Innovator – Ask Dumb Questions!
By Shlomo Maital
How can one person change the world? By asking dumb questions.
Here is what I mean. Last week I spoke with a founder of a startup called Aquarius. All four founders are in their 50’s… not spring chickens. Not the twenty-somethings we often picture as startup entrepreneurs. One of the other founders is a serial inventor. And one day he asked a dumb question.
The world auto industry is enormous, selling 90 million vehicles a year, with nearly a billion vehicles on the roads today. It is a major source of pollution and global warming. Car and truck engines burn hydrocarbons, either gasoline or diesel, and heavily pollute.
Conventional car engines have worked on the same principle for at least 130 years. Gasoline is burned in a cylinder when combined with air, driving the piston up and down. The up-down motion is converted into rotary energy, to turn the car wheels. The conversion process loses huge amounts of energy, making the conventional internal combustion engine only 20 % efficient.
The Aquarius founder, Shay, asked: Why? Why convert up-down piston action to rotary wheel energy? Duh… because, like, wheels go round and round, right? For many decades, and many billions of dollars in research, huge companies have tried to improve car engines, without asking that dumb question. It’s obvious. Because wheels are round, you need rotary energy.
Shay said, wait. Let’s lengthen the piston, and use its action to charge a battery. Then let’s send the electric energy to two electric motors attached to each of the front wheels. No rotary conversion. No loss of energy.
Result: 40% engine efficiency. 40%!!! Fuel saving. Plus, the key fact, far far less pollution, because by increasing air intake of the cylinder, the fuel is burned far more efficiently. The whole engine is only 500 cc’s, about enough for a Fiat 500, yet it is powerful enough to drive a larger vehicle. The engine generates an enormous 34 kilowatts of power, more than twice the power generated, for instance, by my Toyota Auris hybrid, (which I love, and which is wonderfully fuel efficient), which has an enormous heavy battery and generates only 14 kilowatts. The Aquarius battery is very small, because there is no need to store electricity, it gets delivered immediately to the wheels.
Management consultant Peter Drucker once wrote a powerful article in Harvard Business Review, in which he challenged managers to challenge all their basic sacred cow assumptions. This is harder than you think. We are often not aware of the things we believe are true, that in fact should and must be challenged. Drucker has a checklist that helps us run down all our assumptions and smash every single one, in search of a way to change the world.
Remember the name. Aquarius. Will we live in the Age of Aquarius in the coming years? Stay tuned.