Innovate, Or Get Out of the Way!

"I define an expert as someone who can tell you exactly how something can’t be done," says X Prize founder and Chairman Peter Diamandis. 

What's the Big Idea?

In the preface to his play, The Doctor's Dilemma, George Bernard Shaw made the famous observation that all professions "are conspiracies against the laity." In short, they shield their own shortcomings from the public out of self-interest.

Indeed, the protection of professional interests can be traced to pre-industrial times, when the earliest guilds began to exert tight control over the secrets of their respective crafts. Master craftsmen, the professional heirs to the "experts" of today, formed these associations for the purpose of mutual protection, not innovation.

Indeed today, when an industry gets too comfortable, it becomes anti-innovation. "I define an expert as someone who can tell you exactly how something can’t be done," says Peter Diamandis, who has done perhaps more than any other man to disrupt the space industry, a feat he accomplished by designing the Ansari X Prize for the first successful private manned spaceflight, which was won by SpaceShipOne in 2004.

For Diamandis, disrupting an entire industry was not just a matter of coming up with a brilliant idea. He had to test the idea--the design for his competition--against the feedback from experts in the field. As Diamandis tells Big Think, it was really a matter of asking the right questions of the right people.

Watch the video here:

What's the Significance?

Instead of relying on the traditional aerospace players like Boeing, Lockheed and NASA ("the dinosaurs," as he likes to say), Peter Diamandis turned to another group of experts ("the fury mammals," as he likes to say) to help shape the Ansari X Prize competition. And ultimately it was groups of small teams, not corporations and governments, that prevailed in the "big boy business" of building private spacecraft.

The other key to solving a market failure, according to Diamandis, is to ask these key questions:

  • What's the root cause of a market failure?
  • Why does that market failure exist? 
  • Why doesn’t the goal you want to achieve in the world exist right now?
  • What’s keeping it from happening?
  • In the case of private space flight, Diamandis realized that capital wasn’t flowing into the market because "no one believed private space flight was really possible" and regulations didn’t allow for it.

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