Skip the Water

Fred Wilson had an absolutely killer post the other day about a contest he was in while at MIT.  I’m reposting it here becuase it was that good.  Be sure to check out the original post and the comments, they are well worth it.

I was a mechanical engineering major (course 2) at MIT. One of the best classes in the mechanical engineering curriculum at MIT is 2.70, Introduction To Design. And the highlight of 2.70 is the contest in which everyone is given a bag of stuff from which they need to design and build a product that will compete in a contest.

My year, the contest went like this. There was a huge water tank with diving boards on both ends and a rope swing in the middle. Two contestants would put their designed product on each diving board, jump into the water, and start moving toward the rope swing. The one whose product got to the rope swing first would move on.

The “bag of stuff” was a brown paper shopping bag with an empty large soda bottle, the spring mechanism for a music box, a bunch of rubber bands, and so on and so forth.

I did what you might imagine, with the help of my friend Jim. We cut the soda bottle in half to create a boat, used the spring mechanism to power a paddle boat style propulsion system, and used the rubber bands to launch the boat from the diving board. It worked and I made it past the first race.

In the second race, I came up against a student who had a different idea. His product simply launched, like a rocket, from the diving board, flew through the air, and grabbed the rope swing in about a nanosecond. He destroyed me and everyone else and won the contest.

The lesson is, of course, is to skip the water.

I don’t think like this very often and I wish I did.  When I do, I’m on cloud nine.  There is something elegant about this way of thinking.   It’s the cornerstone of innovation and creativity.

After reading this I was left thinking;

  1. How do I get myself to think like this more often
  2. How do I get my team to think like this
  3. Is it even possible to teach this way of thinking
  4. Man, wouldn’t it be cool if I was surrounded by people who thought like this all the time.

Skip the water, YES!   Now, how do I skip the water more often.