Innovation Takes Flight This Week

Historically speaking, innovations haven’t been achieved single handedly. They take off when we work together.

Eureka moments are uncommon.

On the few occasions they materialize, it’s often by accident, writes Derek Thompson in Forget Edison: This is How History’s Greatest Inventions Really Happened.


Charles Goodyear, Image from “Leading American inventors” (1912)

Thompson offers several examples, like Charles Goodyear’s discovery of vulcanized rubber. Defending his experiments with rubber at Woburn’s General Store, Goodyear stumbled across the revolutionary concept when he unwittingly flicked a thick dollop of gooey rubber on a nearby potbellied stove.

Heated up, the substance sizzled, hardened and gave us waterproof rubber.

And then there’s the invention of the pacemaker.

Wilson Greatbatch completed the circuitry of his device when he mistakenly pulled the wrong resistor out from his toolbox. After he installed it, the electrical device emitted an intermittent pulse Greatbatch realized could be used to regulate a heartbeat.

More often than not, history shows us that innovation is an iterative process comprised of one incremental improvement after another.


Wright Brothers first flight, 1903 (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

There are many examples. Consider flight.

The word alone evokes images of the Wright Brothers test flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903.

But before that magical moment when they “discovered” flight, the idea and elements of flight had long since been explored in “DaVinci’s scribbling and continued all the way to the 19th century gliders of Otto Liliental,” says Thompson.

That’s not to take anything away from Orville and Wilbur Wright’s game changing idea of adding stability to the aircraft with the addition of a single cable warp.

Without it, we might still be grounded. The point is this: although they brought the key idea to flight, they weren’t alone in the innovation.

When you look back at innovations throughout history, you typically see individuals laboring over ideas in isolation.

Eventually the innovation came to fruition, but the lack of coordination between contributors took up a considerable amount of calendar.

How many of us today have that kind of time to chisel away at ideas over months or years, let alone decades?

Now, businesses, NGOs, think tanks and governments are pooling talents to move innovation along at a much faster clip – each group bringing something different to solve a problem.

They understand partnerships get solutions off the ground.

Today, we begin a two-part series on one of those innovative collaborations just announced – between Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, Zipline and UPS.


Left to right: Ed Martinez (UPS) and Keller Rinaudo (Zipline) discuss collaborative use of drones.

The trio is dropping much-needed medical supplies into remote areas of Rwanda, where the roads are washed out and often impassible, by drone.

In today’s blog, Getting Life-saving Medicines. . . from a Drone, Moz Siddiqui, Manager for Global Operational Partnerships with Gavi, says the impact could be quite significant, “Rwanda’s drone delivery operation has the potential to save thousands of lives over the next three years.”

And that’s just the beginning.

Tomorrow, we’ll hear how Zipline’s drone concept came about and the impact it could have on the field of logistics in From Weapon of War to Beacon of Hope. Co-Founder and CEO, Keller Rinaudo says, “These kinds of automated solutions represent the future of logistics in the 21st century. Fast, high urgency breakthroughs can augment existing logistics supply chains in a valuable way.”

Partnerships are bringing breakthroughs like these to the market at high velocity. Diverse backgrounds and perspectives are the fuel.

Why? It’s as simple as this: two people can do more than one.

They move faster.

They see more possibilities.

They view problems from different angles.

And they generate richer and bolder solutions – each contributing one idea after another until they have something powerful.

When we see this kind of collaboration come together, as seen throughout history, it’s got the ability to take the world further to new and inspiring heights. goldbrown2

Historical photo credit: Flickr Commons

James Rowe is Creative Director of Longitudes and co-host of Longitudes Radio.

Click the RSS icon to subscribe to future articles by this author. RSS Feed


We welcome the re-use, republication, and distribution of our content – just as long as you credit us. So we ask that you insert the following tagline when you use our content:

Reprinted with permission of Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.