Physician-inventor Forrest Bird says he never met a problem he couldnt solve even those hes still working on.
Some of the ones I did solve have taken hours, days, weeks, years and a lifetime, Bird says. Dont give up.
At 91, Bird says he stays innovative by keeping himself challenged.
For Bob Lokken, CEO and founder of WhiteCloud Analytics, innovation is about continually learning things from everywhere and everyone, across industries and fields of study.
I learn things from coach Chris Petersen, about hiring and people, creative ideas, says Lokken, 50. Dont get tunnel vision as you get older.
Bird and Lokken will be inducted Oct. 2 into the Idaho Technology Councils Hall of Fame. The council was formed in 2010 by technology leaders, including Lokken, to promote and nurture the technology industry in Idaho.
Both men spoke to Business Insider about what drives them to invent.
Idahos birdman is the father of the medical respirator
Forrest Bird, born in Stoughton, Mass., in 1921, grew up flying in a biplane with his father, a World War I pilot.
Forrest started flying on his fathers knee and soloed when he was 14 in the Waco plane, says Pam Riddle Bird, Forrests wife of 17 years.
At 16, he was working toward several high-level pilot certifications.
With his father, he rebuilt the biplane, an experience that fueled his desire to not only fly airplanes but to build them. He credits his father with teaching him about life and how to use his head to figure things out.
Family and friends describe Bird as humble, kind, generous, a perfectionist, a storyteller, a teacher, a renaissance man and a workaholic.
He likes fast cars, fast planes and fun, Pam Bird says.
He still flies and works every day. He owns Percussionaire Corp., which manufactures and distributes hospital and home respirators, on his property near Sandpoint. He and his wife also founded the Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center in Sagle, near Lake Pend Oreille.
Forrest is always successful, Pam Bird says. Hes always there to help.
He takes calls seeking advice from physicians, respiratory therapists and friends around the world, during dinner or in the middle of the night. She remembers taking a call at 1:30 a.m. from a friend whose mother was ill.
He was crying, Pam Bird says. I said, What is the matter? He said, Theyre unhooking my mother from the ventilator.
After Pam Bird relayed the situation to her husband, Forrest Bird told her to say the mans mother would be fine, because respirators are only a temporary measure, and the man should go to bed and get some sleep. Indeed, all was well after the woman was unhooked, Pam Bird says.
Forrest Bird says life is a combination of time, fate and circumstance, all of which seem to be good to him.
Born in Massachusetts, Bird was raised on a farm and educated in a one-room schoolhouse, selling pelts from muskrat, skunk, mink and fox to Boston furriers during the Depression. As a youth, Bird met car maker Henry Ford and aviation pioneer Orville Wright.
As an adult, he was friends with and worked with Howard Hughes, a business magnate, aviator, aerospace engineer, filmmaker and philanthropist; and Bill Lear, an inventor and founder of the Lear Jet Corp. Fidel Castro asked for and got Birds respirators in return for American soldiers who had been captured during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
Bird entered active duty as a pilot officer in 1941 with the U.S. Army Air Corps because of his advanced aviation qualifications. He sometimes served as Gen. George Pattons pilot, and he flew almost all new aircraft produced during the era from fighters to bombers, and the earliest helicopters and jets.
A 1943 flight that set him on the path of respiratory invention.
While ferrying a captured German aircraft from the United Kingdom to Wright-Patterson Field in Ohio, Bird experimented with the planes demand-oxygen regulator, a device used to help pilots breathe at higher altitudes. Demand regulators provide oxygen only when the user inhales. Bird says it took considerable strength to suck in air through the device. At the time, Americans were using free-flow regulators, which provide oxygen continuously. But neither regulator worked over 28,000 feet a problem, because turbo engines were being developed that could take aircraft up to 40,000 feet. Without proper oxygen, pilots flying at high altitudes can experience dullness of the senses, clumsiness, dizziness and feelings similar to intoxication.
Bird took the regulator from the back seat of the plane and brought it to his base in Long Beach, Calif. He redesigned it with a sealed chamber that created pressure and pushed the air in to help pilots breathe.
Bird took his regulator to the Army Air Corps School of Aviation Medicine, where he was introduced to a leading physiologist. The physiologist suggested that Bird join his field and sent him books about it. Several months later, Bird returned to the school to find his prototype turned into an advanced system for production.
After World War II, Bird remained in the U.S. Air Force but took a leave of absence to start a business selling and modifying transport aircraft. He also attended a number of medical schools and residencies. In the early 1950s, he created a prototype ventilator and tested it on critically ill patients. The Bird Mark 7 Respirator was introduced in 1955, a small green box the first mass-produced, low-cost medical respirator. He founded Bird Corp. in 1965 to make medical respirators. 3M bought the company in 1978.
Bird introduced a pediatric respirator in 1970. Nicknamed the Babybird, it sharply reduced infant deaths from respiratory problems worldwide.
The Bird respirator is universal, says Dr. Loel Fenwick, a Coeur dAlene-area physician and businessman who has known Bird for 30 years. Its like the Hoover vacuum. Its like Kleenex. Anywhere in the world, you can speak to virtually anybody, particularly if theyve been involved around intensive care and pediatric care, and they will talk about how Babybirds and Bird respirators saved lives in their community and in their hands. ...
People have a tremendous awareness. But most people dont know him as the man. A lot of people dont know there actually [is] a Dr. Bird.
During the Vietnam War, the first in which helicopters were used to carry wounded soldiers from the battlefields, Bird developed an intensive-care transport system, including installation of respirators in the copters. The system greatly reduced deaths and was the forerunner of todays air ambulances.
Pam Bird compares her husband to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
Its not just the creation of a job, but take it up 10 steps: Inventors create industries, she says.
Bob Lokken works to build technology and education communities
As a 1986 computer science graduate of Montana State University, Bob Lokken was one of the first 20 employees hired by Boises Extended Systems. The company had been launched by a small team of former Hewlett-Packard Co. printer pioneers to make hardware to tie together PCs and peripherals like printers.
Over time, Extended Systems product line shifted from hardware to business software and applications that let workers tap business data on mobile devices. Lokken rose to become manager of the companys software division.
In 1996, he and two other executives left Extended Systems which was sold to Sybase nine years later and struck out on their own. The trio founded Knosys Inc., a Boise software firm specializing in database programs. In 2001, they changed the name to ProClarity Corp. to identify the company more closely in customers minds with its software that helped companies analyze data.
The software enabled decision-makers to see trends, patterns and exceptions in large groups of data. The programs were designed so the average business person could use them.
Lokken, the CEO, earned two key patents behind ProClaritys technology. The company won more than 40 industry awards for analytic and performance management technologies before Lokken and his partners sold it to Microsoft Corp. in 2006, with Lokken staying on for a couple of years as senior director of office-business applications.
Since then, Lokken has launched a second company, WhiteCloud Analytics. In 2010, he helped launch the Idaho Technology Council, the organization honoring him Oct. 2. For the past decade, he has spoken publicly about the need for Idahos schools and colleges to produce more math-savvy graduates capable of filling high-paying computer-science and software-engineering jobs. He is the current chairman of the Education Alliance of Idaho, a 5-year-old coalition of business and education leaders that provides education advocacy and advice.
Lokken today sounds much like the Lokken of 2003, after he had boosted ProClaritys workforce from five employees to 130 in seven years.
We need to get qualified people up to speed and on board quickly, he told the Idaho Statesman then. Weve gotten this far by stealing people from other companies here. We need a mix of seasoned professionals along with people just coming out of school that understand technology.
Microsoft confronted the Treasure Valleys tech-talent shortage as soon as it bought ProClarity. Over its first six years, Lokken says, Microsoft Boise could hire only enough software engineers to keep up with attrition. This year it moved those jobs to its Redmond, Wash., headquarters, where plans for expansion wouldnt be hampered by a small talent pool.
His assessment of the local economic outlook is blunt. We are moving into an information economy, (and) the question is do we want to participate in that, he says. You either figure out how to participate in the next-generation economy, or you go into a death spiral. Youre not just exporting natural resources. Youre exporting our children and letting them grow the economy in other states. Weve got a brain drain. We export graduates.
As Microsoft demonstrated, businesses wont stay here if they cant hire the people they need, Lokken says. One expanding tech company in the Valley can hire 50 to 100 software engineers in a year, Lokken says. But Idahos universities graduate only 20 to 50 computer science majors each per year, according to Idaho Statesman research. The Idaho Department of Labor says nearly 1,000 jobs for software developers were posted in Idaho just in the first few months of this year.
If you cant hire people in Boise, you move the businesses to Seattle, he says. Its not just a numbers gap. Its also a mix gap. We need communication and marketing, but not everyone. The mix coming out of the schools is significantly off from where we need it to be.
He says the gap has worsened over the past decade: I thought it was a handicap for the tech industry (then), but it is becoming a handicap for every industry.
Jamie Cooper, who worked with Lokken in the mid-1990s and is CEO of Drake Cooper, a Boise public relations firm, calls Lokken a global thinker.
Hes been able to apply that in a way thats been really helpful to our state, Cooper says. Hes been able to speak out about what the business community needs. Whats on his mind is always well-researched and data-driven, and delivered in ways to make it applicable to solving the problem.
In groups, Lokken helps simplify goals and share perspectives, Cooper says: One thing Ive learned from him is to be open to learning things in different ways.
Cooper says Lokken has relentless curiosity and a humble intellect that invites others in to participate. Hes open to ideas from anyone at any level of an organization, Cooper says.
He uses technology as a means to an end, Cooper says. He uses that to arrive at a way to solve a problem.
Nancy Napier, executive director of Boise State Universitys Centre for Creativity and Innovation, has known Lokken for 10 years. She says she sees similarities between Lokken and the late Ray Smelek, a former Hewlett-Packard engineer and executive who died Sept. 3. In the 1970s, Smelek persuaded HP to build a Boise campus for its printer division, and he remained a champion of technology in the Treasure Valley.
Bob Lokken is the Ray Smelek of Boise now, Napier says. Hes one of the most strategic thinkers around.
Lokken says he sees innovation as a discipline.
Engineers tend to be wired that way, always looking for a problem and how to solve it, he says. But you have to work at it.