Gheorghe Curelet-Balan Blog

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Explorers Banter.

When I saw the Inventors, Inventions, Conquerors and Conquests – The ingredients for success Bistro Banter listed in the EinsteinFest program I was intrigued by the original combination of participants that were lined up for debate. Representing totally different types of explorers the banter debaters looked ambitious to me in their goal to draw a common ground for the ingredients for success.

I've seen in the morning of that day the exciting story of the explorers quest for Poles nicely narrated by James Delgado. He gave few hints for success during his presentation. I had the feeling that he must know more on what makes an explorer successful. Howard Burton, represented of course the explorers that use theoretical means to investigate the fascinating frontiers of the physical world. Robert Friedel explores the past of technological innovators, so he must know what it takes for an technology explorer to be successful. Mike Lazaridis is not only a technology innovator but also an outstanding entrepreneur, that created the most successful Canadian startup company.

Well, with such a lineup there was definitely something to learn. So, right after the wireless lecture I’ve secured a seat in the Black Hole bistro and ordered a beer to get into the banter mood :) I like banters since I have the opportunity to know people the way they are. Moreover it is a joy to see how the debaters are dealing with a light tease. Here are the most important ideas that I've learned.

As a host of the banter, Howard opened the debate saying that he thinks that a successful explorer is a visionary that strongly believes in his dreams. He mentioned Einstein's confidence in his theory of General Relativity. In 1919 Einstein reached its celebrity status when Arthur Eddington confirmed the General Relativity theory by measuring the light bending near the sun during a solar eclipse. When one of his students asked what if there had been no confirmation to his prediction, Einstein replied: "Then I would have been sorry for the dear Lord - the theory is correct". Howard also mentioned imagination as another important ingredient for success. He exemplified this idea with Einstein’s confession that imagination had a bigger contribution in his discoveries, than knowledge.

In this context Howard asked James about what ingredients are needed for an explorer to be successful. Using the lessons learned from his studies and experience, James considered that besides being a visionary, an explorer has to do his homework. Learn from others mistakes, be non-prejudicial, open-minded and a team player. He contrasted Amundsen successes with the failures of Franklin. Failures were caused by prejudice, arrogance, individualism and lack in adaptability to the new discovered lands. Amundsen learned from the life style (food, close, etc.) of inhabitants of the places he visited. He learned from others mistakes by using smaller boats instead of big ones. Also, during his explorations he adapted continuously to the new situations.

Howard then asked Mike's opinion. First of all Mike defined what a visionary is. Humans are capable of a special type of curiosity that involves imagination and abstract thinking separating us from the animals. Visionaries question the status quo, they don't take anything for granted, they fight complacency and are driven by an unsatiable curiosity. This reminded me of a famous Einstein quote, that I learned at EinsteinFest, about his passionate curiosity.

Mike then stated that vision has no value without the courage and determination to follow your dream. Too much faith though could be dangerous if you are not clever. He contrasted the failures of all the attempts in building flying machines with the Wright Brothers success. What made Wright Brothers attempt a success is their out-of-the-box approach in problem solving. Their success was due to the clever approach they took in building the plane. Rather than experimenting with all kind of silly suicidal attempts that others followed, they were the first that understood that in order to fly you first have to control the plane. So they focused their effort into designing and experimenting a way to control the plane at very low altitude (few feet from the ground). This is just one of the instances when I learned at EinsteinFest how ideas are colliding with each other and how the good ones win.

Besides some friendly teasing specific to a banter, all of the debaters agreed in the end about the following ingredients for success: non-complacency, curiosity, imagination, vision, courage, self-confidence, determination, out-of-the-box flexible and non-prejudicial thinking, adaptability, planning, team playing and learning from past mistakes.

That, I might say, was quite a delightful intellectual journey.


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