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2002 Speeches

Mahesh Reddy

Division Director - HB/SB Engineering

The Boeing Company

Deputy Regional Leader

Phantom Works So. Cal.

"Math, Science and Creativity: Imagining the Possible"

NASA SHARP PLUS Conference

Huntington Beach, CA

August 02, 2002

Good Afternoon and I want to personally thank Dr. Tabrizi and the mentors from Boeing, TRW, and NASA/Cal State LA for putting on this very educational forum. I'm delighted to have been asked to participate and have learned much myself after listening to our stellar speakers today. I'm impressed with the work that they've done and can just imagine where their great minds will take us in the future.

Speaking of the future and its possibilities, let's take a trip back in time to uncover great leaps in math and science. For those of you that don't know, Boeing has truly made history by introducing the jet age, putting men on the moon, and building and launching the Space Shuttle. We continue to make our mark in history by designing the first wireless world and integrated battlespace of the future. And we wouldn't have achieved these great milestones if it were not for our teachers and the knowledge they imparted on us to open the gates of our imagination.

Boeing is a strong advocate of education. We believe in education because without knowledge, we wouldn't have innovation and new technologies that transform the way we live today.

Because of this, we have a vested interest in the future and education of our youth. Each one of you is a future leader of our tomorrow. Who knows where your great minds and talents will take us?

On behalf of the mentors, management, and staff, I venture to say that we're all here because we love what we do and can't imagine doing anything else. Our careers are built on facts, data, analysis and numbers...our daily business revolves around logic and reasoning...

But sometimes logic and reasoning is not enough. Numbers can only get you so far.... It's how you apply and communicate those numbers, facts, and data that make the difference. It's creative ideas and innovation that turn our equations into solutions. Solutions are more than just numbers. The facts and numbers don't speak for themselves -- numbers don't sell a product or service and they don't grow your business , people do.

What that means is that out of creative ideas flow possibilities. The genesis of a great invention usually starts with one simple concept , and that is -- an idea. Technology invents itself when that idea comes to life as a solution.

Math and science, however, do provide the foundation for moving in that direction.

It's not enough to be intellectual; a true intellectual has a well-rounded approach to life. As Einstein , one of the most intellectual men in history , once said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."

I'm here to share with you three basic concepts that will help you evolve your math and science skills in school and beyond , and that is:

First, think creatively and continue to learn

Second , discover the internconnectedness in all things , we call this systems thinking

And third, don't be afraid to take risks.

Now let me share with you my thoughts on applying a creative approach to math and science.

You know, it's funny that a majority of engineers, mathematicians, and scientists don't think that they have the ability to be creative. They see themselves as mainly technical analysts with virtually no creative abilities. I have --- on the other hand , found it to be quite the contrary. To me, it takes ingenuity, imagination and creativity to design complex systems that travel into space and withstand its harsh environment. To accomplish what they say is impossible takes math and science to prove them wrong.

The naysayers said that men couldn't fly. And then we built jet aircraft. They also said that we couldn't go to the moon...well we did. They said just a few short years ago that destroying an enemy missile once deployed was impossible...and we've again proven them wrong. In fact, we're able to destroy an incoming enemy missile with an interceptor traveling at speeds in excess of 15,000 mph in space. We have accomplished what they said was impossible. And math, science, and creative thinking brought us here.

That's where your imagination takes you. It may not be Stars Wars , the movie, but it's as close to Star Wars as you'll get. Keep dreaming of the "what if's" and the "what coulds" and because you never know , you may see many of your dreams come to fruition years later. Just look at airplanes, telephones, radio, tv, computers, or the whole global information exchange. Those were also "what ifs" and "what coulds" at one time -- when you think about it.

Now how do we track the trajectory of a scientific mind? How do we measure intelligence? Is it by reasoning, logic, and judgment? Or is it merely how we apply an innovative solution to an existing problem? Unfortunately many of us have been taught that intelligence is measured by a person's cognitive abilities. We may look to numbers and data as a measuring stick for intelligence, but maybe we should look closer at how we creatively apply concepts as the final measurement.

It's not enough to add or subtract , it's not enough to multiply or divide , it's not enough to analyze or experiment. It's how we apply these results and how we communicate these results that make the difference. If we can't use or communicate the information, then what good is the information in the first place?

I encourage each one of you to develop an investigative ability , ask questions , be inquisitive --- get to the root of the answer , and then question your findings. Don't think of the right answer --- think of the right question.

As George Bernard Shaw once said, "Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not."

Cultivate an insatiable curiosity to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning. But how do you do that? Read , seek out different perspectives , learn something new. Expand your thinking and engage your mind full throttle ahead to discover the universe of learning. Remember, good ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. They're all around you. And inspiration occurs when you least expect it.

Most people assume that the brain declines with age , along with the body , when in actuality, the brain continues to grow. Our neurons are capable of making increasing complex new connections throughout our lives. Even if we lost a thousand brain cells every day for the rest of our lives, it would still be less than one percent of our total. In other words, you're never too old to learn something new. I guess that flies in the face of "you can't teach an old dog new tricks."

As they say, your brain is a multidimensional musical instrument that can play an infinite number of musical pieces simultaneously.

Now -- besides thinking creatively, you also want to test your knowledge through experience and persistence. Don't give up on an idea if it doesn't work the first time. Take the Apollo missions, for example. We didn't just build a capsule and send these men to the moon without extensive and exhaustive testing. We had to grow and evolve our knowledge before we could overcome the greatest challenge in human history --- and that is --putting humans in space.

Once considered impossible, our space voyage is now a reality. Heroes like Neil Armstrong and John Glen have paved the way for future astronauts and scientists as well as , believe it or not -- Lance Bass from NSYNC. Lance's plan to take a trip to the International Space Station aboard a Russian capsule demonstrates that although you may have all the money in the world, your mind is starving for something else. That something else is knowledge.

Lance may be the first entertainer in orbit and the youngest human to fly in space but all he wants to do is to live out his real dream , to see what's out there and to experience life in space.

And since I'm on the topic of space , one of my favorite topics as you might have guessed , let's look at the complexity of a Space Shuttle launch involving an intricate web of equations, algorithms, and extensive analysis. You can bet that it took many years of testing to make sure that astronauts sitting atop a rocket filled with 500,000 gallons of hydrogen and oxygen makes it to space and back in one piece.

That the Shuttle - - stacked on the pad at the Cape --- and taller than the Statue of Liberty -- and weighing three times as much - more than 4.5 Million lbs --- is able to somehow launch into orbit.

That to achieve orbit, it has to accelerate from zero to 18,000 miles per hour , or about nine times the speed of a bullet , in about 8 minutes.

That at liftoff, both the boosters and the main engines generate some 7.3 million pounds of thrust.

That each of the Shuttle's solid rocket motors burn more than 5 tons of propellant per second and generate 3 million pounds of thrust.

Ladies and gentlemen...that's where math, science, and your imagination take you , into the realm of possibilities , whether in space or in our DNA , which leads me to my second point that I want to leave with you today --- and that is to discover the interconnectedness in all things , or what we call systems thinking.

Sometimes as mathematicians, scientists, or engineers, we only see the microcosm of life. Unfortunately, we fail to discover that our microcosm , our small corner of the world --- is part of a larger picture. While we see just the microcosm --- everyone else sees the macrocosm. In the business world, this means investors and customers.

Everything is connected to everything else and the sooner that you discover that , the better. At Boeing, we've had problems designing airplanes and other systems in the past because once our designs went to the factory for production , guess what? We discovered , only too late in the process , that the parts didn't quite come together as we thought they would.

It looked good as a design , then on paper , but oops , you know what I mean. Along came computer animated modeling and simulation. That helped quite a bit. But where it really helped was when we developed integrated product development teams.

"What", you say? A bunch of engineers from different disciplines coming together to talk about their piece of the microcosm? You bet. And it worked because for once we saw the big picture first , which in turn , helped us tremendously in developing the smaller picture. And you guessed it , parts actually fit together the first time. We proved this when we introduced the 777 airplane. It revolutionized airplane design. It's really an age-old concept that people have been doing for thousands of years , talking to each other. Imagine that! It took communication and discovering the interconnectedness of our designs and parts to make it all come together in the end.

It's really a very basic concept and often overlooked. When you throw a stone into a still pond , for example -- it has a rippling effect on the water. So is our work in math and science --- everything we produce affects everything else and results in an ever-expanding circle of connections. Just think of your next equation as an echo reverberating across the air space.

It reminds me of an interesting example of how the macrocosm and microcosm are so closely related , even using the same technology in some instances. Like when Galileo invented the telescope. Just a few short years later; the microscope was invented using the very same technology. The same lens technology , the same application of math and science - but viewing life from two totally different perspectives. Fascinating isn't it?

All you have to do is look around you , a molecule is part of a tree -- a tree is part of the earth , the earth is part of our solar system , and our solar system is part of a larger universe , and who knows where it goes from there?

Now besides using your math and science skills to think creatively and open your mind to continuous learning and to then see the interconnectedness of all things ? the third and final point I want to make is to never be afraid to take risks.

I know that numbers are safe...that equations leave no room for error. But to be safe means that you'll never achieve any major breakthroughs in your thinking and intellect. No risk will get you nowhere --- taking risks , however --will get you everywhere. Sometimes you make mistakes. To assume we'll never make a mistake is to be in perpetual denial.

As a kid -- my dad would whack me on the head and say, "Son, failures are stepping stones in life , I hope you have learned something and will not repeat the same mistake." His words always remind me that mistakes are opportunities for growth. We just don't want to keep making the same ones over and over.

And remember the definition of insanity , and that is --- "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

We are all problem solvers. That's why we love doing what we do. We love to find the solution , usually through a complex set of analyses and finite detail. But that's not risk. Risk is when you have the vision and you set out to accomplish it. When you establish a goal and work to achieve it. When you actually can see the end result first and not have to go through the tedious steps to getting there. Our love of facts, numbers, and data shouldn't keep us from testing our knowledge.

As an electrical engineer and inventor once said, "The Wright Brothers flew right through the smoke screen of impossibility." And notice that I used the words "engineer" and "inventor" in the same sentence. Because to me, they are one in the same. We've all studied math and science for the possibilities they entice.

In fact, did you know that the word "engineer" and "ingenious" have the same root in the Latin word, "ingenium"? Didn't know that did you? Or that the word "creative" is described in two ways in the Webster's Dictionary , one is "imaginative" and the other is "inventive". It appears that the math and science foster imagination, invention, and creativity. All three words of these are symbiotic.

Imagination and creativity uncover the solution. And remember -- within every problem lies a solution. The solution is the treasure we seek on the pathway of equations and analysis. Tread carefully, but tread non-the-less. Keep going and explore the possibilities. Take risks, but make sure they're calculated risks. As Helen Keller said, "No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed to an unchartered land."

She's right and at Boeing, we continue to take risks, we continue to dream the dream, and we continue to explore possibilities , all through math, science, and communication.

As engineers, we are pioneers. We're charting new territories no one has ever gone before. We're trying to imagine the unimaginable. We seek to discover the knowledge of the universe , the knowledge that would rock our world. It's this high-risk approach to math and science that contributes to quantum leaps in thinking and knowledge.

In closing, as human beings, we've landed men on the moon and machines on Mars --- we've unleashed the power of the atom , we've deciphered the genetic code and unlocked many of the secrets of the human brain.

We've accomplished so much and we still have an infinite number of possibilities to explore in our lifetime. All of you in this room are the future pioneers in science and technology , the architects of change for this new millennium. The world is your oyster, your vast library of learning and resources to build your knowledge base.

I encourage all of you to become stargazers , to always ask the question, "what if?" in the quest for knowledge and wisdom. Broaden your universe and travel through it to unleash your creative potential.

Don't just look straight ahead --- look around you , the future isn't right in front of you --- it surrounds you. The future is what's happening right now. As I always say , you don't enter into the future , you create it. Step into the future to create the reality of your tomorrow. Engage your mind and your senses and you can go anywhere and accomplish anything you set out to do. As the science fiction author, Ursula LeGuin, once said,"It's good to have an end to journey toward --- but it is the journey that matters in the end." For all of you, that journey is paved with numbers and facts that support your theories.

And sometimes we don't always have to traverse across the universe in search of adventure and information , it's found in the curious mind and the astute intellect. Draw on your creative talent and engage your mind. You'll never know what brilliant ideas your mind will launch.

Thank you.