Well we have just past the best PI-Day of the century. I made certain to tweet “Happy PI Day” when it was 9:26 am on my watch last Saturday. (3.14.15.9.26) And I had a piece of pi(e) for dinner that
evening. I am sure many of you are
saying, “I still don’t know what you are talking about – and I don’t think I
care.”

Well if you remember back to your middle school geometry class
you learned that the ratio of the circumference of a circle over the diameter always
equalled the value for π, 3.1415926….
And unless you are an engineer or scientist, you probably never used
that useful piece of information on anything since you took the SAT exam. This past Saturday was PI-Day because the
date represented the first five digits of PI, 3/14/15, and at 9:26 am we had
eight digits of pi.

By now you are probably thinking I was the inspiration for
the Big Bang Theory TV show. But I really do
find that pi is an inspirational number for innovators. Not the actual value of pi but the concept of
certainty and infinity mixed together. The
ratio of the circumference divided by the diameter for every circle is always pi. It doesn’t matter how big or small the
circle. It doesn’t matter what part of
the world you are in. It doesn’t matter
what the circle is enclosing or representing.
The value is always the same. And
yet the value is infinite. There are
endless possibilities for the value of pi.
How can that be?

Pi is an irrational number.
It cannot be represented with a finite number of digits or a common fraction.
The digits to the right of the decimal point have no repeatable
pattern. The precise value of pi is only
limited by how far you want to go with your division. I
went out to the first eight digits and sent a tweet. There is a website that has the first one
million digits to pi – and there are still more digits after that.

So why is pi an inspiration for innovation? It reminds me that innovation can occur even
in the standard everyday things that are part of our life. The ratio for the circumference over the
diameter is always the same but the actual number can change by just looking past
what you have right now.

Let’s take an example.
For thousands of years people moved stuff around on land in carts drawn
by horses and oxen. Then came the
innovation of steam and soon there were locomotives pulling carloads of stuff
across country. Numerous smaller
innovations happened with locomotives and rail cars to improve their capacity,
speed, and reliability while lowering costs.
But this innovation required rails to be laid in order to get stuff where you wanted it to go. Something else was needed and a new innovation using an internal
combustion engine with the cart became another method for moving stuff was
available, the car and truck. Again
multiple innovations have continued to improve speed, capacity, and reliability
while lowering costs. Of course we also
have the innovation of powered flight which moves stuff even faster across long
distances. And who knows what the next
innovation may be. The basic function is
unchanged – move stuff from one location to another, but innovation has been
constantly changing and improving how that is done.

That is just one field.
There is also tremendous innovation that has occurred over the centuries in agriculture, medicine, household
appliances, and the list can go on and on.
The function that is served by the innovative product is the same as
earlier products, but the innovation finds a better way to do that
function. Just like the ratio of the
circumference over the diameter stays the same for every circle, but the precise
value for pi can be continually refined and improved.

So when you want to noodle about a new innovation, you don’t
have to start reading science fiction and imagine what life would be like in a
galaxy far, far away. Just take a current, everyday activity or function and try
to find the next best way to do that. Assume
that for everything we do in life, there are an infinite number of ways to do
it. Just go to the next one and see if
it can make life a little easier, faster, cheaper, or more fun.

It is like finding the next digit to the answer
for the value of pi.

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