Friday, February 27, 2009

Busting dams at a startup

I recently had the good fortune to hear Scott Berkun speak at a UX Group of Waterloo Region event (and the great fortune to dine with him and some like-minded folks afterward). Early on in his presentation Scott observed that having an idea was only the beginning, and there was a lot more creative work to be done after that. At one point he was asked about how designers might cope with the hardship of trying to be creative and innovative in a cube farm. Scott's response was to gently dismiss this as a real constraint and to talk a little about the movie The Great Escape, observing how it showed innovation under extreme conditions.

My contribution to the movie-as-metaphor festival would be the great British war film The Dam Busters.

The Dam Busters features a visionary founder (Barnes Wallis) with an innovative idea (dropping bombs that skip along the water to avoid obstacles before hitting a dam) to solve a pressing problem (the industrial output that fed the Nazi war machine). There are angel investors (a British government committee that explores scientific opportunities to defeat the Nazis) who sustain Wallis through the hard work of proving that his idea will work. Having successfully reached the prototype stage, Wallis creates a Powerpoint presentation (a black and white movie) that he uses to sell a venture capitalist (Arthur Harris, head of the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command) on his vision. Harris appoints a CEO (Wing Commander Guy Gibson) to build a dedicated team (617 Squadron) that will bring Wallis's work to market (using specially modified Lancaster bombers), while Wallis the CTO continues to work through formidable technical challenges (including test bombs that break up upon hitting the water). The product launch date is selected (to coincide with a high water conditions behind the dams and favourable moonlight), and everyone involved works incredible hours to hit the date. Ultimately, the product launch is a great success (several dams are breached, causing massive flooding), though the costs are high.

Of course, the above is a simplified overview of a film that, itself, simplifies a complex story. Even so, I find the parallels striking.

No comments:

Post a Comment