I read a report this morning on BusinessWeek about Singularity University that really got me thinking about our path forward amidst a technological revolution filled with disruptive innovations. How do you prepare for something you can’t see coming? Even if a few people can see it coming, how do we ensure that these voices get heard? How do we use this technological storm to our advantage, instead of to our demise?
In order for NASA to prosper moving forward, it will have to be adaptable, efficient and possibly even prophetic. Now making this statement is very simple. Everybody knows philosophically that an organization needs to be efficient and adaptable, but implementation is a much more daunting task. This time instead of first asking “How do we make NASA adaptable, efficient and prophetic?”, we should ask
“What is needed to make NASA adaptable, efficient and prophetic?”
Below are a few things that I think NASA needs to start building.
1) Trust from Employees (civil servants and contractors)
2) Empowerment of Employees
3) Multi-disciplined Employees
4) Partnership w/ External Organizations
Trust from Employees
Trust is by far the most important thing that NASA can build between its employees. With trust invisible walls get eliminated, and everything works faster. An employee has to know that leadership has their best interest at heart or they will not offer cost saving suggestions, and will not speak up when they see issues that need consideration. If the decisions that NASA makes cause good employees to fear for their livelihoods, trust will be broken. When trust is broken, employees best move is always to take care of themselves and bureaucracies form as a result. Plans can’t get executed without people; therefore, people matter. Without trust between its employees NASA will not be able to succeed moving forward.
Empowerment of Employees
NASA has some of the brightest and most dedicated individuals. With such talent, it begs the question why are all decisions still being made at the top? In a time of disruptive innovation, employees have to be empowered to try things that could make themselves and NASA better?
How does NASA empower its employees?
What if every employee got given $500 yearly to invest in cost-cutting initiatives? What if the top 10 people that came up with the greatest cost savings, each got an award of $10k tax free? Now this would empower employees to take initiative, and it would also create an incentive for the employees to be accountable.
What if on top of that, each employee was given $500 more to use with others in a group effort (3-10 people)? Assuming a similar award incentive as before, this would help larger groups become more efficient while building a collaborative environment.
The final award has to be large enough to be beneficial to the individuals, but not too large that it causes fighting.
In times of such great disruptive change, not only does NASA have to be adaptable so do the employees. It won’t always be possible for NASA to employ everybody. What NASA can do is ensure that every person under its employment has a diverse set of skills and that each employee is given growth opportunities that make them marketable. Focusing on growing employees might seem inefficient at the onset, but at the end not only does the employee win so does NASA. As the customer, NASA has a responsibility to ensure that not only civil-servants have sufficient training, but that their contractors also have sufficient training. Passing the buck, only increases the long-term cost of operation.
Partnership w/ External Organizations
NASA can’t afford to do everything. NASA simply does not have the resources to do everything on its own; therefore, NASA will have to be a great partner. In order for NASA to be an effective partner, NASA has to be willing to give. NASA can’t take the “partnership” idea as a way of just getting more money. Nobody likes to partner with a moocher. NASA has to be flexible and willing to listen, or partnerships won’t work.
In the Internet age, NASA will have to be able to “connect” with its partners via the internet easily and without hassle, or communication will be halted.
By creating multi-disciplined, empowered and trusting employees NASA will be able to leverage its internal resources to be adaptable, efficient and even prophetic (wisdom of the crowds). By developing great, brotherly partnerships with external organizations, NASA will be able fulfill its mission with less of its own resources and account for disruptive change which NASA can’t see coming.
NASA will float or sink based on the ability and effort of its employees (civil servants AND contractors), and its external partners. If NASA is to succeed it has to edify both its employees and its partners.
I leave you with the following video on innovation management, which relates to adaptability.