A lesson from NASA: Learning precedes innovation

In the above video, Cosmonaut Sunita Williams, gives us a tour of the International Space Station. It’s 25 minutes long, but I guarantee you it is worth watching.

Now, this post is about a lesson from NASA, and Ms. Williams doesn’t talk about any lessons about innovation. But what does, is a short paragraph in the Slate article where I found this video:

I have very mixed feelings about the space station; it cost a lot of money, and in my opinion it hasn’t lived up to the scientific potential NASA promised when it was being designed. But watching this video reminded me of the good that’s come out of it: There is science being done there; we’re learning how to design and build hardware for long-term space travel; we’re learning just how to live in space (and NASA just announced it will be sending humans into space for an entire year, an unprecedented experiment); and we’re finding new ways for nations and individuals to cooperate in space.

Don’t just dismiss that last bit. I grew up in the Cold War era, so seeing Russians and Americans working together in space—where they were once stone-faced enemies with their fingers on The Button—makes me wonder what good we humans can do when we see our similarities more than our differences and really focus on the long goals.

Now, common businesses are not NASA. At least not how you imagine. But, what most breakthrough business have in common with NASA, is they have an “exploration” component. They go to the edge and see how they can push it. NASA is an example of a long-term innovator.One that understands that learning precedes innovation.

Most executives are scared of this. They want innovation, but when was the last time you saw one of them push it? How can they demand innovation if they aren’t setting the example?

This is the reason why really innovative organization are scarce. The lesson is simple: their leaders are innovators.

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