In this rumination on the significance of Felix Baumgartner’s space jump, I was introduced to a man named Franz Reichelt, and his story made quite an impact on me.
According to the piece, Reichelt was a tailor who lived in Paris in the early 20th century and was determined to design a wearable parachute. Pay careful attention to this excerpt:
After conducting several failed experiments with dummies at low altitudes, Reichelt, who was convinced his design was perfect, decided to try the suit from a higher elevation and wear it himself.
By now you should have a sense of foreboding. Reichelt’s tests failed, but he was convinced his design was perfect. How convinced was he? So convinced that in 1912 he donned his parachute, gathered a crowd around him at the Eiffel Tower, and jumped.
If you’re so inclined, you can watch video of him falling to his death on YouTube.
What Reichelt found out somewhere between the top of the tower and the grass below is that there’s a significant difference between floating and falling, between being right and being wrong. The wreckage of his parachute bears witness:
Sadly, Reichelt was not the first or the last designer to die (literally or figuratively) convinced his design was perfect. I’ve been there, standing on the railing of the observation deck, draped in a half-baked idea, certain that a gentle descent (and the crowd’s approval) awaited me.
Beware your assumptions, friends. Beware the echo chamber of your designs and your ego. There’s a big difference between floating and falling.
Scott McClellan is the Editor of Echo Hub and the Director of Echo Conference. You can follow him on Twitter: @scottmcclellan.