What Neil Armstrong Can Teach Us About Delivering Innovation #TMUguru

What Neil Armstrong Can Teach Us About Delivering Innovation #TMUguru

This article is a free resource from the TechMeetups Guru Program where Rick Freeman is participating as our Business Innovation Guru to assist founders of startups and business leaders though practical workshops and mentoring.

The Innovation Has Landed – What Neil Armstrong Can Teach Us About Delivering Innovation

Unsurprisingly, following the death last month, of a deeply unassuming Neil Armstrong, a mini outbreak of moon landing nostalgia has been released.   Now I am really not a space geek, but, having been born in the 1960’s, I can’t help but get caught up in the emotion surrounding the Landing of the Apollo 11 crew on the moon.  Now, whilst I love the romance of the “it’s one small step…” speech what has really caught my imagination and interest is the less well known story of the moments prior to touchdown.

Due to a computer malfunction, the Lunar Landing Module was steering itselfaway from the designated landing area towards a boulder-strewn area outside the originally planned “landing ellipse”.  (And this is the old school bit I really love) By looking out of the windows Armstrong realised the imminent danger and acted. With alarms ringing out in the craft, Armstrong took semi-automatic control of the Lunar Module and with Aldrin calling out altitude and velocity data, landed at 20:17 on July 20 with only about 25 seconds of fuel left – thus salvaging the landing.

So what does all this have to do with Innovation?  Well, earlier this week I was having lunch with a previous mentor of mine who had just retired from a global technology services company having held the reins on Innovation there for the last 5 years.   What was fascinating was, as we compared notes, we both conceded that often the hardest part of successfully delivering Innovation is what we called “the last few metres”.  Just like Neil Armstrong we concluded that the best planning in the world cannot ever quite perfectly prepare you for the conditions you meet when trying to “land” a new innovation with its new user base.

Both of us were able to recount story after story of disasters, narrowly averted disasters and damp squibs that were down to the inability of the innovating organisation to manage the change and engage the user base with the new technology, operating model or product.   Many of you will remember the debacle of the launch of Heathrow’s Terminal 5.  Terminal 5 is now a fabulous, modern, slick airport terminal but its launch was massively blighted by huge failures in its security and baggage handling capabilities when it first opened.  The assumption was that everything would just work.  It didn’t and chaos rained, costing those involved some considerable sums of money.  Now T5 is an apocryphal tale but, from our sharing, we can utterly attest to the fact that week in, week out firms are wasting the money they have spent in design, development and testing by failing to manage the final implementation and user uptake.

The funny thing was that it wasn’t that people hadn’t thought about delivering the appropriate marketing, training, retooling or effort required to generate user uptake – it was rather that they just hadn’t done anywhere near enough of it at the right time.  We all seem to have a natural tendency to underestimate both what and how much it will take – in terms of effort and cost.

So, to those of you who are trying to deliver big, innovative, transformational changes – please, please, please do not scrimp on the “last few metres” and make sure you have enough support to land your innoavtion or repent at your leisure.

Thankfully for NASA, the USA and mini space nuts all over the world, enough contingency was built in to the landing protocols to avert disaster and we can remember with fondness the life and times of Neil Armstrong – still teaching us how to land 40+ years on.  Thanks Neil.

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