Monday, July 13, 2009

Elaborate Solutions for Simple Problems

Brian Clark shares this story:

Back when NASA started launching manned spacecraft in the 1960s, they found out that the astronauts couldn’t use pens to write with while in space. The ink wouldn’t flow down through the pen in a zero-gravity environment. NASA decided to retain a man named Paul Fisher to design a pen that would work in space.

A mere $1.5 million later, they had a solution. NASA now had a pen that worked in zero gravity, in a vacuum, and in a drastic temperature range.

The Russian cosmonauts had the same problem, of course. So they used a pencil.

Now, this anecdote isn’t historically accurate, and has become a bit of an urban legend.

The truth is both the US and Russia used pencils at first, and Paul Fisher independently created the pen and sold 400 of them to NASA for a song.

The reason the exaggerated story is so widely embraced, though, is because it rings true.

We often expend large amounts of time and effort creating elaborate solutions to problems when a simple answer is right under our noses.

Source: Brian Clark, Teaching Sells Report, Teaching Sells.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff Pound can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: Fisher Space Pen.