Strategizing for NASA, Part 8: Conclusion

After reading the National Research Council (NRC) report on the future of human spaceflight, “Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration,” I was motivated to explore key questions about strategy. In writing this series, I introduced a sampling of basic elements of strategy that need to be brought to the forefront and discussed:

  • Competitive advantage can erode, even for government monopolies. In part, this is driven by inertia and in part by the changing competitive landscape of an industry as viewed through competitive forces.
  • Enduring, strategic resources exist. These resources are unique, durable, appropriated, non-substitutable, and clearly superior. The most enduring strategic resources contain more of these characteristics than those that are less enduring.
  • Wiring innovation into an organization also requires fundamental restructuring of the organization. Investing in innovation without leadership support, on the periphery, or hoping for spontaneous innovation that somehow percolates into revolutionary products and services, is not a recipe for a successful strategy.
  • Inertial effects and the sense of loss with strategic change are powerful resistive forces to change. They require a concerted effort by leadership to overcome.
  • Reputation and culture can be valuable strategic resources. Those that contain value do not arrive overnight, but instead are cultivated through time and the deliberate nurturing by its leadership.
  • International distance is more than physical distance. Culture, political/administrative, other geographic and economic differences can drive distance between potential international partnership pairs. One must formulate strategy to counteract and mitigate the distance effect in as many dimensions as possible – the more, the better.
  • Strong leadership is needed to evolve strategy with the waves of technological advance; failure to do so leads the organization to obsolescence.

It is my assertion that any meaningful strategy for human spaceflight must address these issues at a minimum, or else face the consequences addressed in each.

Finally, to tie the above together, I’ll make an analogy between a strategic tool as a melody, and the combination of those tools as an orchestral arrangement. My bookshelf is full of melodies, whether it is Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation, or Collins’s Good to Great, each of which offers an insight into what constitutes a successful strategy for an organization. And yes, I find each of them compelling in a way, whether it is the disruptive forces proposed by Christensen, or the name recognition of successful companies with lasting strategies offered by Collins. Yet my key takeaway from writing this series is that not any one tool is sufficient to explain what makes a strategy successful. Instead, it is the richness of the full orchestral arrangement of tools that brings beauty to strategy. A Porter Five Forces analysis can paint the landscape of an industry. An RBV analysis can give an indication as to why certain strategic resources are enduring. A CAGE analysis can indicate the distance effects that must be addressed. And so on. We need them all, in combination, to make the beautiful music of a successful strategy for human spaceflight.

The entire series:
Part 1: The United States Postal Service and the Porter Five Forces
Part 2: Disney and the Resources Based View
Part 3: DARPA, Kodak, and Wiring Innovation
Part 4: The FBI and Transformational Change
Part 5: Veridian and the Role of Reputation and Culture
Part 6: Walmart in China and CAGE Differences
Part 7: Apple and Counteracting the Forces of Technological Obsolescence

Strategizing for NASA, Part 8: Conclusion