Saturday, September 06, 2008

You, Me And Bucky's Balls

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
- Buckminster Fuller, polymath, master innovator ( 1895-1983)

Buckminster Fuller never saw a mountain that was too high for him. From wherever he was, he was able to imagine what the view would look like from the top of that mountain.

Nor did he ever try to change the system. He could always see the faults with the system and devise ways to create a new system that was better in many ways. He was the 20th century version of Leonardo da Vinci.

He was known to work on plans for houses, cars, boats, games, television transmitters and geodesic domes at the same time, all designed to be mass-produced using the simplest and most sustainable means possible.

His last home was built in a forest, over top of a stream, so that visitors could see the stream flowing beneath their feet as they walked across the floors of some rooms. The house leaked rain in, the generator to take power directly from the stream didn't work so well and some of the building materials didn't last so long. Bucky didn't fix them. He died. Had he lived, the house would have become a masterpiece of engineering, not just a masterpiece of design.

Buckminster Fuller thought differently from most people. Where most people could see walls blocking their way, Fuller simply chose to begin his mission on the far side of the wall.

He tended to take basic concepts such as physical laws, then use them to create something that took best advantage of the best characteristics of those laws. He didn't necessarily do what most people do, begin with a problem and go looking for a solution. He looked at what he wanted to finish with and tried to find the best way to achieve that goal.

Many people thought Richard Buckminister Fuller was crazy. By the standards that most of us use, maybe he was. He assumed that most of what people did was done because those before them had done it that way. That's the way progress was made and that's how the world came to be the way it is today. Fuller thought many of our ways were clumsy and fundamentally wrong. So he looked at problems differently.

To him, every problem had a solution that was simpler, cheaper, stronger and more elegant that what people were producing at the time.

Try it yourself the next time you have a problem to face. Assume that the usual way of doing things is wrong and look for something easier, simpler and more manageable. Start with what you want to achieve, your goal, then work backward.

Don't worry if you don't find something innovative. That will only mean you fit in with the vast majority of us.

No matter what your opinion of Buckminster Fuller, whether your liked his designs or not, his name will live on when people speak of Buckyballs and fullerenes (also known as buckminsterfullerenes). Imagine an empty cage with 60 carbon atoms that is stronger than you can imagine and you will understand why they are now and will be in the future so important so so many people.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow kids who can be innovative, not just products of the normal school system. (Fuller flunked out of Harvard.)
Learn more at


Angel said...

Thanks for the great quote Bill. Your posts always help me out.

angel said...

Bill, where have you been? Hope all's well :)

Bill Allin said...

Angel, I have been in the process of moving from one province of Canada to another for the past month. My time has been very full.
I will get back to writing soon. Even my main computer--the one with the database of quotes--is down at the moment (it won't load Windows).
I have lots of new material to write about when I get better settled.
Thanks for asking.

angel said...

Oh okay, I hope moving went well :)
I look forward to reading your posts again once you are done moving and have a little time to rest.