16, 2000, Gazette)
great sense of the nonsensical
Chaos, crisis, goals, and money. This gospel, touted by this
year's F.W. Angel Memorial lecturer, is the exact mix advocated
frequently by artists and arts groups worldwide. And is it any
surprise? He's a champion of creativity, originality, and breakthrough
Burt Rutan, the founder of the renowned Rutan Aircraft Factory
and Scaled Composites Inc., told a packed house at the Engineering
building that managers in engineering would do well to create
an atmosphere where workers are free to have fun, experiment,
and take risks, without the constant worry of reporting to authorities
or defending the product. In fact, Mr. Rutan argued, it is precisely
the spirit of risk-aversity that creates danger in design, stifling
engineers and other creators from losing face by questioning
their product and potentially improving it. He said the rule
should be never to defend the product.
"I have an organization of about 130 people, and we've developed
over the past 28 years a new airplane type a brand new
type from scratch on the average of one every year. So
we do that more often, in terms of having a first flight of a
new type of airplane, more often than the rest of the industry
combined. We have a lot of fun."
Speaking on the topic Breakthroughs how, when, and why
they happen, Mr. Rutan suggested instead that those who would
be truly successful embrace the spirit of entrepreneurialism
by putting money into projects staffed with talented people
then stepping away.
"If you think you are the world's best manager, and you've
gone to Harvard and you know how to manage people . . . your
only task is to go out and find the money, set the goal, and
get out of the way.
"Let the innovator decide the acceptability of the risk."
Drawing on examples from American history, he argued that discontent
and political instability can feed creativity in other
words, we design what we need when we need it.
He also shared his passion for personal air travel, arguing that
today's passenger airliners will become obsolete in the face
of evolving technology making personal aircrafts as common, affordable,
and as easy to operate as cars.
"This whole plan is to build a transportation system such
that you don't have to use the airlines very much how
we prefer to use personal cars rather than the Greyhound.
"It is possible."
Mr. Rutan and his wife, Tonya, who traveled to Newfoundland from
their home in the Mojave Desert in California, insisted they
were enjoying their stay, despite the persistent rain, drizzle,
"Please, don't apologize for the weather. Where we come
from, it never rains from April to September, and kids are let
out of school for it when it does."
He regaled the crowd of students, professors, and local business
leaders with tales of his personal experiences working with NASA,
the US Air Force, and the America's Cup challenge. In just one
anecdote, Mr. Rutan explained how he assuaged Dennis Connors'
concerns about structural breakdown with the reply, "We
make wings for aircraft. If a wing breaks, you die."
Mr. Rutan also showed images from the ultralight car he designed
one weighing only 420 pounds and exhibited an image
of the Toyota Research Aircraft he worked on the aeronautical
equivalent of the Lexus LS400 automobile.
He suggested that breakthroughs are a consequence of factors
such as survival, competition, and even embarrassment, and argued
that researchers must have confidence in nonsense the
guts to try things that may not work. He also predicted that
the great discoveries of the last 30 years, such as molecular
manufacturing, virtual reality, and improvements in communication
are not the breakthroughs themselves, but the enablers of a super
renaissance to come.
But most importantly, he argued, researchers must enjoy what
"If it's something that gives you fun that you wouldn't
have had, then I like to think of that as a breakthrough. Fun
is what gives engineers and scientists the motivation to invent