Saturday, November 23, 2019

Loonshots must go forward

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. My cousin Sally Stevens suggested Loonshots (2019) by Safi Bahcall.

I looove the idea of a "loonshot." Safi Bahcall defines a loonshot as "a neglected project, widely dismissed, its champion written off as unhinged."

Bam! Go no further, I love the concept. But, hey, what exactly does that entail?

I started reading Loonshots like there was no tomorrow, and I powered through the book, even though I slowly lost that loving feeling.

How do we teach creativity and innovation? I find that to be wildly tricky, and I'm not so sure that often works with our conventional schools in 30-person classrooms. Innovative thinking typically gets shimmied out of students, oh, by around fourth grade or so. I find that innovative students need innovative parents, or innovative mentors, to foster creativity. That's more rare than it should be.

In Loonshots, I respond to the basic rules on how to create innovation:

1. Separate the phases. 2. Create dynamic equilibrium. 3. Spread a system mindset.

What this means is that each organization has a mixture of "artists" and "soldiers." These must be respected equally, but they must be separated. Leaders must act as gardeners of both, and we must guide the members of the organization to look at themselves as part of a system and repeatedly ask "why" it's doing certain things and "how" to improve.
So I respond to the basic rules of what creates a loonshot and the prescriptive portions of the book. But the book is mostly narratives about loonshots from yesteryear. I would have preferred more about how to harness loonshots now and in the future.

I'm not sure why I didn't respond to the narratives in the book. I think it's just the writing. They seem to be written without much passion or flair. Rather, they're written to prove that a loonshot is indeed a real thing. But one question remains: Is it really?

Here's the deal. Around the same time I was reading this book, I was helping my AP English Language class understand common fallacies and see if we ever subscribe to fallacious thinking. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a fallacy that, in essence, is faulty causality. Just because B follows A, it doesn't mean A caused it.

In every narrative in Loonshots, Bahcall goes back in history to prove that loonshots caused this incredible event in history. Madness! How in the world could a non-defined term — loonshots in this case — cause a major historic event in retrospect? Couldn't we do that with any selected historic events and prove pretty much any theory?

To me, books need to seek truth more than anything else, and I'm not sure Loonshots really does that. However, I must say that the world is so desperate for new ideas on creativity and innovation that we'll take Loonshots. We need more and more ideas on innovation, but we need to look forward, not to the past.

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