Creativity, process and putting man on the Moon

Last week I wrote about process at the heart of creativity in Superbowl commercials. As luck would have it, we were at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida today and had a remarkable view of creativity that happened at the very heart of checklists and meticulous process. The Space Program is to this day considered one of man’s greatest achievements, reaching its apex when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon–but also returned safely to Earth. What people may not realize is how much process went into the greatest exploratory effort ever undertaken.

Choices

When the program started, there were no agreed upon ways to even reach the Moon. They had to start by drawing up their best ideas, capturing them in cost and risk models, and then committing to a plan once they could find agreement. Scientists worked through the idea of shooting straight for the Moon (too complicated), setting up an orbit of the earth and refueling a separate lunar spacecraft (too costly) before settling on a single spacecraft to orbit the Moon and a separate lunar landing module. They never looked back from this decision.

Questions

Initially, there was no process and endless variables. For starters, there were three enormous questions:

  • How can a spacecraft locate, maneuver toward and dock with another spacecraft?
  • How can an astronaut work outside the spacecraft?
  • How will humans respond to extended space flight?

Trial and error
One of the biggest problems with resolving these issues was the inability to simulate realistic Space conditions on the earth. They had to experiment in Space, which meant starting out slowly, with what they did know. Then they had to take their new-found knowledge and create processes that would build an operational platform upon which to base their next set of experiments. As each mission gained insight, those insights were captured in engineering designs (knowledge) and operating procedures (process). By the time Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, every process was defined that could be. Anything new at that point was unknowable up to that moment. Most people don’t realize that three were five lunar orbiters that mapped the surface of the Moon and measured radioactivity between 1961 and 1967.  There were other craft that actually landed on the Moon…we had it down to a finely-tuned process before man ever went.

Platform of knowledge
The Apollo missions were successful not because they broke through every technical barrier to reaching the Moon. They were successful, in the words of then NASA Administrator James E. Webb, because the technological skills that existed as early as 1961 were properly managed and used. Everything was captured as best practice as quickly as it was known. Astronauts were exhaustively trained in process until they were experts at everything they knew and liberated to reason through anything they hit that they didn’t already know. It came down to process over knowledge…management of human activity more than science. In the end, creativity solved technical problems, but excellent process management put a man on the Moon.

To see our personal story on this trip, click here.

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Categories: Workplace Reality

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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2 Comments on “Creativity, process and putting man on the Moon”

  1. jon
    January 18, 2012 at 6:20 am #

    Chris, Great write up. Having worked on the Space Program, I know first hand its inner workings. The zeal and innovation was mostly done in the 50s and 60s and 70s. So much of it was stifled by Washington politics. Also, the contractors realized the way they can exploit the public sentiment to get excessive funding by propaganda. The Space Station consumed $95 billions. It could have been done for less than half that amount.

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  1. A remarkable piece of history died | Successful Workplace - August 25, 2012

    […] we learned last Winter at Cape Canaveral, there was less computing power in the Apollo 11 landing craft than we have in today’s […]

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