Friday, March 9, 2012

TED 2012: Be Nice to Nerds

Regina Dugan, Director of Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, combines quiet geekiness with great leadership skills.  She asked us all to “be kind to nerds, because they change the world”. 

The theme of Dugan's talk was the need to get out there and do impossible things and eliminate the fear of failure.  That doesn't mean eliminating failure itself, just the fear of failure:  eight Atlas missions failed before one succeeded.
The history of aviation demonstrates the need to believe in the impossible.  Before the Wrights achieved the first flight, people were convinced such flight was impossible.  But the Wrights proved them wrong.    Before Yeager broke the sound barrier, people had believed you couldn’t fly faster than the speed of sound.

Now DARPA is on the brink of achieving Mach 20.  At Mach 20, you could reach anywhere in the world in an hour.  Recently they achieved three minutes of controlled flight at Mach 20, and learned more in that three minutes than in decades of study.  There's no way to learn to fly at Mach 20 except by flying at Mach 20.  It's not the first time that major aspirations of the military end up breaking through barriers.

At the other end of the scale, Dugan demonstrated a hummingbird aircraft flying on stage.  The hummingbird is an interesting model for flight, because it is the only bird that can fly backwards.  This aircraft is very manoeuvrable, weighs less than an AA battery, and cost a mere $4M to develop.  Easy to think of military purposes for this!

I loved Dugan's theme of removing the fear of failure.  That's such a theme in my Managing Innovation course.  Some of my students just may see this video!

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