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Doing more; Doing more of the same; Doing just a little different

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I always read Seth Godin’s blog.  They entries and short, direct, to the point, and always give me something to think about.

Here is a recent posting

“I’m making money, why do more?”

Because more than you need to makes it personal.
Because work that belongs to you, by choice, is the first step to making art.
Because the choice to do more brings passion to your life and it makes you more alive.
Because if you don’t, someone else will, and in an ever more competitive world, doing less means losing.
Because you care.
Because we’re watching.
Because you can.

There is a difference between doing more and doing different.

Sometimes, doing more of the same is your biggest liability – whether its your personal life, a for-profit company, a non-profit organization, or a government agency.

I always encounter people in organizations that are intent on “doing more”.  This is their biggest mistake.  They do more of same expecting to get promoted.  The only thing “doing more” (of the same) in non-strategic job roles is going to get them is “more of the same” since few managers will promote someone who excels at being  “a workhorse”.

Doing more (of the same) didn’t keep most traditional booksellers from going out of business.  Amazon did it different.  Different beat more of the same.

For non-profits, doing more of the same when the social, economic, technological, cultural and other external realities are shifting under your feet is going to send you on a trajectory of irrelevancy.  Traditional organizations like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the ARRL faces this challenge.  Do more of the same when the external context has radically changed –  or do different?

NASA essentially accomplished its biggest goal in 1969 by landing a man on the moon and returning safely back to earth.  What happens when you do it 6 more times?  Doing more of the same triggered some scrutiny by Congress with a report saying they needed a viable strategic plan, not to do more of the same, but to do more of something different – something that can engage the national vsion.  How about the US Post Office.  They would like to do more of the same (delivering physical postal mail) but seemingly most of the public doesn’t need more of the same.  Customers do different and the Post Office is now in decline because they are not doing different – what customers really need, want, and are willing to pay for.

The Take

Do more?  Ok.  But sometimes, doing more of the same is really doing less.

Doing a little different may grant you the privilege to do more of the same…  Then the chance to do different again…  and the process repeats.

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Doing more of the same.  From one of the few books on the social history of amateur Radio “Why end this book as of the year 1950?  It is because the story of ham radio’s development essentially takes place in the first fifty years of the twentieth century.  Having been created, accepted, regulated, and achieved permanent status by 1950, the story after that becomes one primarily of repetition.”    Read the posting – ARRL: Does the ARRL need a Strategic Plan?

NASA – more of the same. From the office of the Inspector General ” These problems are not primarily of NASA’s doing, but the agency could craft a better response to the uncertainty, for example, by developing a strategic plan that includes clear priorities and a transparent budget allocation process. A better response would improve NASA’s ability to navigate future obstacles and uncertainties. An effective agency response is vital, because at a time when the strategic importance of space is rising and the capabilities of other spacefaring nations are increasing, U.S. leadership is faltering….”   NASA: What to do after mission accomplished

More of the same.. missing it allOf Telegraphs, Telephones, Radios, and Organizational Momentum

Why?  Group ThinkThe C-word: Consensus

Doing a little differentStupid Survives until smart succeeds

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Written by frrl

March 4, 2013 at 6:17 pm

NASA: What to do after “Mission Accomplished”?

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It’s always interesting to watch the evolution of organizations especially when the primary mission for which they were created has been substantially accomplished.

One such organization is NASA

There are a couple of easy options to consider after the main event (Landing a man on the moon)

  1. Identify a new compelling vision and mission for the organization consistent with external realities and priorities
  2. Invent “busy work” to justify the organization status quo
  3. Face the harsh reality that the organization is adrift and find a fresh perspective absent #1 above and when #2 becomes obvious

It seems we might have examples of the second and third option –  lacking a new compelling vision and mission for NASA

Mars the Hard Way

In recent weeks, NASA has put forth two remarkable new plans for its proposed next major initiatives. Both bear careful examination.

As the centerpiece for its future human spaceflight program, NASA proposes to build another space station, this one located not in low Earth orbit but at the L2 Lagrange point just above the far side of the Moon. This plan is indeed remarkable in as much as an L2 space station would serve no useful purpose whatsoever. We don’t need an L2 space station to go back to the Moon. We don’t need an L2 space station to go to near-Earth asteroids. We don’t need an L2 space station to go to Mars. We don’t need an L2 space station for anything.

The other initiative is a new plan for Mars sample return, which is now held to be the primary mission of the robotic Mars exploration program. This plan is remarkable for its unprecedented and utterly unnecessary complexity.

Unfortunately, however, rather than propose the most cost-effective plan for a Mars sample return mission, NASA has now set forth the most convoluted, riskiest, costliest approach ever conceived.

Clearly, though, the group that drifted into it was attempting to make the Mars sample return mission provide an apparent excuse for the existence for an assortment of other NASA hobbyhorses. For example, we note that it makes use of the LaGrange point space station. But this does not help the Mars sample return mission, which could much more simply just return the samples to Earth, where far better lab facilities are available than could ever be installed at L2. Rather, by invoking the L2 station as a critical element of the mission plan, NASA is inserting a toll both blocking the way to the accomplishment of the sample return, while radically increasing mission and program cost, schedule and risk and decreasing science return. The same can be said for requiring the use of electric propulsion, a technology program that was inserted into the human Mars mission critical path based on an unsupportable claim by a well-placed advocate that it could speed up interplanetary transits, and that now needs some alternative rationale.

This planning methodology is equivalent to that of a shopaholic couple who ask an architect to design their dream house but insist that he include in his design as critical components every whimsical piece of random junk they have ever bought in the past and piled up in their back yard, in order to make those purchases appear rational after the fact. By capitulating to this kind of thinking, the NASA leadership has transformed Mars sample return from a mission into a “vision.”

Read the rest of the article – http://www.spacenews.com/article/mars-the-hard-way

The report from the National Academies

In late 2011, the Congress directed the NASA Office of Inspector General to commission a “comprehensive independent assessment of NASA’s strategic direction and agency management.”  This report has now been published and is available to the public.  Here is an excerpt:

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is at a transitional point in its history and is facing a set of circumstances that it has not faced in combination before. The agency’s budget, although level-funded in constant-year dollars, is under considerable stress, servicing increasingly expensive missions and a large, aging infrastructure established at the height of the Apollo program.

Other than the long-range goal of sending humans to Mars, there is no strong, compelling national vision for the human spaceflight program, which is arguably the centerpiece of NASA’s spectrum of mission areas. The lack of national consensus on NASA’s most publicly visible mission, along with out-year budget uncertainty, has resulted in the lack of strategic focus necessary for national agencies operating in today’s budgetary reality. As a result, NASA’s distribution of resources may be out of sync with what it can achieve relative to what it has been asked to do…

Although gaps in U.S. human spaceflight capability have existed in the past, several other factors, in combination, make this a unique period for NASA. These include a lack of consensus on the next steps in the development of human spaceflight, increasing financial pressures, an aging infrastructure, and the emergence of additional space-capable nations—some friendly, some potentially unfriendly….

These problems are not primarily of NASA’s doing, but the agency could craft a better response to the uncertainty, for example, by developing a strategic plan that includes clear priorities and a transparent budget allocation process. A better response would improve NASA’s ability to navigate future obstacles and uncertainties. An effective agency response is vital, because at a time when the strategic importance of space is rising and the capabilities of other spacefaring nations are increasing, U.S. leadership is faltering….

You can read the full report along with recommendations here – https://frrl.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/nasa_congressreport.pdf

The Take

Just about every organization faces the challenge of redefining itself in a new context.  When you read NASA’s complex plan for Mars you can see an organization struggling.  It’s better for an organization to face reality and accept that it has a problem (no matter how painful) rather than invent rude-goldberg type space missions to justify existing and legacy infrastructure, personnel, and budgets.

But being proactive about these issues and knowing when you need to re/invent the organization is what leadership is all about, right?  For NASA, does that thought leadership come from inside the organization or do we need to wait for someone outside the organization to define NASA’s next compelling mission as bold as the moon landing?

If the next compelling vision has to come from outside the organization then what does that say about the creativity,  innovation, vitality, and influence of the organization?  What does it say about the people in the organization and how it operates?  How many public corporations ask “outsiders” to develop a strategic plan for their business?  None!  That’s a senior leadership responsibility.  If NASA itself can’t come up with a compelling vision that captures the national interest – if it has to rely on outsiders to show it where to go – then it seems to me an essential element of NASA leadership (esp. thought-leadership & vision) is missing.

To “give” or impose on NASA a new mission and strategic plan is to treat the symptom and not the cause of some of NASA’s problems post “Mission Accomplished”.

Read More

Reviews Agree On Need For New NASA Strategic Plan
Expert Panel: NASA seems lost in space, needs goal

Should the “will of the people” guide NASA?  read

Written by frrl

December 5, 2012 at 8:28 pm

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