If I was Elon Musk, I wouldn’t be able to get a minute’s sleep at night. Zero. Zip. Nada.
If I blew things up as often and as publicly as Elon Musk has been blowing things up lately, you think I’d swing forty winks? Would you?
For starters, there’s that SpaceX resupply rocket launch to the International Space Station last month.
That was a good one. BLAMMO!
Big. Loud. Expensive. How do you even insure a thing like that? Did a Lloyd’s agent in London suddenly find himself crushing a scone between his knees?
Meanwhile, Boeing has been cranking out boring, non-explosive orbital launches by the score, something you’d earnestly hope figures into NASA’s calculus as they try to figure out which company gets awarded their next multi-zillion dollar launch contract.
See these four folks? You bet your butt they’re invested in the outcome. Since it’s their butts that’ll be on the line.
They’re the U.S. four astronauts picked to be the first launched from American soil since the end of the shuttle program. They’ll ride either a Boeing or SpaceX rocket. I wonder which vendor they’re pulling for?
Elsewhere, Elon Musk has been blowing up rockets on purpose.
Sort of. To save the odd million or two here and there, SpaceX is trying to teach launch boosters how to land themselves, just like Hollywood brought its swoopy Atomic Age rocketships back to Earth in movies like Destination Moon.
The idea has been hard to operationalize, you might say.
These aren’t little failures. They’re incredibly visible failures. SpaceX doesn’t shy away from streaming video and embracing the press. Our old pals the Soviets had a launchpad disaster in 1960 that killed over seventy people, and they didn’t breathe a word about it until 1989.
But they keep trying. That’s key. I don’t picture anybody sitting around SpaceX saying, “Jesus, that one crashed harder than Tidal. Let’s call it a day, kids.”
What Elon Musk and people who reach (and sometimes overreach) understand, the realization that allows them to sleep at night, is that failure is more common than success. Waaaaaay more common. Like they say, ask any baseball batter.
For the rest of us who chew our nails and thrash the pillows over far less dramatic challenges, here are four steps that are part of any process that results in success, steps that SpaceX is demonstrating very ably.
Expect it. Be ready for it. Welcome it. If you succeed on the first try, you’re a freak of luck or nature, my friend. Don’t be afraid to flop, and remember that the bigger the challenge, the bigger the chance something might blow up in your face. Literally. But that’s all commensurate with the reward if you finally figure it out.
Take a long, hard look at what was done wrong, and what was done right. People or organizations that keep repeating failure after failure are pretty regularly not introspective or analytical enough about their own process or approach. Just as importantly, recognize the positives and give yourself credit, because the lessons or the data we cull through failure are important in and of themselves, and foundational to forging ahead.
Shake it off. Wring it out of your system. We’ve all heard about the selective amnesia practiced by champion athletes: Tom Brady forgets about the last stalled drive, godawful interception or improperly-inflated football scandal the very next time he’s under center. He retains what he’s learned from that craptastic experience, but he doesn’t let failure screw him down emotionally, because his larger objective is to win. Which brings us to…
“There’s no winning without trying,” your old coach/sensei/parent/boss might’ve said, so stepping up and taking another shot, and another after that, is how success eventually happens, especially if you’re dealing with a challenge as complicated as spaceflight.
Remember this: Elon Musk wants the human race to get to Mars. You can be damned sure he’ll keep blowing things up until he gets us there.