Chadchai Krisadapong/Dreamstime
Office workers wearing facemasks

Release Your Spirit of Innovation

Aug. 17, 2020
Accepting our "new normal" doesn't have to mean giving in to discouragement. Unlikely as it may sound, NASA's efforts to put an astronaut on Mars offer some perspective.

As the pandemic drags along into another month, it’s easy to turn from disappointment to discouragement. Every time we toss out phrases such as “the new normal” we subtly concede that this predicament creates a more permanent change in our lives. As a result, we seem more bound by its limitations.

And yet exploration goes on. Machine Design’s cover story this month focuses on the tools and technologies needed to send astronauts to Mars and return them safely. As daunting and dangerous as putting a man on the moon seemed 50 years ago, this extraplanetary voyage is an even greater challenge—and, if successful, an even greater human achievement.

We have propelled satellites to the furthest reaches of our known solar system. They just never were designed to come back. Add a human element to such a journey, and the stakes become greater—and our need for every ounce of human ingenuity becomes a literal matter of life and death.

In the midst of all of this turmoil on Earth, these tests continue, and this goal is one to which we have committed our time and money and talents. We continue to ask the fundamental questions of “how” and “why” as we stretch our understanding of the natural forces that constrain us. In that inquiry, we learn how we can use those forces rather than allow them to use us.

It is a lesson we earthbound humans might ask as well in these times. I’ll leave the larger philosophies to others, but I will ask a business question: How are you preparing your company for what comes next?

If the specifics of that answer seem unclear at the moment, then we look to history to tell us that such global events are cyclical, and that from the depths of these chasms comes a soaring recovery. Things may change, but they do get better.

However, just believing that concept isn’t enough in a time of turmoil. You have to imagine, to prepare and to innovate. Waiting until things get better will put you right on par with everyone else who waits, but far behind those are doing the work now to capture the momentum for growth.

An economist at the National Fluid Power Association’s Industrial and Economic Conference noted last month there is reason to expect economic recovery in the near term and a full recovery over the next 18 months. Those who seize on that knowledge will be prepared to reap the benefits. “You’re going to be able to get your business further faster while others sit back and wait,” he said. “Sitting and waiting is not an option.”

This means investing, today, in your people and processes. It means trying new concepts and designing new solutions to old concepts. It means envisioning your operation as it could be rather than simply accepting it as it is.

Those who propose to take us to Mars are not expecting the planet will get any closer to Earth. They understand the challenges and the many dangers. They invent and persevere because it’s what we do. That spirit of innovation was not defined by the plagues and wars that have derailed mankind in past centuries, and it cannot be deterred by the infirmaries of this one.

In early October, Mars will be visible in the morning sky. It will be a bright spot to begin our day, a distant challenging milepost in our imagination. It also is a reminder to keep our heads up. There is something amazing on the horizon.

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