TEDx: Innovating the Impossible

TEDx: Innovating the Impossible
TEDx: Innovating the Impossible

Vertical innovation can advance sectors, but additional dimensions of innovation can make the impossible happen.

Creating an innovation mindset means examining how we’re taught to think and how we structure industry. By changing how we expect kids to think we can encourage more – including girls – into STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) and inspire them to think in new and novel ways. By changing industry structure can encourage new forms of innovation which both creates new revenue opportunities and inspires further innovative thought.

The video follows. If you’d rather read it, the article is after that. A request. Please like and share the video, so we can get the planet thinking about innovation.

TEDx: Innovating the Impossible — The Video

TEDx: Innovating the Impossible — The Article

TEDxChichester: Innovating the Impossible - Maria and Dad

I am the daughter of a rocket scientist.

Born next to where they tested the atom bomb.

Some say that explains a lot.

Because just over thirty years ago I was the first person at the University of New Mexico to study both Computer Science and Fine Art. Yes, art and technology – at the same time.

I’ve worked in visual technology now for 25 years. I started as a programmer in video and games and ended up as a Chief Technology Officer. As CTO for a Disney / Sony joint venture I created one of the most successful video on demand movie services in Europe. Now I consult in innovative visual technology.

I’m also a BAFTA judge – that’s the British Oscars – a speaker, a writer, occasionally an actress… and I’ve got a thing for power tools.

I’ve done everything I’ve done because I’m inspired by my father.  His way of thinking has made possible what some would class as impossible.


Dad’s a genuine rocket scientistwith 50 years of practical experience.

He worked on Apollo 13 – increasing the accuracy of the guidance system for the Lunar Excursion Module from 200 miles to 3 miles.

That helped save the lives of the astronauts.

He also speaks 7 languages – 6 fluently… and built our off-grid cabin by hand – back when solar was hippy, not hip. He also collects and restores antique cars – 17 of them, writes poetry and draws feet.

To think his second-grade teacher said he’d never amount to anything!


What do you get a rocket scientist for Father’s Day? Another rocket scientist!

One who’s also into cars and solar.  Yep, I introduced Dad to Elon Musk.

I introduced them because they share a passion for innovating – not just rocketry, but everything.

Dad always says, “Learn everything about everything”, because he’s used everything he’s ever learned.

That’s how, in his late 70’s, after he retired and was invited to return as a consulting rocket scientist, he was able to increase the accuracy of a specific rocket component by 1400% using a printout, a ruler and a calculator.


Our smartphones are now more powerful than the computer that took us to the moon, yet many still struggle to make this kind of innovative leap, because they’re only thinking in a single dimension.

After 25 years of innovating visual technology, I think we need to cultivate a culture that goes beyond a single dimension of innovation.

Why? Because not only do we need additional dimensions of innovation to create a successful future, we need it if we’re going to survive.

TEDxChichester: Innovating the Impossible - Elon Musk vertical innovation

I’ll use an example that most people have heard of – Elon Musk.

Each of Elon’s companies advances each of its industries by innovating vertically.

So reusable rockets, electric cars people want to drive, sleek solar tiles and battery storage for home, business and hurricane-hit islands, open-source artificial intelligence and cybernetic interfaces between human and machines, super-fast travel, and aiming to make tunnelling finally go faster than a snail.

Incredible advancements, but it’s vertical innovation – which leads to evolution rather than revolution.

Vertical innovation is only the first step.

TEDxChichester: Innovating the Impossible - Elon Musk lateral innovation

Because when you laterally innovate across all these companies…

TEDxChichester: Innovating the Impossible - Elon Musk lateral innovation - Mars

You get the infrastructure you need for a Martian colony.

The ability to travel to another planet… and back.  Non-fossil based transport and power for a planet without oil. The ability to respond quickly with artificial intelligence and a neural-interface in the hostile environment of space and atmosphere of Mars. Fast travel between sites.  Tunneling to live underground in a high radiation environment.

See how lateral innovation changes things? Revolution, not just evolution.

TEDxChichester: Innovating the Impossible - vertical innovation

Vertical innovation.

TEDxChichester: Innovating the Impossible - lateral innovation

Lateral innovation.

TEDxChichester: Innovating the Impossible - three-dimensional innovation

Three-dimensional innovation.

Three-dimensional innovation permits the use of both sides of the brain and often occurs at an unconscious level. Why? Because limiting our thinking to just one half of our brain is scientifically dumb. And consciously we can only process a few things simultaneously, whereas unconsciously we can process millions.

Thomas Edison made a conscious effort to unconsciously innovate. He would nap in an armchair, holding a ball bearing in each hand. As he fell asleep, he’d drop the ball bearings onto pie plates. The crash would wake him and he’d write down his ideas.

Dmitri Mendeleev created the periodic table in a dream.

He did extensive research on the properties of the elements, but couldn’t identify the pattern.

“I saw in a dream a table where all elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper.”

Not only did he identify the pattern, but he accurately predicted the existence of missing elements.

Mendeleev wasn’t just a chemist. He was also a physicist, a geologist and a meteorologist.

Einstein was also a pianist and a violinist. He said, “The greatest scientists are artists as well.”

He would innovate in feelings, images, and music.  Then he would translate those ideas into words, logic and mathematics.

Dad studied anthropology, geology, chemistry, mathematics, linguistics and physics (including both quantum mechanics and relativity). He’s used all of it in rocket science. Sometimes he solves problems by thinking them through in different languages – which he visualises in an image cloud.

Learn everything about everything.  Your unconscious mind will use everything you’ve ever learned to solve what your conscious mind thinks is impossible.

Major advancements – creating the impossible – come from three-dimensional innovation.

Yes, there’s a fourth dimension – time – and only time will tell how many impossible things one can do.

TEDxChichester: Innovating the Impossible - diversity of thought

Innovation comes from diversity of thought.

So, why have we created an education system and industry that limit thought to one dimension?

Diversity in a company has been shown to create three things:

  • Better culture
  • More innovation
  • Higher return on Investment / equity

So, why, again, are we not encouraging diversity? Of thought or otherwise?

Harvey Mudd College in California only offers a Bachelor of Science degree. Its graduates make more money than bachelor’s graduates from any other American university, including MIT, Princeton and Harvard.

It’s the most expensive university in America. It’s one of the top-ranked Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – or STEM – colleges. It’s also one of the top-ranked liberal-arts colleges.

All students are required to take 1/3 of their classes in core sciences, 1/3 in their major and 1/3 in humanities, social sciences and the arts.

They’re also required to take a Computer Science class.  There’s an option for those who’ve programmed before, those who are completely new, and those who are studying biosciences.

This introductory computer science class has had such an impact that in 2016 over 50% of their computer science graduates were female. Far higher than the current average of 16%.

I did my degree in Computer Science and Fine Art over 30 years ago in the USA.

Now, I live in the UK.  Thirty years later I still haven’t found a single UK university that would let me study both Computer Science and Fine Art at the same time – even if they have both colleges.

They all say – letting students choose what they want to study is too complicated.

Unfortunately, this thinking isn’t confined to just the UK.

Remember – Harvey Mudd College’s students go on to make the most money. That means they are perceived as the most valuable to industry.  They have depth – and breadth – of expertise.


What defines us as children is endless curiosity and wonder with unlimited imagination.

Curiosity leads to a desire to learn. Wonder leads to passion. And a world without limits leads to 3-dimensional innovation.

A 16-year old girl named Kavya Kopparapu created Eyeagnosis, a visual diagnostic tool.

She was inspired because her grandfather, who lives in India, got diabetic retinopathy which can lead to blindness.

She combined a smartphone app with a 3D-printed lens and off-the-shelf Artificial Intelligence which she trained with tens of thousands of images of eyes.

Millions who would have gone blind because they couldn’t afford diagnosis with a multi-thousand-dollar retinal imager will be able to get a diagnosis with a smartphone photo.

What if a teacher told her she’d never amount to anything because she wasn’t selecting topics from the curriculum?


I never would have studied Computer Science – and become a Chief Technology Officer – if I couldn’t also have studied art.

A few years ago, I asked a room of 200 women in the UK if they would have gotten into technology earlier if they could have studied all the things that interested them – at the same time.  200 women raised their hands.

What drives you is the passion.

What enables you are the tools – like technology.

If we want more kids interested in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – find out what drives their curiosity and wonder.  Introduce them to tools like technology, but also let them bring their world without limits – where they can learn everything about everything – at the same time, innovate in three dimensions, and make the impossible happen.

TEDxChichester: Innovating the Impossible - bucket

I’ve spoken recently to a few of the world’s most innovative corporations. They have all looked at my background and asked: “Are you Product OR Technical?”

OR? I am Product AND Technical AND Strategy AND Innovation – amongst other things.

Dad calls it “bucketeering”. Putting people into buckets. Pre-defining and limiting the potential of an individual.

Bucketeering simplifies the world to a single dimension: vertical.

Buckets come from fear – a fear of failure – a desire to be safe.  If someone is in a bucket they are predictable. Manageable. Replaceable.

TEDxChichester: Innovating the Impossible - conclusion

Safe, simple and single-dimensional doesn’t get us to Mars. Dad and Elon both know that you’re gunna blow up a few rockets before you get there.

Yes, three-dimensional thinking is more complex than one dimension.  But humanity is built to handle it. Children are not afraid of multi-dimensional thinking.

Success – our survival – requires innovation, not playing it safe.  Diversity of knowledge as well as depth of knowledge is what produces that innovation.

Who do you want in your company? Who would you want on Mars? Someone who must do something in a bucket? Or people who can solve problems we’ve never encountered before?

Stop bucketeering. Learn everything about everything.  And make the impossible happen.

Feeling inspired? Leave a comment!