Blue Sky Thinking

In some businesses, creative employees are often encouraged to suggest ideas as if there are no restrictions whatsoever.  These discussions are called “Blue Sky Thinking” and much of the time the outcome is totally unrealistic or impractical. But occasionally it can lead to a world-changing innovation.  In Israel, the skies seem to contain far more than the average amount of Blue, but which nevertheless frequently leads to very practical innovations.


The thousands of Israeli medical discoveries and innovations are the culmination of many years of hard research work.  But so many times these same scientists will admit that they embarked on their project due to some "Blue Sky" dream that one day they would cure a deadly or debilitating disease.  Such as bone cancer – for which Israel’s InSightec developed focussed ultrasound treatment and has just received FDA approval.  Or Crohn’s disease, for which Teva has reported success in its Phase IIa trials of Laquinimod.


Tel Aviv University and Sheba Medical Centre have discovered a genetic link for Autism Spectrum Disorders, which also connects schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  But the really big news will benefit those who physically spent too long under blue skies.  The Ella Institute of Sheba Medical Centre is now curing patients with advanced stage melanoma.

Israeli CleanTech companies lead the world in manufacturing products designed to keep our skies blue and free from fossil fuel pollutants.  Israel is even establishing a boarding school for environmental entrepreneurs at the new Eastern Mediterranean College (EMC) for International high-school students. Another “Blue Sky Thought” has been to reserve 40 of the 200 places for students from Israel’s Arab neighbours.  On a smaller scale, over 100 Tel Aviv University students attended the first session of “The Sources of Israel’s Creativity and Environmental Innovation in Israel".  The organisation Kinetis initiated the course to expose the catalysts of creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and entrepreneurial spirit of the Israeli people.  And before anyone asks “What about Israel’s Arabs?” the Jewish State is preparing a NIS 300 million investment into higher education for its minorities.  Israel’s Council for Higher Education said that bringing more Arab students into higher education “will allow them to pursue a greater variety of careers and present new opportunities”.


So let’s see two of the latest products of Israeli “Blue Sky Thinking”.  You may have heard about the Israeli cardboard bicycle. The same team has now developed a cardboard wheelchair from recycled cardboard, plastic bottles and recycled tires. It supports up to 180kg, resists both moisture and humidity, and requires no maintenance.  It is ideal for local manufacture in third-world countries – for instance, under African skies. 

Another Israeli product is for use by those who have never seen a blue sky.  Project Ray is a smartphone for the blind.  It vocalises any icon or name touched by a sliding finger and activates it only when the finger is lifted.  It has a special GPS for the blind and an audio book interface to Israel’s Central Library for the Blind, Visually Impaired and Handicapped.  


Some of Israel’s latest projects go even beyond the blue skies. Israel has dedicated a Space Center in memory of the late astronaut Colonel Ilan Ramon, in the Arab city of Taiba.  It will serve all residents of the Galilee for study, experimentation and enrichment in the field of space and the sciences.  And thanks to a substantial donation from an Anglo-Jewish “angel”, Israel’s prospects of landing a spacecraft on the lunar surface have been boosted substantially.  The SpaceIL project’s mission is to make Israel only the third country ever to complete a successful moon landing.


I couldn’t resist linking the title of this blog with the latest James Bond movie “Skyfall”, if only to mention that the IDF has some gadgets that 007 would have loved to have had access to.  Also, hundreds attended a unique Nefesh b’Nefesh “Think Israel” conference in New York City. And in another literal association, I was lucky to see some of the 500 million birds currently migrating through the blue skies of Israel’s Hula valley on their way to Africa.  Israel must be one of the only countries in the world to have re-flooded thousands of acres of fertile land in order to re-introduce species that once lived or migrated there. 


Finally, here are some clues as to the reasons perhaps why so much of Israeli “Blue Sky Thinking” converts into practical innovations.  The first is one of the so-called secrets of Israel’s start-up success – Chutzpah!  When Israelis say you have “chutzpah”, they mean you know what you want and will go for it. They mean you have great tenacity and will do what it takes to achieve goals that others can’t even dream of.


But I’ll disappear into the blue horizon this week with some quotes from Israeli entrepreneur Roni Einav in his new autobiography.   “Improving the world, for Israelis, is a way of life, ” he writes.  “Entering situations of uncertainty is less traumatic, because that’s life here.” But I believe that his most inspiring message is –  “The first quality a businessperson needs is the belief in dreams.”


Now there’s a thought!


Michael Ordman writes a free weekly newsletter containing Good News stories about Israel.

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