Spacing Out on Risk, Shared Value and Desired Outcomes, Part 2

Last week I talked about the Apollo Program and Robert Braun’s idea that you can “celebrate failure” – which boils down not being afraid fail in order to achieve your Desired Outcome.

Braun, NASA’s Chief Technologist, probably knows a little something about risks, innovation and how to handle them. In an interview in NASA’s ask magazine, Braun talked about fostering innovation, and taking a “technology-enabled” approach to exploration and the risks inherent in space exploration.

Braun explained that for NASA to be successful in technology, “We need to learn lessons from across the government. There is no one-size-fits-all technology program,” he said. “We need programs that are wide open and searching for the best ideas across the globe—involving the NASA centers, our university partners, folks in industry, and our international partners.”

In the Vested space I’d call that aligning your interests and goals with your partners.

Then he said something a little surprising: “We need to have the flexibility to allow failure. If we take large risks, some of our technology programs will fail.”

Of course that mindset is a hard sell at NASA. He acknowledges that the oft-heard mantra there is “failure is not an option.”

For human spaceflight, of course, the motto still holds, “but as the missions evolve from human spaceflight to large, flagship robotic missions, to small robotic missions, all the way down to technology demonstrations, we need to be able to dial up the risk we’re willing to take,” Braun says. “If we’re afraid to fail down at the technology level, we won’t make the major advances that are critical to our future and that our nation has come to expect of NASA.”

It seems to me that attitude—not being afraid to fail—is crucial to achieving the end result, whether it is in space exploration or in a business endeavor.

“In its early days, NASA was good at taking risks and accepting the fact that not everything was going to succeed. Over time, we’ve gotten more and more risk averse. That’s one of the things I’m trying to help change.”

That risk-averse attitude has taken on epidemic proportions in a financially uncertain and economically fragile business world, where playing it safe—playing not to lose—is viewed by many as the best way to “win.”

I disagree. Sure, do your risk assessments and contingency planning but don’t let those scary and risky “business happens” unknowns prevent you from “shooting the moon.” Wise words from someone who obviously have the credibility to speak them.

For those struggling, the journey can be made much smoother by adopting Vested’s Getting to We approach of collaboration, trust and sharing value for the win-win.

Image: Moon shining over the sea by MadPole via Flickr

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