3 Lessons on Innovation from The Martian

3 Lessons in Innovation from The Martian

Everyone is talking about the latest sci-fi thriller, The Martian, which stars Matt Damon (Interstellar, The Departed), is directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down) and is adapted from Andy Weir’s novel about Mark Watney, a marooned astronaut who uses all his wit and ingenuity to survive on the inhospitable Mars.

The sci-fi movie is being heralded for being more science than fiction, having consulted extensively with NASA and having featured scientifically accurate technology so real and feasible that movie-goers thought the movie was based on a true story.

I was blown away at how beautifully the movie was done and relieved that it lacked the cliche scenes typical in space blockbusters.  You won’t find the super smart astronaut doing ironically non-super smart astronaut things. You won’t find an astronaut glancing through his rocket ship window at the little blue dot called earth with somber commentary on human insignificance. And you won’t find any overly science-y jargoned explanation between scientists that only confuses the audience more.

What you will find is a pure survivalist tale that illustrates the power of human perseverance and collaboration to do brilliantly innovative things. And it will sure make you feel proud to be a human Earthling.

So here are 3 lessons on innovating for you Earthlings out there from The Martian. (Caution: Some spoiler alerts- so go watch the movie before you read this!)

To innovate, reframe and solve the right problems, one at a time

At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you and you’re going to say, this is it…Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work… You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.

This was probably one of the best quotes from The Martian. It leaves you feeling that nothing is really impossible or hopeless. Although faced with terrifying circumstances, aka being stranded hundreds of millions of miles away from any other living human, Watney reframed his situation and focused on solving the problems at hand, one by one. And by doing so, he kept his sanity and ultimately his life.

For Watney, the big question was “How do I survive on Mars?” – which sounds like a completely impossible scenario.  But Watney began breaking down the question into smaller, more solvable problems that he began to work out one after the other. “How do I grow enough food?” “How do I make water?” “How do I communicate with Earth?”

Of course our own big questions we ask about our own business and products may not be as life threatening (though we think it may be) – but they are often questions that feel too abstract or too complex to solve. By reframing your problem into tangible challenges – you can and will be able solve for the seemingly impossible.

To innovate, incorporate diverse perspectives and be open to collaboration

A beautiful moment in The Martian took place when the directors of CNSA (China National Space Administration) discussed whether to postpone their own mission by offering their Taeyang Shen space probe rocket to the US to help them retrieve Watney or to simply remain silent, free from repercussions since the rocket was classified information that no one knew about. Ultimately, in the name of science, they decided to reach out and help their fellow scientists.

How often do we look outside our own industry? (If you’re in financial services or healthcare, what can you learn from CPG or the tech sector?)
How often do we look outside at what other cultures are doing? (What can US companies learn from the success of Chinese products and companies?)

Often we can be narrow minded and blinded by our own expertise and knowledge in a field. However it’s diversity and collaboration that fuels innovation, which is one of the reasons why we take our insight and innovation clients on ‘safaris’ to gain inspiration from lateral industries and cultures, to open up their mind in a way that their office desk can not. It is through this exposure of diverse thoughts and perspectives that we can achieve great things.

To innovate, welcome humor

I admit it’s fatally dangerous, but I’d get to fly around like Iron Man.

This great line by Watney during one of the most suspenseful, and even ludicrous, scenes in the movie had me smiling from ear to ear, even though I was also clenching my fists in anxiety. The Martian is such an intense thriller, but it smartly keeps lighthearted with refreshing quips by Watney – which brings me to the power of humor.

Studies have shown that humor can help in ideation and creativity, allowing for more eureka! moments. Even brainstorming the ridiculously exaggerated of the imagination could help you to break out of your linear way of thinking by allowing the mind to associate new ideas/relationships more freely- and ultimately lead to more plausible solutions you wouldn’t have thought of before – and if you’re Watney- save your life.

The Martian was an uplifting story and a remarkable demonstration of human ingenuity, offering great lessons even to those who aren’t stranded in space. To all the innovators out there on Earth- take note.

Mart Watney Innovating GIF

Image Credit: IndieWire

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