Explorer, pilot and psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard observed that oftentimes, when hearing people speak about their passions, projects and aspirations, they’d find themselves confronted by naysayers opining that these dreams would be impossible to achieve “because nobody has done it before.”
“This is the stupidest answer,” he says. “It should be exactly the opposite. It is precisely because no one has done it before that we have to try.”
He should know: Bertrand completed the first solar-powered flight around the world in a plane, the Solar Impulse, that most experts said would be an aviation impossibility. “Too big, too light and impossible to control in flight,” was the general consensus.
Bertrand, President of the Solar Impulse Foundation and initiator of the project, begged to differ. And as we now know, after overcoming technical, human and operational challenges that had never been faced before, he and his team achieved the “impossible” with Solar Impulse’s history-making, 40,000-km flight around the globe in 2016.
Bertrand likened the experience to being in a science fiction movie set in the future. But it came with the realization that “it’s the rest of the world that’s stuck in the past.”
“Freedom is not when we can do everything. Freedom is when we can think in every direction without limitations.”
When great minds meet
Bertrand Piccard may have been the first to circumnavigate the globe in a solar-powered plane, but Rob Lloyd, CEO of Hyperloop One, is reinventing mobility at its core. The pair had a lot to share about how to make big, seemingly impossible dreams a reality when they took the stage together during a powerful exchange at the 2017 edition of the Movin’On World Summit on Sustainable Mobility in Montreal.
7 essential tips for getting big ideas off the ground
1. Don’t try to convince everyone to support you.
It won’t work — it takes years to create consensus. Identify one person or institution to give you credibility, said Bertrand. In his case, it was the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne that was looking for an interesting, transdisciplinary project.
2. Find partners, not sponsors.
Don’t ask people to pay for your dream. It needs to be win-win and “useful to them.”
3. Do it now or never.
Without money or tech in place, Bertrand’s team worried it was too early to announce their mission. “We have to burn the bridges behind us to be obliged to move ahead,” he said. “If the world knows what you’re going to do, you can never give up.”
While many startups prefer to remain close-mouthed until they achieve their objectives, Rob believes that committing to a vision and being publicly ambitious is what pushes stakeholders to feel the pressure and follow through.
4. Good teamwork is 1 + 1 = 3.
Find people completely different from you. Bertrand’s partner André Borschberg is a jet fighter pilot and engineer. “In every problem, there was his vision of the world and my vision of the world,” he said. “We had to combine our visions to make a third one.”
5. If you want to innovate, go outside the system.
To build the most efficient airplane in the history of aviation, Solar Impulse hired a shipbuilder. Why? They were the ones who didn’t think it was impossible. “It was not the people who were selling the best candles who invented the lightbulb.”
6. Cultivate risk.
Rob added that society has also made risk too costly. The system of good or bad, win or lose, and pass or fail creates risk aversion in the corporate and academic worlds, he said. This slows us down. We need to make failing acceptable again.
7. Drop the paradigms.
A strong proponent of challenging perceptions of what’s impossible, Bertrand says he often thinks of his great-grandfather, who was the first to install a phone in his town. His neighbours thought it impossible that cumbersome wires could be strung from every home. We now know a single line can feed many others.
For Bertrand, this proves that our initial reasoning can be deeply flawed. While we often believe our first thought to be intuition or gut instinct, he thinks it’s actually a layer of preconceived ideas. “[We must] identify the paradigm that is limiting us and change it.”
Charting the next course
Bertrand’s next journey, The World Alliance for Efficient Solutions, aims to promote and advise clean technologies through a federation of entrepreneurs, startups and corporations.
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