A story of when the super-geniuses asked for help from the average people
What do you think about when you hear the word NASA? Surely, some alternatives could be: ships, space travel, technology and science … but, if you are like me, in addition to these words, surely you also have the perception of a place where people work with a high – if not the highest – Technical and scientific level in its field.
Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut, describes in his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, not only the rigorous training that astronauts undergo, physically and mentally, but also, the mystique that exists in NASA to analyze every situation … it does not matter how small or insignificant it may seem. Imagine having to screw something, wearing a heavy suit that makes movement difficult, in an environment where everything – including that screw – is hostile! It’s no wonder that the ability to make Formal Problem Resolution is vital for NASA and that each astronaut must possess it. Considering all this, engineers and scientists at NASA should be able to solve any problem and not need anyone else, right? Not so much …
In 2016, NASA made public the Space Poop Challenge, which sought to solve the management of human waste in space. Considering that every day, the possibility of humans traveling to Mars or beyond takes more weight, giving a solution to this type of situation becomes imperative. The interesting thing about this initiative is that the challenge was launched to the public, so that any citizen could offer suggestions on how to solve this problem satisfactorily, and help NASA with, say, this small detail.
5,000 proposals were received, 19,000 people grouped into 150 teams from each country and continent participated. In February 2017, NASA announced the winner, Mr. Thatcher Cardon, whose proposal was based on his experience as a surgeon. Its design has a tiny air chamber in the crotch of the suit, through which items such as catheters and inflatable panels can be passed.
This story is interesting because it confirms something that we often forget: Human beings like to solve problems. From the moment we learned to make fire to this day, fighting against climate change, our history and evolution has been based on the Formal Problem Resolution.
In most companies and business environments, it is probably where we least remember this. The maelstrom of everyday life and the volatility of markets makes us assume that only those who are in a leadership position have the ability to understand daily problems and provide solutions. The participation of the collaborators, especially those in highly operational positions, is almost nil and, all the potential of obtaining creative and economic solutions for the company, is lost. In addition, there are other factors that influence us to not take advantage of all that potential in companies:
- The human being, by nature, likes to solve problems, but that does not mean that the way he does it is the most efficient. It is not about knowing what tools exist, but about which one should be used in each case in particular.
- Formal Resolution of Problems, requires a good dose of humility and not trying to impose the point of view we have or force what we believe is the solution, but address the situation without prejudice. Arrogance does not fit in the Formal Problem Resolution.
- Complying with points 1 and 2 is not enough, but a healthy problem solving culture is generated. A culture, where – as in NASA – no situation remains uninvestigated and without finding the root cause.
Let’s accept it, to solve problems (claims of a client or a high number of defects) in a correct and definitive way is not easy and takes time, which is a contradiction in the time in which we live, where we expect things to happen quickly, and where managers expect the answers to occur almost spontaneously. And, if we add to this an atmosphere of fear or retaliation, things get complicated. But with determination and an adequate process, it is possible to improve the quality of the analysis process and therefore, the quality of the results, based on a true Organizational Culture of Formal Problem Resolution.
I find the elements in this story almost symbolic, and as NASA has realized that the alternatives to better solutions increase when we involve more people. The human being likes to solve problems … and he likes to be part of the solution even more. Can you assure that in your company each collaborator is a true problem solver? If your answer is no, your company is wasting a golden opportunity and it´s time to do something about it.
To know more about how to achieve a true Culture of Formal Problem Resolution visit:
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Hadfield, Chris. Hachette Book Group, 2013.
Más sobre Chris Hadfield (youtube song).