Changing topics… ever wondered what happened to the airships of the 1930s? 90 years ago they seemed destined to be the cruise ships of the skies. That all ended with the Hindenburg fire. How about the Goodyear blimps of the 1970s and 80s? They seemed ubiquitous on big TV sports events. Then a lot less so today.

This is where I could describe the technology adoption curve or the way new technologies disrupt older technologies. But not today.

Today this post is a reminder that entrepreneurs are generalists, not specialists. That it is helpful and restful to not spend seven days a week fretting about the current issue your startup is facing.

For me, that takes the form of lifetime learning. It means that when I happen across yet-another story about the Hindenburg, I start wondering about how those amazing airships were designed, and how different were they from the Goodyear blimp.

A few times per year I find myself on the University of Washington campus. I recently became a lifetime member of their alumni network, and that came with a library card. Back when I was working on my Masters, I used to stop by the Engineering Library before class each week, pick a random stack, and grab a half dozen books to read. Those extracurricular learnings were as valuable as my Masters, leading to a wide variety of general knowledge about engineering and science.

With Boeing based nearby, UW is the world’s top university for aerospace. I happened to have a meeting near campus two weeks ago, and thought they’d have the answers about airship design. I popped into my old library and found the small section on airships. Maybe two dozen books in total sitting amongst two or three columns of books on airplanes.

I picked just two. Burgess Airship Design published in 1927, in the midst of the airship golden era. Most interesting in this book were the techniques described to do the engineering computations, in a world where computers were not yet invented. Advanced Airship Technologies is a far more modern book, from 1997. More informative but less interesting.

Of course, as an entrepreneur as I read this book and thought about the glory days of airships, it made me wonder if they were a technology doomed to failure or whether they were just brought to market too soon, before plastics for airtight bags to hold the lifting gas and aluminized mylar or nylon for airship skins vs. cotton doped with explosives (see Mythbusters for that story).

Timing is the #1 factor for startup success.

By "Luni"


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