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Creative Genius at 94: Here’s How!

By Shlomo Maital

John Goodenough and his team at University of Texas (Austin) “have just set the tech industry abuzz with his blazing creativity”, writes Pagan Kennedy, in the New York Times.   “He and his team filed a patent application on a new kind of battery that, if it works, as promised, would be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles.”

   This is not Goodenough’s first invention. At age 57 he co-invented the lithium-ion battery that shrank power into a tiny package; such batteries now exist in nearly all devices at home and at work.

     OK – another genius. Nice. But what is unusual about Goodenough???

     His age.

       He is 94 years old.

       I often speak to groups of senior citizens, and tell them to restart their creative brains… reject the idea that you have no ideas under gray hair. It’s false!!   I know a Technion colleague who invented an amazing cure for cancer after age 70.  

       Here is what Goodenough says:   He started in physics, meandered through different fields, picking up clues as he went along. He hopped sideways into chemistry and materials science, keeping his eyes on social nad political trends. “You have to draw on a fair amount of experience in order to be able to put ideas together”, he notes.

     PUT IDEAS TOGETHER!   That is creativity. And who can do it better than 94 year olds, who have seen and learned so much about life?

       Thanks John! I’m 74. So maybe in two decades I will still have ideas….that create value.

       Remember the name: Goodenough. What is,   was not good enough for Goodenough. Even at 94.


Innovator – Ask Dumb Questions!

By Shlomo Maital

 dumb questions

   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.


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital