On friday, I got the following picture joke which I thought would be a good introduction to the topic of creative thinking and simplicity... (the pencil says Microsoft Word for Blondes 1.0).
I had forwarded to some of my friends an e-mail on the difference between focusing on solutions instead of on problems. One of the two cases in the e-mail was about the Space Pen used by NASA. I quote:
The above sounded very plausible until I decided to do some more research into the pen so that I could buy one to use as a prop. That's when I came across the fact that the above is a hoax and is simply not true. Both Scientific American and NASA's own web site had more information on the pen and the manufacturer (Fisher Pen Co.) who spent $1M of their own funds to develop and patent the technology.
When NASA began the launch of astronauts into space, they found out that the pens wouldn't work at zero gravity (ink won't flow down to the writing surface). To solve this problem, it took them one decade and $12 million. They developed a pen that worked at zero gravity, upside down, underwater, in practically any surface including crystal and in a temperature range from below freezing to over 300 degrees C. And what did the Russians do...?? They used a pencil.
I normally pride myself on doing cross checks to detect hoaxes and incorrectly attributed quotes/statistics. This time, I fell into the trap and forwarded the e-mail on. The real question is why? is it because we have been conditioned to accept that NASA (and other large organizations) are bureaucratic? or are there other causes at play?
In any case - to those I have sent the 2 cases - I'm sorry.
PS: Actually, NASA did good when it came to procuring the product having paid $2.39 for 400 pens (according to SCIAM). If you want to buy one today, you would have to pay around $50. This is pretty impressive given a new introduction of technology (even if one takes into consideration inflation from the late 60s to now).