Innovation Inspiration #019—Talk To Eccentrics

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Normally, these I² posts are about things I do to boost my creativity.

But this one is about something I didn’t do, and regret, although I’m not quite sure I knew I should have done something way back when.

You see, I was lucky enough to snag an invite to the official launch of Graham Hawkes’ awesome Deep Flight I flying submarine, down at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. Getting to see that machine up close was amazing.

I was cleaning out a drawer last weekend, and came across a bunch of slides I had never digitized, so into the scanner they went. I found a bunch of nice shots of the sub, and then a bunch of the panel discussion. And my jaw dropped when I came across this one. I didn’t even need to read the name tag; I recognized him instantly.

Dr. John Piña Craven was there!

And I did not talk to him.

I don’t remember when I first heard of Craven, but it was probably in the book Blind Man’s Bluff.

Alas, the event was 1994, so I most likely knew not of whom I was listening to. But he was the oddball on the stage, and he was sharing it with Graham Hawkes and Dr. Sylvia Earle, so I should have had a clue as to his pedigree.

My memory of his commentary is vague, but I do remember that he was a bit eccentric.

I’m not sure what I would have asked him about, but I know I am the poorer for not having that conversation.

The title of this post is the rule I made upon discovering this slide. I didn’t know who Craven was because I had not followed Rule #18, but with hindsight being 20/20, I now know that I could have still picked him out of the crowd as the most important one to talk to. An eccentric old geezer in the midst of famous geniuses who is tolerated (or even sometimes silently dismissed)? There is a reason these eccentrics are there. Because they don’t think like everyone else. And therein lies the root of their genius.

When you come across someone like this, even if they’re not (yet) famous, seek them out. And ask them to tell you something interesting—something that will get them to talk about what interests them. (Never ask the question you want the answer to—let them take the lead. They will talk to you for much longer, and in more detail.)

Author: Peter Sheerin

Peter Sheerin is best known for the decade he spent as the Technical Editor of CADENCE magazine, where he was the acknowledged expert in Computer-Aided Design hardware and software. He has a long-standing passion for improving usability of software, hardware, and everyday objects that is always interwoven in his articles. Peter is available for freelance technical writing and product reviews, and is exploring career opportunities in interaction design. His pet personal project is exploring the best ways to harmonize visual, tactile, and audible symbols for improving the effectiveness of alerting systems.

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