Stuck in Ruts

Another interesting tidbit from last night’s Innovation class.  Prof asks the question–why are the engines on the space shuttle only X’X” in diameter?

His answer (take a deep breath): because they have to be shipped from Utah to Texas through a mountain pass railroad tunnel that is just wide enough to fit a train car based on standard US rail gauge of 4′ 8.5″, a seemingly arbitrary measure that can be traced back to the first rail engineers who used tools imported from the UK, where such tools were originally borrowed from the trade of building wagons which spaced wheels according to rutted country roads that were orignally rutted by Roman chariots that were built to be just wider than the width of two horses running side by side.

The moral of that longwinded parable?  ‘The conventions of the most advanced engine in the world are determined by the width of a 2000-year-old horse’s ass’

While overly cute and highly suspect from an empirical standpoint, there are two points here relevant to both building brands and marketing the clean technologies of the future:

First, the more obvious (and the prof’s intended lesson): the power of inertia is huge and should always be questioned; don’t design things based on conventions just because they seem like the ‘right’ thing to do at the time, design tools that best serve your needs.

Second, the more subtle but maybe more practical lesson: the power of inertia is huge and should always be respected.  Don’t reinvent conventions you don’t need to reinvent; you’ll benefit from the semi-compatible, indirect networks of already-developed products and user expectations.  Also, brand or biodigester, be careful what you build today — its implications may be felt for far longer than you imagine.

© Ryan Cunningham 2008

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thoughts at the collision of business, brand and creativity

I'm Ryan Cunningham. I help companies and culture play nice with each other. At CREATURE we call this Brand Strategy, a term that carries a nice halo of reliability and structure. Here, I'm just another guy who thinks about the world and writes it down from time to time.

The result is a pile of knowledge to be used in, and for, the future. Feel free to sift through the heap for useful connections.

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