Innovation: A Lesson from Rambo Herzog, Inventor of the Climbing Carabiner

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Innovate. It’s the process of finding better solutions to meet new requirements, make existing solutions better, and generally improve the status quo.  It’s a word we hear all too often in business. We all know how important innovation is, but do we know what it means to be truly innovative?

Innovation is a broad topic and obviously I don’t have an end-all, be-all answer to every innovation question. But what I do have is a potential source of inspiration. It comes from a brave, slightly-crazy pioneer of one of my favorite sports: rock climbing.

Modern day sport climbing involves clipping into points of protection bolted along a “route” (a designated path up the rock face); the points of protection keep climbers safe (or at least moderately safe) and can serve as points of rest on longer climbs.

In the early 1900s, points of protection typically consisted either of natural protrusions from the rock or metal pitons that had literally been hammered into cracks on the rock face. Climbers had two options for connecting ropes to points of protection: either tie the rope and the protection directly together, or untie the rope from their person, run it directly through the gear/protection and retie the rope to continue onward. Tying into protection was both dangerous and time consuming. The status quo made certain climbs simply impossible—or just plain reckless. A better option was needed.

Enter Otto Herzog—who earned the nickname “Rambo” for always tinkering and hammering away at various problems (“Rambo” is short for the German word “Ramponieren”, meaning to batter and to bash). Rambo Herzog noticed Munich firemen were equipped with pear-shaped steel links and saw a possible application of these steel links to rock climbing.

The result was the first climbing carabiner—a steel loop with a quick opening gate. Herzog’s invention effectively solved two problems: the quick-opening gate removed the need to untie the climbing rope from the climber (drastically improving the safety of the sport) and it was faster to use, allowing Herzog and other climbers to push the boundaries of rock climbing, attempting and scaling more-difficult, longer routes.

Herzog identified a major problem in his “industry” (rock climbing), but had mind enough to find the catalyst for the solution outside his realm of expertise (the Munich fire brigade). Perhaps most importantly—Herzog’s solution not only solved the problem: it revolutionized his sport and little about the carabiner’s function has changed much over the years.

Innovation is not simply a fix. Innovation is the discovery of an ultimate truth. Once discovered, it transforms and transcends the original problem, opening up the potential for more improvements.

Here at Oneupweb, we’ve made an effort to cultivate an entire company mindset on innovation and innovative solutions. Our backgrounds aren’t all in marketing, and we’re always tapping people for fresh ideas and new perspectives.

Who are the Otto Herzogs in your company? What other industries and markets can you draw on for inspiration to help you solve your problems? Do you need any help? We recently made our senior leadership available to speak directly to you. Check us out.

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