The NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama recently held its Innovation and Technology Day. This annual event promotes innovation in unique and effective ways.
Hosted by the Office of the Chief Information Officer, the Office of Strategic Analysis and Communications and the Office of the Chief Technology, the event is held in a large hall and the format is what you would find at any trade show. There are “booths” which showcase a wide range of innovation projects in disciplines which include information technology, aeronautics, manufacturing, propulsion and biology, just to name a few. Attendance is open to the employees of Marshall and Redstone Arsenal and the number of attendees is quite high.
It is impressive to track the amount of innovation being conducted at Marshall, but even more impressive is the openness to share with others. One sure way to spur innovation is to talk about it, and talk they do. At events like this ideas flow both ways. Those who walk through it are subject to a continual stream of innovation, and those in the booths, showcasing their work, gain significant new insights and ideas. Clearly the event is a resounding success, hence the desire of Marshall to repeat it annually.
Innovation is exciting business, especially when you have something to show as exciting as the type of innovation being done within NASA.
We have also seen many instances among our customers where the sharing of innovation activity has led to the serendipitous discovery of new ways to solve tough problems. The challenge is in enabling that sharing. For example, one company tells the story of how one of their divisions was completely stumped in trying to come up with an approach to solve a problem. The answer, in the end, came from a completely different division that was solving a different problem and had already developed a design and technology that was easily adapted to the problem at hand.
When innovation is shared, great opportunities arise!
Consider an Innovation and Technology Day for your organization. If you work in a headquarters location with different departments, consider whether you have enough critical mass to put a show together like Marshall has done. Start small and see what happens. You will likely find, as Marshall has, that it grows in size and value each year.
Another approach could be to set up a table outside the cafeteria. Make every Wednesday, for a month or two your Innovation and Technology Day by having a different team represent at the table each week. Plan to give demonstrations, handouts, trinkets, samples and such.
If you work in a geographically distributed environment, consider running a virtual show. If you do, carry forward the lessons from the trade show format. The personal interaction is where the real sparks of innovation occur. Don't conduct one way PowerPoint presentations followed by questions. Extend things a bit and use commercially available (and free) video meeting technology to enable natural human back and forth interaction to flow through your event. You will dramatically increase the level of innovation by simply making it personal.
We can all get excited about what we do, and events such as that at the Marshall Space Flight Center are key to sustaining the excitement.