Disruptive Ideas

chicken and waffles

A couple years ago, an electric vehicle (EV) captured the overall win at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by this disruptive technology.

EVs have lots of advantages over internal combustion cars. They use less energy per mile. They offer great low-end torque, and they can be packaged to provide amazing levels of stability.

One huge disadvantage to them is the current state of battery technology. Today’s batteries are big, heavy, expensive, and somewhat unsafe.

Recently, a study was released about a new battery technology that would allow batteries to be smaller, lighter, cheaper, and most importantly, safer. Imagine your smartphone lasting a week without recharging. Imagine an affordable electric car with a 500 mile range. More importantly, imagine your recharge times to be safely shortened to the length of a traditional gas station fill-up.

If this technology turns out to be legit, the average car buyer won’t need a tax credit, or a desire to “save the Earth” to want to buy an electric vehicle. It will simply be a better choice. This would create dramatic shifts in geopolitics, local infrastructures, and energy delivery economies. All of this could occur inside of the next ten years. This “idea” is disruptive on a global scale.

However, it’s a big “if.”

It’s just research at this point. A few scientists had an idea, did some tests, and released their results.

The research has its detractors.

There’s a large group of interested parties that are heavily invested in the status quo. They don’t care if the research is good or not. They want the idea to fail either way.

Beyond that, human nature tends to discourage us from accepting unprecedented accomplishments. For instance, the idea of a “horseless carriage” seemed unreasonable before Henry Ford began mass producing them.

On top of all of that, many in the scientific community reviewing this research are questioning some of the key principals behind it. These are people who want this idea to succeed. It just doesn’t  seem possible when applied to what they already know.

Why is this research, which, “defies the laws of thermodynamics” being so widely considered?

The lead author of the paper, Helena Braga, who is also the lead researcher, isn’t the one making headlines for the breakthrough. Another research team member named John Goodenough is.

Mr. Goodenough is the inventor of the lithium iron battery technology we all enjoy today.

That’s the thing I’ve come to learn about disruption. New ideas, on their own, often fail.

My friend Jeff Turner likes to say that there are no bad ideas. I guess that could be true, but there are certainly plenty that are poorly advocated.

To be an agent of change, one not only has to have a good idea, they need to be able to sell it to others. They also need to consider how the idea will disrupt the status quo, and how those who could be disrupted will react. Then, on top of all of that, they may need to figure out how to adapt the idea to overcome the objections raised by the status quo.

Without John Goodenough, Helena Braga’s idea would not have made it this far, this fast. She’s somewhat of an outsider, without Goodenough’s more established resume. Perhaps Ms. Braga considered this when teaming up with Mr. Goodenough.

Many in my line of work worry about the lions over the hill. However, most meaningful disruption is internal. It comes quietly… from within a community… or even a single organization… championed by someone you probably already know.

I think there’s something to that. Just a thought.


Author: @tcar

I will fill out my bio as soon as I have time.

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