3 Secret Ways a Tech Engineer Used ‘Idea Creation’ to Compete and Beat 3 Aerospace Giants…….and Sell His Company for $350 M

The CIO/CBIO role is a powerful one. It is a position where immense strategy and tactical advantage can be obtained for a company. In this story I unravel the secrets ways of a friend of mine: who is a business-owner / technology engineer whose organic IDEAS led him to compete and beat big aerospace companies.

His small little 100 person engineering company disrupted three big aerospace companies that had outdated monolithic designs. He created a modular approach that threw the financial equation into a tailspin for his competitors. His creativity became a threat to their survival so they bought his company for a whopping $350 million.

I met my friend while we both were getting our black belts in Tae Kwon Do. One Saturday after a sparring session we grabbed a coffee and talked about life and business. I asked him how he developed the good ideas that led to his company success.

In retrospect, I was thinking that maybe he facilitated brain storming sessions at work or something similar. Of course there are reams of literature on ‘group think/brainstorming etc.’ so it is logical to assume he used one of these methods.

However, I was completely surprised by his response. He told me was that he was allergic to brainstorming. He stayed away from it like the plague and generally thought it was a waste of his company’s time.

Innovation and true creativity he explained to me came from going into his quiet basement and doodling on notebooks until he had ideas that were innovative and would bring real change and competitive advantage to his company. He would go into his quiet space and doodle, draw, and sketch technical architecture and design ideas that were going to be disruptive solutions in the aerospace industry.

He said that sitting and brainstorming is entirely too distracting for him and not productive.

It may not be popular for a CEO to discuss how he disappears into his own head, quiet, and creativity to discover new things. I think that we expect C-Level Execs to facilitate get-away sessions and group think exercises because this is what we think leaders should do. I am not sure this is the role of a C-Level Exec anymore. Why abdicate this responsibility to others when it should be right in your own lap? I think possibly we get stuck in ‘busy ness’ and forget the ‘business’ at hand is that we need to use the six inches between our ears to solve problems.

What I learned from my friend is three things:

Discovery 1: Idea Creation is not ‘Thinking Outside the Box’

Great ‘ideas’ not only lead the way to building exciting business ventures but also silence competition, and quite profitably at that!

I think, for many of us in the CIO/CBIO role-play, ‘idea creation’ has always been associated with long ‘thinking-out-of-the-box’ meetings, lateral-thinking workshops and endless brain storming. Most times, such sessions emphasize evaluation, analysis or processing an existing ‘concept’ or ideas; sometimes, ‘refreshing’ concepts to generate the next level of productivity and similar life cycles.

These processes have value but what I have learned is that the process he shared with me is not something we do and exclude the steps above.

What he taught me is that you need to create a NEW BOX and not just think ‘outside the box’. One needs to create ways of looking at things that have never been discussed or considered before.

Discovery 2: Build Your Ideas in Quiet

If you are a person that thinks best and most creatively when alone, now you are justified! I used to think that I was weird because I preferred the quiet space of a basement and a notebook to contemplate the next correct action step.

After creating and generating the ideas you have generated in quiet bring them to the table. Let your team members and direct reports or supervisors comment on them and make them better. The key is that you generate them first. If you generate enough of them this can stimulate the whole team around you to apply deeper thought too….possibly even brain storm them 🙂

Discovery 3: Innovate and Creativity through ‘Cocooning’

My friend created in the cocoon of silence without listening to naysayers in the brain storm session tell him that something he was thinking was not possible. His success lay within this cocoon of thought process!

By doodling, disengaging and reconstructing ideas on his draft of paper, innumerable techniques and technical principles led to his ‘modular’ technology which competitors could hardly duplicate.

The ‘cocooning’ process of discovering an idea is first-hand and intimate. The process of ideation also includes being able to self-evaluate raw, floating, abstract concepts and mesh them together into effective idea. The ability for the mind to synthesize sets of data and information rarely happens in a linear fashion, Insight of this caliber comes in a flash. The Life-cycle of ideation is in covering the distance from the seed of an idea to its final ‘disruptive’ or ‘real change’ goal.

Be an ‘IDEATOR’! No wonder that, the business of ideation (wiki) is a billion dollar industry today!

Close the door, shut down email, no texting, tell the kids to leave you alone, let your wife know you are working. Sit, think, and ponder….. Let the ideas flow. Don’t judge and evaluate them. As the CIO/CBIO you are in a position of immense disruption and change, but you can use this to your advantage to help yourself and your business succeed.