I’ve been fascinated by the reports from last week about the British man who spent $750 on a homemade high-altitude balloon and basic camera that captured spectacular photos from space, which NASA spends hundreds of millions of dollars to capture.
Robert Harrison, a 38-year-old father of three and space enthusiast, rigged a $100 Canon pocket digital camera and GPS device inside a polystyrene box tethered to a helium balloon. It was all held together by duct tape. He then sent the contraption up 22 miles above the earth. During its ascent, the camera was set to take 8 still photos and a short video every five minutes.
Once the balloon reached an altitude of 22 miles, it popped (as he had predicted), and a parachute gently brought the two-pound box back to the ground. Harrison then used a GPS locator to track the box, which he found 50 miles from his home in West Yorkshire, England. He then posted his unbelievable photos on Flickr.com, which caused quite a stir in the space and engineering circles.
According to reports, Harrison has launched a total of 12 high-altitude balloons since October 2008 when he started the hobby.
Harrison said that NASA called him to ask “how he did it so cheaply?” He told them: “You just need a little technical know-how. I know nothing about electronics and what I do know, I learned from the Internet.”
Many companies and organizations, like NASA, spend millions each year to accomplish tasks using the same old methods. Why? Because “it’s always been done this way,” and once you set up a system and culture around a certain process, it’s hard to see doing it another way.
What’s needed is a different perspective that helps compel a management team to look at an objective in a new way. This can sometimes come in the form of an outside force, such as a merger or down-sizing. Or, it can come from a new executive, manager or team member brought in from the outside. Or, it can be grown internally through innovative training and a corporate culture that challenges the status quo and incents employees to do so.
Robert Harrison was not frozen in place from years of process inertia. He used fresh thinking and widely available, inexpensive technologies to achieve results that had eluded even the most experienced professionals.
Artists, photographers, and cinematographers know that perspective is critical to their work. Simply put, it can mean the difference between success and failure.
Corporate executives and managers should likewise embrace the importance of perspective in their work, and its impact on more innovative products, services and processes. I’ll bet you $750 it would take your company or organization to new and exciting heights.