Idealize the Answer

When you are looking at a tricky problem try specifying the ideal answer in a world where there are no constraints.  What would a perfect solution look like if we had unlimited resources to achieve it? In the book, Idealized Design[i], Russell Ackoff, Magidson and Addison describe how Bell labs did just such a thing with the telephone.  In the 1950s the VP of Bell labs challenged teams of engineers... Read More--

John Harrison – the master craftsman who solved the Longitude Challenge

On October 22 1707 a fleet of the Royal Navy under the command of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell encountered severe weather near the Scilly Isles off the south-west coast of England. Four ships ran aground and were wrecked with the loss of 1400 sailors including Shovell himself. The main cause of the disaster was the inability of the seamen to accurately calculate their positions. In those days navigators... Read More--

Adversity can be a Spur to Innovation – as shown by the Greatest of Composers

Possibly the greatest composer of all time and certainly the most revolutionary was Ludwig van Beethoven.   Before Beethoven classical music was genteel, calm, structured according to strict rules and designed to please wealthy patrons. Beethoven introduced the Romantic Movement with music that was powerful, disturbing and passionate. He composed nine symphonies, five piano concertos, one violin... Read More--