Innovation From the Ashes
Almost everyone knows what 911 represents. Emergency! Help! Chaos! After September 11th, 2001, nine-one-one became nine-eleven and those numbers took on a whole new meaning.
Without a doubt, it was a day that changed the course of history — a day that woke up an entire generation of Americans to a very real threat of terror at any time, any place.
I certainly remember where I was ten years ago on September 11th, 2001. The day was so vivid for me, in such a unique way, though I was nowhere near New York City or Washington.
I was in Akron, Ohio, at a Hilton Hotel, attending a one-day innovation training being facilitated by Idea Champions.
A couple of hours into the course we were on a break, at the hotel lounge, when the news flashed on a huge TV screen — news of a plane hitting the World Trade Center, and then, a few minutes later, news of a second. All of us stood there in disbelief, shocked and confused.
What had just happened?
Our instructor, Mitch, was calm, but like most of us, in a bit in shock himself. It was much more personal for him, as he lived near New York City and had to make a couple of calls to make sure everything was OK.
The more I thought about what I had just seen; an unexpected determination began to grow inside of me. As the training progressed, those images stayed in my mind. I was determined to do… something. But what? What could I do?
At that time in my career, I was working in product development at Goodyear Tire and Rubber, with a focus on aircraft tires. I was what they call a “compounder”, a person who created compounds to make aircraft tires better.
So there I was, watching planes crash into skyscrapers, destruction everywhere, while I was in a class devoted to creation, innovating something new, making things better, not worse.
That day changed me forever.
It was the day I knew I was meant to innovate something extraordinary. I knew that if I focused, something good would come out of something so evil.
So began my journey to develop a completely new aircraft tire tread compound.
It was not easy, and I surely didn’t do it alone, but with time, hard work, and persistence, it happened.
When all was said and done, I had created a new tread compound, one of the best in the world for landing performance — a product composed of materials that many people, including a high ranking official at NASA, said could not possibly work.
But I persisted. I knew, in my gut, that with a creative approach, it had to be possible. The feelings of that day, 9/11/01 stayed with me. I remained focused on the core principles of innovation, and I let the inspiration flow from the spirit within me.
In recognition of my efforts, I was named — along with a few other collaborators — Corporate Inventor of the Year in 2008. Yes, a little bit of good did come out of that day known as 9-11.
As Einstein so rightly stated: “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”.
It’s up to each of us to find that hidden opportunity and make it real!
It’s difficult to say why we become who we become. Is it our genetics? Is it our life experience? Is it all predetermined?
I often ask myself why I was at Mitch’s innovation class on 9-11, but looking back it’s pretty obvious why. But regardless of the why, I can say without a doubt that I am hopelessly and passionately in love with innovation — maybe even addicted to it. I can’t think of anything nobler than to simply create, to innovate.
It’s what I chose to do for the rest of my life.
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