Every July, the title of the World’s Busiest Airport shifts to a small airport in Wisconsin as between 10,000 and 15,000 air crafts visits the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual Airventure fly-in at Oshkosh Wisconsin. Originally started by the Homebuilt Aircraft Movement, pilots who built their planes from plans. It has evolved into a smorgasbord of aviation, from start-ups to mega-corporations, from individual designers and restorers, antiques to classics, to warbirds to slick composite planes, they all come to Oshkosh each year to see and to be seen by the 700,000 attendees.
One name stands out above all of the attendees as the leader in design innovation in aviation is Burt Rutan. While his name may not be widely known outside aviation, he has made a tremendous impact to everyone who flies through his work with advanced composite materials that provide increased strength and lighter weight structures to make aircraft more efficient. Among Burt’s notable designs are the Voyager, the first plane to fly around the world non-stop, non-refueled; Also the Global Flyer, Steve Fossett’s latest record setting solo round-the-world plane and the Ansari X-Prize winning SpaceShipOne, the first private manned venture into space.
What is remarkable about Burt and his Scaled Composites team is their ability to continually innovate over multiple decades under tight time schedules to deliver unique, mission specific airframes for private, commercial and government clients. Burt stepped down as president last year and is now the chief technology officer and chairman emeritus, so will Scaled Composites continue to thrive? Speaking of WhiteKnight2, the launch platform for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space venture, Burt said “It’s the first major manned plane I was not the designer of. The press seems to think I design everything. At one point in time that was true. I’ve retired now; I’m almost 66 years old, and I’ve got to make sure that we develop within our staff other people who learn to do concept design”.
Here is the dean of the aircraft design community getting ready to retire, and he is extremely focused on making sure that he teaches innovation skills to his team so that they can continue to thrive after he flies off into a well deserved retirement. Part of that is team development, risk sharing, stepping back from doing to teaching and mentoring, and focusing on the principles to achieve the right design to meet the requirements.
How much effort do we expend as leaders to teach innovation to our teams? Maybe we should be following Burt’s approach!
A number of us had a few hours to talk with Thomas Friedman the other day and it was a thought provoking discussion. We dove into the discussion like he was part of the EDS team and negotiated our way through the "getting to know you" process in minutes.
A major part of the discussion was focused on the future of the middle class in western society in a global world. Most modern economies wealth distribution has a bell shaped curve, with a large and effective middle class. One of the concerns expressed in his books is that we could end up with more of a barbell shaped distribution of wealth, and that is just not sustainable.
We brainstormed on where the people will go who are displaced by moving work off-shore or having their jobs replaced by automation. The one area everyone could agree upon was that there is a need for an agile and driven workforce, that can effectively collaborate and move an organization to take initiative. Organizations that encourage life-long learning should have an advantage. We need to focus on learning how to learn and putting in place the infrastructure to collaborate and pass on knowledge between individuals that are in the field and globally diverse.
Since we live in a relatively free and efficient economy, there will be incentives for individuals to move to new roles, but there may be the need for more government or alignment between companies on a common framework around industries or horizontal roles.
While talking with Thomas Friedman about the issues that need to be overcome by the middle class work exiting offshore, one of the topics we discussed was the need to have greater diversity of perspective and experience.
I saw this article about FSU's investigations into the type of virtual professor that students liked to learn from, and it made me question - Is this a good idea? How does having the kind of computer modeled teacher we want to learn from really help us advance the capabilities of our students? See demo.
I can understand how it will help mass produce knowledge and capability, much like modern farming techniques help us mass produce a hybrid of corn. But will these students all fall victim to the same blight? It may be useful in a pinch for those "factory" classes that need to be taken in mass, but it can't be good for core classes.
It may be the diversity of interest and experience that keeps our students innovative and determined. I wonder if they can get that interacting with a model.
Thomas stated during our brief meeting that a student once asked him "Who will teach me how to learn how to learn?" He said his flippant answer was "Find out who your friend's favorite teachers are and take classes from them." I somehow think that having your friends say "I like the blue one," may not be quite the same thing.