I once had a job where I was charged with reviewing research projects for development funding. The submission format was specified, and I had to score the different proposals.
One that arrived on my desk was for a project that had already received two years of funding. It had an executive sponsor, high marks for performance, and one big problem. The heart of the work was creating an application that already existed as a free download from the Internet. The free application was tested, had all the features the research project aspired to (and more), and it worked within our systems environment.
I paid a visit to the research group and demonstrated the software. I expected them to have concerns about technical details or security, but they loved the application. The group had dedicated two years of work to a project that wasn’t needed because, as they admitted, they were totally unaware of someone else’s work.
Instead of seeing, wailing and renting of garments, I found these folks were cheerful and looking forward to playing with the application I’d introduced them to. Two weeks later, I had a replacement for the doomed submission. It had the same title and executive summary, but everything else was changed. Even though I thought their submission was flying under false colors, I did a fresh review and gave it a new score.
It got funding. Part of me was irritated that — to my mind– their trickery meant another project lost out. But I am still inspired by how they cheerfully rose to a challenge that might have scuttled the dreams of other innovators.
- They may have been off on the details, but they were clear on where they wanted to advance technology.
- They were creative enough to take what they learned, see the implications, and move the research further along.
- They cultivated a relationship of trust with their executive sponsor who understood, beyond their intrinsic interest in the area of research, they were dedicated to commercial success.
- The whole team shrugged off adversity and kept trying.
Later, I ended up working directly on a few projects with the woman who led this group. I knew she could get things done. I also came to understand how powerful her intellectual curiosity was. She asked great questions and pursued the answers fearlessly. All with good humor.