What’s in it for me? Get insight into innovation in action.

What do Renaissance scientists charting the movement of the planets, military planners battling Hitler’s U-boats and an American airline getting to grips with a newly deregulated market have in common? Well, their successes were the result of pursuing loonshots – ideas that seem downright crazy right up to the moment it becomes unthinkable that anyone ever did things differently.

But here’s the thing: for every world-changing idea, there are dozens – if not hundreds or thousands – that don’t pan out. As Thomas Edison once put it, progress is measured in failures: each defeat rules out one possibility and brings you that much closer to the solution. On the one hand, that makes experimentation vital. On the other, it means that real progress is expensive, time-consuming and ultimately risky.

Those three words fill every risk-averse, efficiency-maximizing organization with an eye for the bottom line with dread. That’s why they often end up missing out on the next big thing. So what’s the answer? Well, as you’ll learn from the examples in these blinks, there is a way to balance innovation and what the author, Safi Bahcall, calls franchising – keeping the already successful parts of an organization ticking over. The secret is to separate the two activities and provide a sheltered, protective space for creatives to work on their ideas. Think of it as a loonshot nursery.

So read on to learn how the most successful organizations do that, and

  • why the US military took a pass on an early radar prototype;
  • how even proven innovators can end up in blind alleys; and
  • what loonshots can tell us about the history of the West.