Just when you thought there weren’t any daredevils left, along comes Felix Baumgartner with a stunt that left many of us asking a single, collective question:
If you haven’t been paying attention, here’s what Baumgartner did on Sunday: He put on a pressurized space suit and helmet, then climbed into a small capsule and was lifted 24 miles above earth — to the very edge of space — via a giant balloon. Then he jumped out of the capsule and broke the sound barrier during a nearly 10-minute free fall, reaching speeds of 833.9 miles per hour before deploying a parachute and floating back to earth.
It was, by all accounts, a remarkable and ballsy thing to do. It was also, by many accounts, a seemingly pointless act that offers the world little or no redeeming value.
Or does it?
Our most legendary daredevils made the world a better place with their exploits. Wilbur and Orville Wright launched the era of air travel. Chuck Yeager laid the groundwork for space travel. Neil Armstrong made the case for continued human exploration.
And Baumgartner? What did he accomplish?
The short answer is, “Who knows?” And maybe that’s the point.
Innovation is a lonely thing. You do something no one else has ever done and leave everyone else scratching their heads and howling in protest. As the saying goes, “You can tell who the pioneers are from the arrows sticking out of their backs.”
Then time passes, and your vision becomes clear to everyone.
Did you join Twitter the moment you first heard of it, or did you ridicule it instead? When you first encountered XBRL, did you see it as the economic powerhouse that it is, or did you dismiss it as the latest in a long list of regulatory burdens? Are you working in the cloud, or are you fighting it every step of the way?
Groundbreaking innovation doesn’t look so groundbreaking at first. Sometimes it looks trendy, pointless, irrelevant.
Until everyone else starts doing it, too.
Baumgartner? Yeah, he was the first to do what he did. And yeah, at first glance it looked pretty pointless — cool as hell, sure, but pointless.
But don’t dismiss it. Not yet.
For starters, engineers and scientists say the stunt could provide vital data that could help future pilots and astronauts survive if they have to bail out of their high-altitude aircraft.
Beyond that, though, there’s this: Baumgartner had the guts to do something no one else has ever done. That type of innovation is rare.
It’s also been known to change the world.
Check out highlights of Baumgartner’s jump here: