Ultimately, a breakthrough comes from non-traditional areas.  And you need to be open to looking for breakthroughs from non-traditional players.  So with the Ansari X Prize, we didn’t have the Boeings and the Lockheeds and Northrops playing.  We had these 26 different teams from very wide different areas.  

And so, Burt Rutan, a great innovator backed by Paul Allen, ended up using very non-traditional approaches in building Spaceship I.  He used tire rubber and laughing gas as the fuel.  And he used composite materials and used something called a feathered device to stabilize himself coming in.  And if you had been a traditional investor, you probably would have never backed those kinds of approaches.  

But by putting up a prize, we enabled all kinds of non-traditional approaches to be tried and ultimately to drive breakthroughs.  So, the lesson is, if you’re looking for a safe approach, you’re going to be dedicating yourself to an incremental approach.  If you’re looking for breakthroughs, you need to be willing to take huge risks and to back non-traditional approaches.  

So in this world today.  If you’re dedicated to thinking big, you’re dedicated to taking risks, measured risks, and be clear about where your goal is, knowing how you measure it when you get there.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.