[NOTES: This engagement was pro bono from Collin Group, Inc.’s CEO as the request for assistance originated unofficially and not through standard NASA channels. It had to be based on soft power and not on upon codifying government policy. It is included as an example of addressing situations when soft power is required. Unlike in this unusual instance, typically because of our strict NDAs protecting our clients, our cases do not include identity indicia. We never post a client situation that can strictly identify them or could adversely affect them.]
Critical and Complex Situation
With a shrinking budget, NASA needed to innovate faster, better and do more with less. Without providing higher levels of “NASA magic,” the organization would suffer from ever-dwindling budgets which threatened (and continue to threaten) their mission and capabilities.
Would the institution continue its current mission of research, development and education, would it become something else, or would it simply be shuttered?
Below you can see a summary of our recommendations in a brief TEDxNASA video featuring our CEO before 1,700+ scientists, engineers, program managers and students, and streamed live to 85 nations.
How We Addressed This Critical and Complex Situation
Our research determined that changes in NASA innovation were in great part due to the splintering of scientific and technical disciplines.
So much knowledge had been accrued that it was impossible to be a generalist on a topic — even one as specific as aeronautical engineering. We had moved from an era of generalists to one of specialists.
Essentially, the “Age of Rocket Scientists” is over. This is the age of wind tunnel specialists. High-temperature materials specialists. Embedded systems specialists.
Specialization, and in some cases hyper-specialization, leads to the formation of what we call “micro-cultures.”
For example, some of the strongest and earliest cultural formations revolve around the sciences and technology.
Micro-cultures developed around those who share a passion, and who often group together and connect at many social and intellectual levels.
Micro-cultures develop their our own humor, perspectives, social rituals, and even language.
For specialists, whether they like it or not, whether they recognize it or not – micro-cultures help define them.
As an example, our research shows engineers from different countries are far more alike than people from their own countries who are in different professions.
But micro-cultures create breakdowns in communications between different types of specialists, and this damages the innovation and execution processes.
With this research, we created a framework and concrete steps that NASA professionals could use to work together better, faster, and with far greater success.
By implementing our recommendations, NASA can continue to become far more integrated, innovative, and multiply their capabilities by leveraging each specialist’s contributions, even across specialties and micro-cultures.
We feature this case because it demonstrates how we can help organizations in very critical situations find the true roots of their challenge, and address them quickly, effectively, and without massive (and unnecessary) change.