Malcolm Gladwell on the Norden Bombsight

I’m traveling right now, so I can’t write a lot today. Instead, I have this must-see video from the always-watchable Malcolm Gladwell:

I’m traveling right now so I can’t write a long post. So today, just watch this:

Some important points:

  • We get hung up on our technologies: the Norden bombsight made bomb dropping more accurate. However, in most cases, accuracy isn’t necessarily the problem – identifying the right target is the bigger problem. We often get so focused on the technical problem that we’re trying to solve that we fail to understand the (often bigger) underlying problems. Technologies are means to ends, and if we innovate only technologies, we will fail.
  • Innovations have unintended consequences: Norden designed his bombsight in an effort to minimize the collateral damage in war. This didn’t happen. It is nearly impossible to know how innovations will be used once they are out in the world.
  • We have to innovate for a purpose: how much effort do we really need to put into getting better at blowing people up? Or generating fractionally higher returns from financial instruments? Innovation must be driven by strategy, and strategy must be driven by values.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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5 thoughts on “Malcolm Gladwell on the Norden Bombsight

  1. Thanks for sharing such an important video! We should never blindly follow techology for tech’s sake. We need to question about the reasons and place a sound humanistic rationale why we need them and how best to use them. Sadly many people don’t really listen. Or perhaps they only listen to people who are as well known as Gladwell. Schools should focus on this emphasis. And never really think that progress must mean advance top tech for the wrong reasons. We need the technology and advance tech is great. But do it without a heart and sensitivity , it would mean only waste in many areas! Cheers!

  2. Good share, Tim. Very timely at this end.

    I think the focus on the tech is indicative of our drifting further afield in the land of What. Technology, platform, results, data – these are all “whats,” and putting the whats first is a bad idea (if not pervasive and considered “common sense” in some circles).

    Flip things around and begin with why and how. Why was this piece of technology designed? Why do people buy our products? How are we supporting the vision (the answer to why, typically)? How do our customers use our products?

    When we understand why and how, what often takes care of itself. It’s the difference between data, knowledge, and wisdom. :)

  3. Thanks Brian. I had a discussion yesterday about what vs. why with a company that I’m trying to get lined up as a research partner. They actually raised the idea that they were too hung up on what, which is encouraging…

  4. @brian good point there about why and how. Reminds me of certain products that create waste in the way they promote a sort of ‘need’ ‘fashion’. Ever wondered why we seem to overlap technologies in many similar products? And also to products that create a ‘use and throw’ culture? Reasonably some products are better designed by the team of people to determine a specific need. Then again the need is sometimes directed in the wrong path. Tough to answer it sometimes in a tactful win-win situation for all.

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