Looking at Nothing: What NASA’s 1996 discovery teaches us about business innovation


space innovation

In 1996, NASA changed everything by looking at nothing.

What if I told you one of the biggest discoveries ever made by NASA, that would change how we view our human existence entirely, was made by taking a huge risk and looking into space at utterly nothing? 

In 1996, the Hubble Telescope team decided to point the telescope, the most powerful tool ever built by human beings, at absolutely nothing – a dark patch in the sky that seemed void of stars, planets, or even galaxies. 

The team took a chance, making an unpopular decision, to say the least. They wanted to see, “what would happen.” Their colleagues ridiculed them telling them there is no chance they see anything at all, what a waste of precious telescope time, money, and energy. 

Ten days later, the most powerful image ever of our universe was assembled.

space innovation

Protons that had traveled 13 billion years reached the telescope. Light from over 3,000 galaxies appeared, each one containing hundreds of billions of stars. Every dot, speckle, and smear on the image was a galaxy, resulting in one of the most profound images ever assembled – the ultra deep field.

Being innovative, finding new ideas, making discoveries takes an open mindset, it takes the right tools, and it takes confidence. It’s not easy going against the status quo and taking risks. Sometimes you have to be comfortable with uncertainty.

But the rewards can be industry changing, revolutionary, once in a lifetime, or even just unique.

Here’s what NASA’s space innovation can teach us about business innovation:

  1. Great ideas may not always seem so great at the time. But when set in the right framework with the right processes, you can feel comfortable taking leaps of faith.
  2. Open Innovation allows us to capture the innovative, risk-taking vision and spirit of the 1996 Hubble team. With the advent of innovation software, we can now easily invite employees and customers to suggest wild, game-changing ideas that otherwise may never have been expressed at all.
  3. Not all risks are expensive. Gratefully, we live in a time where we don’t have to throw a bunch of money into projects with our fingers crossed. When we harness the power of the crowd and utilize the right innovation tools, we can capture the Hubble team’s open-mindedness and risk-taking spirit — without the huge cost implications.

Let’s take some risks together, just like the NASA Hubble Telescope team did 20 years ago.

This blog post is part of a series authored by IdeaScale employees. It showcases how they’re thinking about crowdsourcing and innovation as part of their daily routine. Feel free to ask questions or make comments.

This post is by Zach WeismannDirector of Enterprise Solutions at IdeaScale.



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