Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Simple Solution Anecdote

When NASA began the launch of astronauts into space, they found out that the pens wouldn't work at zero gravity (Ink won't flow down to the writing surface). In order to solve this problem, it took time and millions of dollars. They developed a pen that worked at zero gravity, upside down, underwater, in practically any surface including crystal and in a temperature range from below freezing to over 300 degrees. The pen would work due to the pressurized ink inside. And what did Russians do? The Russians used a Pencil!

The lesson of this anecdote is a valid one, that we sometimes expend a great deal of time, effort, and money to create a "high-tech" solution to a problem, when a perfectly good, cheap, and simple solution is right before our eyes. The anecdote offered above isn't a real example of this syndrome, however. Fisher did ultimately develop a pressurized pen for use by NASA astronauts (now known as the famous "Fisher Space Pen"), but both American and Soviet space missions initially used pencils, NASA did not seek out Fisher and ask them to develop a "space pen", Fisher did not charge NASA for the cost of developing the pen, and the Fisher pen was eventually used by both American and Soviet astronauts.

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