Why Leaders Need An Orbital Perspective

The Orbital Perspective

Live on this planet long enough and you will have an experience that changes your life perspective. Whether its watching someone heroically battle a disease or your own near-death experience, these moments linger in our memories and impact our future.

Ron Garan also had a life-altering experience, but not one on planet Earth and not one most of us will personally experience. Col. Ron Garan is an astronaut who has logged 71 million miles in orbit. On the International Space Station, Ron was struck by the fact that 15 nationalities collaborated on creating an engineering feat in space. His perspective shifted as he gazed back at our planet, realizing that we needed to apply the same creativity to working together for the good of our world.

Garan, Ron

I had the opportunity to ask Col. Garan questions about his work, his experience, and his new perspective. His recent book, The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles, gives us the opportunity to glimpse into a new view of our potential.

 

“There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth, only crewmates.” -Ron Garan

 

What is the “Orbital Perspective”? 

The Orbital Perspective is a call to action to shift our perspective from looking at things as they affect us locally, in the short term, to how they affect us globally over the long-term. It’s a shift from looking at the next election campaign or quarterly report to looking at the 20-year plan and beyond. It’s the acknowledgement that each and every one of us is riding through the universe together on this spaceship that we call Earth, that we are all interconnected and family. It’s the understanding that there are no passengers on Spaceship Earth, only crewmates and as crewmates we have a responsibility to mind the ship and take care of our fellow crewmates. It’s the acknowledgment of the sobering contradiction we see when we view our planet from space between the amazing beauty of our Earth and the unfortunate realities of life on our planet for a significant number of its inhabitants. It’s the firm belief that nothing is impossible — that it is within our power to eliminate the suffering and conflict that exist on our planet and that we do not have to accept the status quo. Above all else, the orbital perspective is the acknowledgement that we need each other. The days are long gone where we can effect the type of change that’s required by adhering to the old way of doing things or having a go it alone attitude.

 

“The orbital perspective is the acknowledgement that we need each other.” -Ron Garan

 

Journey into Space

It’s May 31, 2008. You are about to journey into space. You say you were surprised at how calm you felt as you were “strapped to four and a half million pounds of explosives.” How did that feel?STS-124 Launch White Room

I did say that in the book, but then I go on to say, “Sitting there, I felt some apprehension, of course. But I was also reassured by the idea that what we were about to do would make a contribution to humanity and, at this point, that the outcome of the launch was largely out of our hands.” To me, it was a risk-benefit tradeoff. In this case the benefits greatly outweighed the risk. I also wondered what I was getting myself into.

Describe the first time you looked down at Earth. Was it different than you expected?

The thing that really struck me when I looked at the Earth for the first time from space was how thin our atmosphere is. It was very sobering to think that the paper-thin layer of our atmosphere is keeping every living thing on our planet alive. But also the overwhelming emotion was intense gratitude. Gratitude for being given the opportunity to experience that perspective and gratitude for the gift of our indescribably beautiful fragile oasis we call home. The view was basically what I expected; the emotion that is caused was not.

 

“Working together multiplies cost effectiveness while reducing duplication of effort.” -Ron Garan

 

The Importance of the Worm’s Eye View

Orbit Shifting Innovation

 

How do you create the type of innovation for the history books?

Why did record producers reject Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody?

What are the 8 enemies of innovation?

 

After twenty years of research in the field of innovation, Rajiv Narang and Devika Devaiah authored a terrific book, Orbit Shifting Innovation.

If you’re interested in small shifts, slight improvements, and new versions of an existing product or service, then you can pass.  Orbit shifting innovation is all about huge, disruptive, groundbreaking transformations.  With an orbit shifting innovation, history is created.

I had the opportunity to ask Rajiv and Devika about their work.

 

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” -Steve Jobs

 

Experience An Orbit-Shift

 

Your new book is the result of 22 years of work in the field of innovation.  Would you define “Orbit-shifting innovation” and share an example?

Orbit-shifting innovation happens when an area that needs transformation meets an innovator with the will and the desire to create, and not follow, history.  At the heart of an Orbit-shifting innovation is the breakthrough that creates a new orbit and achieves a transformative impact.

 

There is nothing called a saturated market, just saturated mindsets.

 

Orbit-Shifting Water Purification

 

The Swiss firm Vestergaard Frandsen has developed an Orbit-shifting product that is and will continue to have a transformative impact in areas where there is a pernicious shortage of clean drinking water.  The entire water purification industry is locked into the mindset ‘Purify at the source and then drink.’   So bottled water is purified at the source or in factories, and then supplied through retail to consumers.  Home water purifiers either have pre-purified water dispensers or purify the water which is filled into containers (jugs and bottles) and then dispensed.  LifeStraw broke this industry mindset by making it simultaneous: purify as you drink.  The real shift that LifeStraw made was not in miniaturizing the system; deploying technology to make it smaller, sleeker and speedier is a given in the natural progression of development and growth.  It is the delivery mechanism in the format of the straw that changed the game comprehensively.  By putting a miniaturized system into a straw, LifeStraw broke the mental-model boundary from ‘purifying and then drinking’ to ‘purify as you drink’ (Vestergaard Frandsen).

LifeStraw

You can literally drink water from any source:  This straw filters 99.9 per cent of water-borne bacteria and parasites.  A single straw costs about US $6.50 and filters about 1,000 liters of water, which is enough for one person for one year.  This has bought potable water within the reach of millions of people for whom traditional water purifiers or bottled water is simply not affordable.  Vestergaard is truly saving lives with this Orbit-shifting straw by safeguarding against waterborne diseases, which are among the commonest sources of illness.  No wonder then, it has been named LifeStraw.

What’s more, Vestergaard was originally a clothing company in the fabric industry.  And yet fabric became the trigger, rather than the boundary, to create the LifeStraw – its central component is a cloth-based filter membrane.

 

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” -Albert Einstein

 

The Enemies of Innovation

 

I’m interested in your view on the enemies of innovation.  You point to a survey by Business Week and BCG that identified the enemies as:

  • lengthy development times
  • lack of coordination
  • risk-averse culture
  • limited customer insight
  • poor idea selection
  • inadequate measurement tools
  • dearth of ideas
  • marketing or communication failure

And those “enemies” would be the expected ones.  You, however, say that all of those are really manifestations of something much deeper.  What is it?

From our experiences in ‘Making Innovation Happen’ with over 250 Orbit-shift projects over the last 20 years, we find that these are not the real enemies, these are merely symptoms. The real enemy is the underlying mindset gravity.

02fig2Mindset gravity conditions and limits even the most brilliant teams and organizations, layers of invisible constructs and beliefs that unknowingly limit the thought spectrum, reduce the exploration space and stifle new possibilities.

Most organizations and teams have a tendency to settle into an orbit that works, that is reasonably successful, that is fairly predictable and one that minimizes uncertainties.  The more settled an orbit, the greater the desire to cling to it – the greater is the accumulation of gravity – gravity that prevents a move into the next orbit.

 

We need to hire mavericks; only people with this kind of a rebellious attitude can come up with innovative ideas and see them through to the end.