Anecdotes and innovators: part II

Turn into the tailspin – what we can all learn from flying pioneer Lincoln Beachey...

By: Clare Howdle,   2 minutes

Lincoln Beachey from the George Grantham Bain collection at the Library of Congress

I have already spent one blog post extolling the virtues of Radiolab as a podcast series,  but I haven’t really talked about the podcasts themselves.  And there are a couple that I listened to on my four hour journey (see Anecdotes and Innovators Part I for details) that really got me thinking – about how using your imagination can open up whole new worlds of possibilities.

Somwhere between Exeter and Bristol, my car stereo introduced me – courtesy of the Radiolab team – to Lincoln Beachey, a man who knew doing things the same way as everyone else wouldn’t get him anywhere.

As Radiolab told it, Lincoln was one of the first pilots, a man fascinated with aviation and eager to be among the handful of humans that had taken flight. However, in the early years of the 20th century flying wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, in fact one in three flights ended in fatality, with engines giving out mid-air and pilots plummeting down in a death spiral to meet their maker.

On one such flight, Lincoln faced his fate, not by heeding the ill-fated ‘wisdom’ from others – try to turn out of the spin, or try to pull up out of the dive – but by plotting his own course. Spiralling towards the earth Lincoln turned into the spin against all the recommendations and regained control, landing the plane safely.

Aviation took a huge leap forward that day, because of one man, thinking differently.

In a second Radiolab podcast – which I tuned into as my car stuttered its way onto the Severn Bridge –the topic being discussed was playing and how all the best games demand us to think differently too.

The Radiolab hosts talked about how a study of playground children showed that at four years old, the sorts of games they play are all about being inventors – making up stories that anyone can be a part of, creating magical, weird characters and playing without any rules.

However, by the age of six, that all changes. At six, children become enforcers, creating and sticking to rules rigidly and making sure that anyone who wants to join in sticks to those rules too.

The point of this story was that the very best games combine elements of being an inventor and an enforcer – which I’m sure is true – but what I took from it, in conjunction with Lincoln Beachey’s tale was different.

We all need to play, to invent, to imagine. We need to break the rules and to do things our own way if we are going to keep discovering the world anew.

What these two podcasts reminded me is that constantly aiming to discover more keeps the world going round.

Thanks Radiolab. Here’s to discovery.

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