Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Because No One Told Them They Couldn't

Congratulations to Bishop Kelly High School students in Boise, Idaho, for winning the "Best Overall" title for inventing the P.A.W.D., or Personal Assistive Writing Device during the National Engineering Design Challenge (NEDC) sponsored by the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS). (image courtesy of NEDC)
I love design competitions.  Where else does uninhibited free thought reign supreme?  No politics; no business plan; no ROI calculations; no worries about intellectual property or protecting patent rights -- it is the ultimate location for the entrepreneurial spirit.  Imagine the troubles associated with designing an adaptive device in the business world: E&O insurance, liability insurance, time to market schedules, IP safeguarding, just to name a few.  There is little possibility that something this simple, and this elegant, would have been designed.

What is even cooler about this design competition?  It is done by high schoolers.  I don't know about you, but I was pretty smart in high school and I still wouldn't have thought about designing an adaptive device much less actually make it happen.  Students these days are incredibly gifted if we would just properly guide them and keep all the crap out of their way.  And to see a high school that actually has an engineering department!  I may just move to Idaho.

So how do these students design such a device and win a national competition?  Are they that much smarter than we were in high school?  Do they just have a better administration and opportunities provided to them?  Maybe, but I think it comes down to the simple fact that no one told them they couldn't do it.  No one told them that you better not develop an adaptive device because someone will inevitably come at you with a lawsuit.  No one told them that insurance companies won't pay for an assistive device, so there is no monetary value in helping the disabled.  No one told them that great ideas shouldn't be followed just because someone else will be there to stand in your way.

I love design competitions.  They bring out the true entrepreneurial spirit.  They bring out the altruistic nature in those that WANT to do good, but are hindered by FEAR.  They bring out the creative minds unfettered by society's constraints.

Congratulations Coach Guy Hudson and the Bishop Kelly team.  Try spending some of that prize money on hair cuts.  {Teens these days.}
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