BOCA RATON, Fla. — A rocket scientist with NASA and a former CEO of a nationwide food chain offered their perspectives on creativity to credit union executives attending CO-OP Financial Services' THINK 12 Conference last week.
Jeff Norris, software systems supervisor with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, walked the executives through examples of vision, risk taking and commitment to illustrate how each bears on creativity.
Norris praised credit unions and revealed that he is member of the Cal Tech Employees Federal Credit Union before he launched into the first phase of his talk, which praised several people who had been involved in the invention of the telephone.
He recognized Alexander Graham Bell for the telephone but also his wife, Mabel, for being the one who recognized when it was time for the invention to be revealed and Gardner Hubbard, the financier who backed the development of the invention even though he had doubts about it.
Each of these people, Norris explained, demonstrated aspects of creativity that need to be present to nurture and develop new ideas.
He used the history of the development of the Apollo space program to illustrate how important it can be to remain open to the impulse of creativity even when it appears completely counterintuitive.
The initial ideas for a vehicle for a manned trip to the moon involved very large rockets and space ships that, had NASA stuck with them, would probably have kept us from reaching the moon. Leading rocket developers of the time backed this approach. But other, more maverick scientists argued strongly instead for a sort of vehicle that was eventually used, rockets which shed parts of themselves at different times during the trip. This approach looked widely improbable, but it turned out that was the one that was used and only that one would lead to the success of the mission, he said.
Norris' last example was Queen Elizabeth I of England who used her lifelong unmarried status to balance foreign powers and preserve the peace for her realm. Norris used this as an example of the importance of not committing one’s own resources to a given choice of action until one absolutely had to.
“The question should not be how can I build this, whatever this might be,” Norris said. “The question should be how can I avoid building this? Can I purchase it, outsource it, or develop it in another way that allows us to preserve our own limited number or resources,” he added.
Doug Rauch, former CEO of Trader Joes, described how the food chain had gone from starting out as a small chain of convenience stores founded to mimic 7-Eleven stores in California to being a supermarket chain able to withstand the rise of 7-Eleven and other supermarket chains. Rauch explained the Trader Joes had done so by moving from being a company focused primarily on developing quality but affordable private-label food products, in itself a significant innovation, to being a company that focused first on finding out its customers’ needs and then striving to meet them.
(CO-OP CEO Stan Hollen discusses the evolution of THINK over the past five years in this video.)