NASA or SpaceX

TL;DR Focus on speed, results, costs will get you different results than focus on not making a mistake, keeping my job while time and costs don’t matter that much. It’s environmental choice - you choose environment you want to work at.


I like to demonstrate it on space activities between US and Europe. In Europe we have ESA - European Space Agency, in US they have NASA. Both were pretty active in space activities, Europe always a little slower with slightly smaller budget. That has changed with SpaceX. Since SpaceX figured out their first rocket (Falcon 1) and NASA gave them a contract, Americans started to get a leg up. You just started seeing more activity for the same money. Why is that?

It’s super simple; different incentives and focus equal different results.

NASA did not get any faster, smarter or more nimble. SpaceX did all that. SpaceX started operating in the environment till then unknown to space related activities. The environment where costs matter, time / speed matters and results matter. Everything else is secondary.

You must be thinking now, what’s so new about that? Doesn’t everybody do it this way, including NASA or ESA? It turns out not everybody does it, or rather none of these legacy organizations do these days.

Organizations like NASA and ESA operate in little different environment; that’s environment where the key is not to make a mistake, because that could cost you your job. That’s also the environment where the costs do not matter as long as you followed the right procedure to procure things from the right suppliers.

I’m sure you see the difference now. It’s a small difference which sits at the core of the organization and how it sees the world and itself in it. It’s hard to change this worldview even though it leads to wasted money, lost time and destroyed well intended efforts. Many organizations, across any sector, behave the same. Sometimes it’s the price which comes from great success they try to protect.

How is your organization doing from this point of view? Are you working at NASA or SpaceX? And more importantly - in which environment do you want to work?


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