The end of the Moon Shot – Even for Moon Shots

disruptive innovation in space travel puts SpaceX ahead of NASA

Even moon shots aren’t what they used to be. Cheaper, faster, lighter wins the day today.

Back in the good old days – the 60s and 70s and 80s – the gold standard for any endeavor was NASA’s Apollo moon program. And why not? After all, less than 10 years after President John Kennedy challenged the nation to send a man to the moon, NASA did it. That sort of drive and technical prowess cemented America’s place as Most Awesomest Nation Ever.

And that sort of engineering siege mentality – armed with slide rules, mainframe computers and heaps of money instead of trebuchets and battering rams – became the way anyone bent on success did things. Assemble a huge team of all-stars to create the perfect plan, break the task into thousands of minute steps, plug all those steps and people into a gigantic workflow chart, grind away at it until you reach the end of your flow chart, and voila: the final product emerges, just as envisioned at the start. It was the apotheosis of the assembly-line manufacturing model.

And then something happened. Suddenly, reality stopped cooperating. The world sped up so much that it became difficult to predict conditions in the future, and nearly impossible to foresee all the factors that would affect any endeavor. Just ask Blackberry what happened to its many tries at the latest, greatest smart phone. Or ask NASA itself. Not only was the agency forced to do more with less as budgets declined, but even doing more with more didn’t always turn out so well: witness the 1999 Mars orbiter crash caused by confusion between metric vs. English distance units. Whoops – there goes $125 million of custom-made parts, bespoke software and specialized mission control.

Contrast that with India’s successful mission to Mars earlier this year – at $74 million it was the cheapest interplanetary mission ever. And it worked just fine, thank you very much.

Today, getting a fast start, leveraging existing resources (whether knowledge, software libraries or off-the-shelf parts), failing fast and iterating based on experience is the way to play the game.

And the best illustration of this is once again America’s space program: SpaceX, Elon Musk’s ambitious space launch startup, has just won a NASA contract to send humans to the International Space Station for $2.6 billion – almost half the cost of the identical contract awarded to the legacy moon shot team headed by Boeing.

What’s the difference? SpaceX looks at its program the same way software engineers or internet entrepreneurs look at their work: as innovation projects based on rapid prototyping and iteration; Boeing is still in the moon shot business, working relentlessly to develop the perfect plan and then execute flawlessly to get it right the first time. Here’s how Quartz describes the essential difference:

“SpaceX always thought of itself as a tech firm, and its clashes with NASA often took a form computer developers—or anyone familiar with the troubled roll-out of—would recognize as generational. SpaceX followed an iterative design process, continually improving prototypes in response to testing. Traditional product management calls for a robust plan executed to completion, a recipe for cost overruns.

“’We weren’t just going to sit there and analyze something for years and years and years and years to the nth degree,’ said David Giger, a SpaceX engineer. ‘SpaceX was built on ‘test, test, test, test, test.’ We test as we fly. We always say that every day here, ‘Test as you fly.’”

Test as you fly: that’s the new model for success in a disruptive economy where everything – from suppliers to consumer tastes – changes too quickly to accurately predict at the outset. Learning as you go, rather than knowing everything before you start, is a much more effective strategy for a fast-moving economy.


Uber and the Last Bastion of a Scoundrel

If you're a taxi driver, you are looking at the end of business as usual.

If you’re a taxi driver, you are looking at the end of business as usual.

Here’s one way to tell you’re near the tail end of a disruption, are about to be outflanked and have no moves left: you head to court or the legislature to stop your competition.

The classic example was the US music industry suing their customers to stop illegal downloads. Or the previous generation’s 1984 “Betamax Case,” where movie studios tried to stop consumer use of VCRs.

In each of these instances, not only did the incumbent industries lose big time (if not in the courts, then in the marketplace), but the incumbents missed a couple of key points:

  • That the “illegal” activity they so feared was actually a request from consumers for a product they did not have.
  • That there was more money to be made adopting the new technology and new consumer behavior than in resisting it.

Today, DVD (and download) sales are a huge part of the US movie and TV industry’s sales. And, guess what? People are still going to the movies and still watching television. And, once Apple figured out how to give people an easy and relatively cheap way to download the songs they wanted, illegal downloading slowed and a new industry was born.

So, given those ample lessons from the past, why do we have Uber and Lyft and their myriad other alternative ride comrades being dragged into court, hauled before regulatory bodies and legislated against around the world? It’s because the taxi industry and its captive regulators see a threat to their cozy way of doing business.

Rather than see these services and their growing popularity as a request from the market for services they don’t now have (clever apps, easy payments, peer reviews, etc.), the incumbents react in fear and freeze up, fight back, run away or play dead — the classic fear responses of any mammal.

Thing is, this won’t work (at least not if history is any indicator). The innovations that Uber and its ilk represent are too good — and classically disruptive — to just go away. Even if Uber is put out of business, someone else will come along to fill the vacuum in the markeplace. Even the world’s economists — generally not a revolutionary crowd — agree.

So what’s a better solution? How about opening to learning and employ the classic adage: “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

Organizations and industries (and people) that open to learning, that view disruptions as opportunities to try new things, that go with the flow of their consumers’ desires use creativity and innovation to stay ahead of the game. Those frozen in fear abandon creativity and head for the courts instead.

Much as Samuel Johnson observed nearly 300 years ago when he said “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” in today’s disruptive business environment, the courts are the last bastion of a scoundrel.


To Avoid Disruption, Look to the Heart

Look toward the heart, not the head when finding ways to avoid disruptive change.

Surfing the wave of change requires heart, not head.

Disruption can be scary. And fear leads people to do foolish things, like clamp down when they should lighten up, or focus on execution when they should foster creativity, or work harder when they should work smarter.

Instead of contracting in fear in the face of disruption (and let’s face it, who isn’t afraid of being disrupted these days), try these three heart-centered moves to get ahead of the wave of change: trust, authentic connection, and leading from behind.

Check them out on my latest blog post at The Feast.

Photo courtesy of


Three Secrets to IT Technology Success that have Nothing to do with Tech

If you think this is the heart of your tech project, think again.

If you think this is the heart of your tech project, think again.


All too often in business, we think technology is the secret to success. The truth is most IT technology projects fail. And the essential ingredients for success have nothing to do with technology. To discover your organization’s foundation for success, check out my latest blog post at Feast On Good.

Here’s the link:


photo by ChrisDag

Burritos vs. Bonds – Chipotle crushes Pimco


One of the best things to happen in my family’s travel life was the moment several years ago that we discovered a Chipotle Mexican Grill at the exact midpoint of our drive to go skiing in Vermont. After years of suffering through the usual fast food choices, we were thrilled to find there was a tastier and healthier alternative on our route.

Since then we’ve eaten at this same Albany area Chipotle about 100 times. The food always has been excellent — fresh, fast and delicious. And at least as important, the experience has been fun as we interact (very briefly) with cheerful and outgoing staffers there. They always manage to show an interest in their work and their customers.

I’ll always remember the time the manager recognized us as regulars and stopped by to say hi as he made his was through the restaurant. He was clearly interested in us and the rest of his customers and wanted to make sure we were having a good experience. To top it off, as he returned to the kitchen we saw him stop and wash his hands before getting back to the food. We felt well cared for in all respects.

Since then, my family and I have always felt there is something special about Chipotle. Happy employees are one of the sure signs of a good company. It’s one of our most admired companies because they always seem to treat their customers, their employees and their food well.

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot more about Chipotle. First, there was the buzz around their ground-breaking dramatic series “Farmed and Dangerous,” a short soap opera that seeks to build popular support for well-raised food (contrast this with the barrage of TV commercials most fast food chains release touting their latest Franken-food concoction).

Most interesting to me was this recent story about Chipotle’s management culture. Turns out the entire company is based on attracting the best employees at the entry level and then training and developing them to rise through the ranks. Managers are accepted into Chipotle’s special leadership program based on how well they treat and promote their employees. It’s a management system that deeply values people. One result is Chipotle attracts and keeps higher-quality employees who are focused on the employee experience instead of process or product metrics so prevalent in the rest of their industry.

No wonder our favorite Chipotle staffers seem happier than your average fast-food worker.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is Pimco, the enormous (and enormously successful) asset management firm. As detailed in this recent New York Times story, that record of achievement is endangered by a poisonous culture that drives off talented leaders (including the man most people expected would become the next CEO) led by a notoriously hard-to-get-along-with leader.

Not coincidentally, investors have withdrawn more than $48 billion from Pimco in the year ending in February.

At Chipotle, leaders rise only if they look out for the welfare of their colleagues. At Pimco, the leader rose at the expense of the welfare of his colleagues. Chipotle is growing fast; Pimco is shrinking fast.

Again, culture has real-world impact, be it burritos or bonds.

Image: Chipotle Mexican Grill

Creating a Culture of Appreciation

Appreciation can increase employee engagement and business performance


Everyone likes to be appreciated — to know that something about us or what we do is seen, noticed and has an impact on someone else.

Appreciation in this context is more than simply noticing. It means that someone is affected by us or what we do on a physical, emotional or spiritual level; that someone has gone beyond just noticing and considered what impact we are having on them. Appreciation is a connection between the appreciator and the person or thing being appreciated.

I’ve seen this sort of appreciation have an almost magical impact on people, changing the dynamics of a situation from argument and anger to openness and agreement in just a few moments. I think back on all the times I sat in meetings picking apart a colleague’s position that differed from mine, readying my counter-arguments, jaw tightening and pulse racing as I waited for the chance to pounce. Then, if I took a minute to notice and appreciate something about them – the clarity of their presentation, their passion for their viewpoint, their command of the facts – I noticed the aggressive energy drain from my body and I was able to have a dispassionate discussion with them, still disagreeing, perhaps, but feeling closer to them as a well-meaning colleague rather than an interloper bent on my destruction.

Appreciation’s quality of connection, of calling out that connection and explicitly recognizing the validity and impact of the other person or thing changes both the appreciated and the appreciator. It’s harder to view someone as your opponent if they have connected with you in a concrete way.

And yet, appreciation is one of the work world’s rarest commodities. I’ve heard dozens of reason to justify not giving or receiving more appreciation (and used many of them myself over the years). See if any of these are familiar:

  • Too much praise or good feeling will make people lazy.
  • People will think I am buttering them up to get something from them later.
  • I’ll sound insincere if I’m always telling people what I appreciate about them.
  • It’s not macho to give or accept appreciation.
  • I get all the appreciation I need in my paycheck
  • It just sounds stupid.

Most workplaces are starved for appreciation. The closest thing to appreciation many workers get is merit pay increases, employee of the month awards and 20-year-service trophies — rote attempts at behavioral modification so impersonally calculated that they only highlight the lack of meaningful engagement between colleagues.

Appreciation is good business

This is a huge missed opportunity for American business and American workers. Appreciation costs nothing (and is more effective at creating high performance than increasing pay). Appreciation creates real connection between people and increases employee engagement with their jobs. Study after study shows that real connection in the workplace drives better business results. And appreciation is just plain fun and inspiring.

The move from a culture of under-appreciation to one of full appreciation can net big benefits in productivity for the company, and increased satisfaction on and off the job for employees. All it takes is some conscious attention on noticing, appreciating and sharing those appreciations for the things and people we come across every day.

Try this as a first step

Pick a colleague (boss, employee, the person sitting next to you, etc.) and focus your attention on them in your mind. Think about the things they do that help the business or your team. Go beyond the superficial (“Nice tie.”) and focus on what really stands out for you. Notice any body sensations or emotions you have as you appreciate what they do. Then form this mass of appreciation into a sentence like: “I appreciate you for the contribution you make to our team by _________________ .”

That alone should change your state of mind for the better and lead to higher engagement with the object of your appreciation (and everyone else). But to really increase the power, verbally communicate your appreciation to the person involved.

Go find the person you are appreciating and get their attention. (Many attention-averse people will try the Drive-by Appreciation or the Stealth Appreciation as a way to avoid actual connection.) You want this to land.

Take a breath and in one out-breath tell them what you appreciate about them. That’s it — no long speech, no love fest, no insincere panegyrics. Just say what you noticed and appreciated the same way you communicate any other essential business information.

Note that an appreciation is not the same as a thank you. It’s not a pat on the back. It’s not given with any expectation of return.

Let your appreciation sink in for half a beat and then resume your regularly scheduled programming.

You’re on your way to creating a culture of appreciation.

(If you really want to super-charge your culture of appreciation, drop me a line.)


How Corporate Culture Drives Profits

How leadership, vision, values and behavior drive company profits (and create corporate culture).

These days, it’s not unusual to hear investors and others talk about socially responsible investing, seeing a connection between a company’s social behavior and its economic performance. But back in the late 1960s, when Jay Bragdon was a young investment analyst in Boston, such an idea was fantasy. Bragdon decided to take a look at the numbers, and he found that companies that acted in ways that valued the environment, their community and their employees actually performed better than companies that were focused solely on the financial bottom line. It was the start of a line of inquiry that led him, and many others, to recognize the significance of corporate cultured for companies, their investors and the global community.

With his paper“Is Pollution Profitable? Environmental Virtue and Reward: Must Stiffer Pollution Controls Hurt Profits?” (co-authored with John Marlin), published in 1972, Bragdon launched a school of thought and an investment paradigm that woke business as usual out of its profits trance. And it wasn’t just a fad. Today Bragdon manages millions for clients based on these principles, encapsulated in his Global LAMP Index, an index of companies that practice what he calls “living asset stewardship.” Last year Bragdon’s LAMP Index produced a total return to investors of 30 percent – significantly higher than its global peer group.

So what is the secret to creating a company that is built on respect for “soft” assets like employees, the natural world and sustainable communities? Bragdon uses the metaphor of an iceberg to illustrate the importance of corporate culture, with the financial results being the veritable tip of the iceberg that we can see (and that so many investors, pundits and cable channels are solely focused on). But below that visible portion of the balance sheet lies the bulk of what is happening, the ballast upon which those results float.

What really drives business profits

At the deepest layer are the beliefs that guide the company’s leaders and other employees — basic things like “we believe people are more important than money.” Built upon that is the foundational layer of vision and values — ideas like connecting with nature as a source of inspiration, or governance by a code of ethics instead of expedience. Next up toward the surface are the structures that express these beliefs and values in the company — the HR evaluation systems, or accounting that factors in external costs like carbon emissions. Then, at the level just below the surface, are the actual behaviors of everyone in the company and the company itself — how the company treats employees; how it selects vendors in a way that reduces carbon emissions or safeguards worker health, how colleagues work out differences in meetings, etc.

Taken as a whole, these “under the surface” corporate qualities make up the culture that infuses the company and its employees’ minute-by-minute actions and experiences. This is why culture is so very important.

What’s most amazing about this model is not that it so simply captures the essence of a corporation and how those essential qualities and actions affect profits, but also that the companies that explicitly think about this and put people and the earth first also do very well financially.

In the years ahead, when increasing turbulence and competition have a greater impact on corporate profits, this way of looking at business will be increasingly valuable. It’s a gold-plated wakeup call for companies to consciously choose their culture and create the beliefs, vision and practices that support it.

What’s your corporate culture?

Challenge question: can you describe your company’s culture in one out-breath right now? If you can, take a bow and enjoy it. If you have to think about it, or it doesn’t feel like what you experience every day, congratulations — you’ve just taken the first step to creating the culture that you really want.

Image credit: Jay Bragdon, Global LAMP Index

Mindfulness is not enough


With this appearance of a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times Style section, I’ll declare that Mindfulness (hereafter known with the capital M) has arrived and achieved fad status.

And what a great fad it is!

Far superior to clothing styles or celebrity diets, Mindfulness has huge advantages for those who try it. Not only does science show it’s effective for improving physical and mental health, as well as basic happiness, but Mindfulness also allows us to see our thoughts and feeling states as separate things that we can choose to interact with as we wish. It’s super good and well worth pursuing. (My favorite book for those wanting to give it a try is “Search Inside Yourself” by Chade Meng-Tan.)

But Mindfulness is not enough. To really matter in our lives, Mindfulness must be connected to action.

Once we realize our thoughts are separate from us and that we can choose how to interact with them, then we have the option of making that choice. And it’s making those choices based on inner knowing that really turns up the heat to Awesome.

Knowledge without action is academic at best, selfishly Onanistic far more often.

Once we realize that we are feeling anger — instead of believing that we are angry and cannot do anything about it — then we can choose to drop anger. Same with fear or joy or any of the millions of recurring thoughts that run our lives most days.

When we do that — make a choice based on the realization that we can create our feeling state and our basic experiences of the world — then we start to change our lives and the lives of those around us. This is what I call Consciousness: basing our actions on deep inner knowing and the realization that we have a choice in everything we do, every second of the day. And Consciousness really does change the world.

So, three cheers for Mindfulness’ day in the pop culture spotlight. I can’t want for Consciousness to have its closeup.

Photo: Alex Proimos895

Learning to laugh, cry and scream at work

emotional baggage

Most people think of the workplace as an emotion-free zone. Dispassionate reason based on facts is supposed to rule supreme.

In fact, the workplace has as much emotion as the rest of human experience; we just suppress it at work.

And instead of going away, those emotions leak out in undesirable ways, from passive aggression, to hostility redirected in the home front, to stress and physical ailments.

Increasingly, research and experience are showing that acknowledging the emotional content of workplace relations and dealing with them in healthy, conscious ways makes for smoother work relations, happier workers and higher achievement.

Rather than deny the existence of emotions at work, more companies and leaders are valuing the practice of emotional intelligence in the workplace.

So once you recognize the reality of emotions at work, what do you do with them? Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Susan David and Christina Congleton lay out a brilliant strategy for the healthy handling of emotion in the workplace.

Their basic strategy: acknowledge and name your emotions; accept that you have them and then choose to act based on your values, not your emotional response.

To that, I’d add these moves:

  • Know that you have five basic emotional states: fear, joy, anger, sadness and sexual feelings. Our other emotional states are mixtures of these (embarrassment is a combination of fear and sadness that we will be called out on something; excitement a mixture of joy and fear; envy is anger and sadness). Then practice just noticing and labeling these emotions in yourself.
  • Get to know your physical cues for your emotions. A tightening feeling in your jaw could be your clue that you are angry about something. Butterflies in the stomach, a sign you are feeling fear, etc. Learning your own personal “tells” will help you recognize when emotions are welling up and starting to affect you.
  • Recognize that you are not your emotions, and that you have a choice as to how long you feel them and how you let them affect your actions. It’s not accurate to say “I’m angry,” or “You make me angry.” We are not literally the emotion of anger, and someone else cannot cast a spell on us to turn us into anger. We are choosing to have the emotional experience of anger. Once we know it’s a choice, we can begin thinking about whether that is the experience we want.

Becoming emotionally intelligent allows us to choose our actions based on what we want, rather than our unacknowledged emotional states. That sounds like a big leap in workplace productivity.

Want to find out your Emotional Intelligence Quotient? Try this fun quiz.

Attribution Some rights reserved by deb roby

The age of vulnerability


Katharine Viner, Deputy Editor of the Guardian newspaper, delivered a tremendous speech recently about how the digital transformation affects journalism. Check it out here, or if you don’t have a lot of time, read this excellent summary from PaidContent.

Her basic point: digital changes everything. It’s not just a new platform for the same old thing. It’s a fundamentally different way of doing business as a journalist.

I’d say the same thing is true of any business that is being disrupted by the instant and interactive availability of information (which is just about any business these days).

Viner’s knock-out insight is that telling stories (aka being a journalist) these days requires openness and interaction with the audience. No longer do the masses just sit back and buy whatever you are selling (or writing). They have a voice and will use it, either in comments, on Facebook and Twitter or on their own web sites.

What this means is saying you are right because you own the printing press, or the TV transmitter, or the factory, or the restaurant is no longer enough. It’s a dialog, a more genuine human interaction.

And here’s what is really cool: real, valuable human interaction requires vulnerability. If you are really open to hearing from the other person, you are opening yourself to hearing things you may not like: criticism, better ideas, raw emotion, etc. You might even fail, drive away readers or just plain blow it.

Opening to these possibilities is anathema to traditional business (after all, business is all about eliminating vulnerabilities) and to most humans. It takes a lot of self-assuredness and humility to put yourself out in public with a statement, product, flavor or style of dress.

And, it’s also where the biggest payoff is for us as individuals and as businesses.

If we live our lives or run our businesses from impregnability, we are immune to criticism or feedback or competition. We also are immune to connection, love, learning and deep creativity.

For a good dive into this side of the vulnerability equation, check out this TED talk from Brene´Brown.

So the good news about disruption is that it gives us the chance as businesses and as individuals to become vulnerable and reap the greater rewards of connection, rather than spend our time building ever-higher ramparts and cutting ourselves off.

Photo: Attribution Some rights reserved by Peter Alfred Hess