What does an astronaut know about facilitating business and fostering innovation?
The start of the space age hinged on uninhibited innovation, collaboration, leadership, and careful planning. Over the course of my career, the space program has grown tremendously, and what made that possible is applicable outside the industry.
These four things—innovation, collaboration, leadership, and careful planning—that were so essential for decades of exploration and inspiration are crucial to the success of any project, and the lack of any one of them could be detrimental to our success as a society in moving forward.
In today’s world, we are constantly readjusting and tinkering with the bounds of what is possible. I’m a huge advocate of people coming together to exchange ideas—whether it’s for personal interests or to act on a larger agenda. The ease of communication today makes this almost effortless.
Talented, creative thinkers and skilled doers spread across vast distances can now come together instantly to advance projects and speed the process of innovation in virtually every industry.
In education, for example, communications and collaboration technologies help children experience the world in ways that were unimaginable decades ago. To sustain our innovative thinking into the future, we need to continue developing technologies that provide future generations with a well-rounded education in science, math, technology, and the arts.
It is important to remember, however, that without strong leadership and the support of a large number of people who will drive the integration of ideas and follow through needed to transform ideas into real progress, we can very easily end up in a standstill.
Gaps in innovation, gaps in education, even gaps in inspiration—that comes from a failure of leadership. Time and time again I see that organizations—not just the space program—need competent, open-minded leaders at all levels to encourage collaboration across departments, agencies, cultures, and industries in order to carry out an objective.
As a society we expect things to progress or we move on to alternate methods towards the same or similar objectives. Progress requires an inspiring and committed leadership that can anticipate our most long-term goals and take steps to help us fulfill them. We need to look to the future and commit to developing new technologies.
I’ve seen far too many projects fail because the execution and commitment to move true innovation forward takes a long time. For many organizations, this requires them to free themselves from the bureaucratic details and measurements. Short-term planning and maintaining the status quo, to put it simply, stifle innovation so we need to consciously commit to making the big push for the big gain for long-term objectives.
This failure to appreciate the bigger picture can exist among businesses just as much as it can in the government, so let’s put a stop to it. From cutting the space program because of disagreement over budget to sacrificing R&D programs or lacking the necessary commitment to collaboration because of a need to increase shareholder value now, these actions significantly damage our ability to create and innovate.
If, as a country, we are ready to move into the future, inspire our young people, and enliven space exploration with a mission to Mars, let’s commit to coming together regardless of hurdles, exchange ideas, and put a plan in place to move those ideas forward. After all, the hardest challenges have the most satisfying rewards.
—Buzz Aldrin is a former American astronaut and the second man to walk on the moon. In 2011 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor, along with the other Apollo 11 crew members, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins, and Mercury Seven astronaut, John Glenn. Dr. Aldrin is an author of eight books including his New York Times best selling autobiography entitled, "Magnificent Desolation" which was released in 2009 just before the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo XI moon landing.