I saw a man fly a jet pack yesterday. Jet Pack International brought their “Go Fast Jet Pack” to the Hiller Aviation Museum. The flight lasted only about 30 seconds (10mb video) and had been postponed for three hours due to fuel issues – but I still want my jet pack. What struck me about this flight (and about many of the exhibits in the Hiller Museum) was the role of user tenacity in innovation. If we aren’t thinking about what we might do, we’ll never be able to do it. This is even in the face of naysayers, especially expert ones. For example, in the Sept 2008 Hiller Aviation Museum “Briefings” (.pdf), Hugh Neeson (past Vice President of Bell Aerospace and rocket belt expert) writes,
“Will there ever be practical, affordable individual lift devices for the military or the public? Probably not. The laws of physics and chemistry rule no matter how we dream. Will the dream live on? Probably.”
This article is in conjunction with the announcement of the jet pack demonstration. (Recall too, that Thomas J. Watson (transformational President of IBM) may have said “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”). User innovation is driven by cases where users have sufficient incentive to do the work, incentive to reveal their outcomes, and where their innovations can compete with formal organizational innovation (von Hippel 2001; 2005). Jet Pack International isn’t exactly a surfer figuring out how redesign his/her board to ride bigger waves, (great documentary on this: Riding Giants) but they have just five engineers, four flight support technicians, and four pilots.  They do have a major sponsor, and they do consulting on the side – but these are still users with a dream versus a major R&D effort (e.g., Bell Aerosystems). Given I want: then individual innovation tenacity must be supported in society, and small and large enterprise. Never say never. Comments on how your organization supports this perspective would be appreciated.