Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Barriers To Innovation

A friend of mine just hooked me up with a video about bureaucracy at NASA - all I can say is "Yup."

The movie gave me chills, because it reminded me so much of my own experience as a young engineer with the Air Force. I've been that guy who keeps getting asked "Why are you doing that? Don't you know it's not your job? Why don't you just keep your head down and color in the lines?" 

And when the young engineer's boss gets asked "Are you supporting her?" (with the clear implication that the answer had better be a solid No)... well, it reminded me of meetings that were held to discuss yours truly.

Interestingly, the NASA process diagram (at the 4:00 mark) is basically identical to the one the military uses. I bet we could switch diagrams and nobody would notice.

So, watch the movie - it's worth the time. Laugh because it's funny, and cry because it's true.

My first thought was to check out the OpenNASA.com blog and see if that crew was involved - sure enough, there it was!

Just for fun, here's the DoD's equivalent process diagram (any questions?):


yusufyusuf said...

Nice blog...

The Dark Planet ©

JafaBrit's Art said...

yep! Some of the rules my husband faces almost make it impossible for him as a scientist at the Air Force. Bit like me having to fill out a log book listing which art equipment I took out of the cupboard, for how long, and having to log it all back in and placed on the precise shelf, in a precise position. Just even thinking about all that I wouldn't want to bother.
Sometimes he tells me about the new rules and I have to wonder why the Air Force even bothers having a research lab.

Gabe said...

Holy Cow that's a good video. I'm so stoked by your post here that I've decided to scalp it from you and make my own commentary over on my blog.

Dick Field said...

I eschew bureaucracy and love innovation - in general. Still, and having worked in the man-rated spaceflight field in a past life, I have to intellectually acknowledge that control of complexity in that high-risk, high-reliability, high-cost universe makes the timing and placement of innovation tactically critical. Here is a good counterpoint synopsis from some of the feedback to the video . . .

"I think too many people have seen the Right Stuff.

"Management is in a tough position. These vehicles aren't built by 5 old Germans, they are built and tested by thousands of people, numerous contractors, to very specific design requirements, against which very large numbers of tests must be performed at great cost. When engineers continuously attempt to make changes (improvements) or even influence changes in requirements, it creates an environment that is impossible to manage. At some point, requirements and goals MUST be baselined for a given vehicle, and all the things that relate to it.

"I love innovation, and have an even greater appreciation for simple solutions to complex problems, but the level of complexity for doing anything of this magnitude, with very high reliability requirements, produced in units of 1-20, dragging a seemingly infinite amount of political baggage, isn't trivial."