Out of Control Policy Blog

"If you don't have a consensus that it's nonsense, you don't have a breakthrough."

I just came across a very interesting passage in a Time article from Nov 04.

The passage explains how Burt Rutan came up with the design that won the X Prize. There's the exhilaration of the "aha!" moment followed by the inevitable skepticism from those who think he's nuts (which is always so enjoyable in hindsight).

The market process is so often described as dog-eat-dog, hyper-competitive Gordon Gekkoism that it's easy to overlook the creativity inherent in entrepreneurial discovery:

    [G]etting a human into space is the easy part; it's getting them back that causes the real trouble. The friction of the atmosphere, combined with Earth's gravitational pull, creates an intense and deadly heat. The space shuttle solved this problem with millions of dollars' worth of tiles on its underbelly (although, as a shocked world saw last year, that system is not foolproof).

    Rutan woke up one morning six years ago at his desert home in Mojave, Calif., with a heat-beating idea no one had considered before: Why not build a space plane with wings that hinge up at its highest altitude, creating a feathering effect so it floats gently back to Earth like a shuttlecock in a game of badminton? Rutan quickly sketched out his idea and started showing it around.

    The reception was muted. Rutan was widely respected in the experimental-plane-building industry, having designed Voyager, the first aircraft to make it around the world nonstop without refueling, which his brother Dick helped fly into the record books in 1986. But the design for SpaceShipOne inspired near universal derision. "When I first saw it, I thought he'd lost his mind," says Mike Melvill, Rutan's oldest employee, longtime friend and faithful test pilot.

    To Rutan, the raised eyebrows proved he was on the right track. "If you don't have a consensus that it's nonsense," says Rutan, "you don't have a breakthrough."

Quite a bit different than "Greed is good."

Ted Balaker is Producer


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