Imagine you are one of the fortunate who has a strategy, or is involved in a strategy that is thrilling, motivating, and truly revolutionary? Exhilarating strategic plans do exist in various organizations today. What makes strategic work stimulating for me is being involved with helping leaders create strategies that are out of this world. Recently I worked with an organization whose strategy is sending highly sophisticated machinery with the most innovative technology of its kind to places not on earth. This organization can give us a great look at strategic thinking in action.
There is a reason many people use the term rocket scientist to describe the very intelligent or complex. The strategy, innovation, planning, and the execution of a plan to send anything into space is no small feat, and yet basic principles of strategic action are ever present in space exploration missions. Below is a picture of NASA’s new Mars Rover named Curiosity. The Curiosity Rover, launched recently, is traveling at a clip of 1.8 million miles every day. Curiosity’s final destination on Mars is 352 million miles away from Earth, which means Curiosity will reach Mars sometime in August 2012.
For this mission to be a success, it takes the most elaborate technology and equipment made on earth to propel a one-ton mobile science lab to Mars, but that is only part of the strategy. Another is landing Curiosity on Mars safely, meaning two distinct strategic efforts are at play here. One is to get Curiosity to the vicinity of Mars, and another is to land Curiosity safely on Mars.
This highly advanced mobile science laboratory is one-of-a-kind. Curiosity has several features that are totally new and innovative. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said “we are very excited about sending the world’s most advanced scientific laboratory to Mars. MSL will tell us critical things we need to know about Mars, and while it advances science, we’ll be working on the capabilities for a human mission to the Red Planet and to other destinations where we’ve never been.”
Now that you’ve been exposed to some basic elements of a really cool mission, how does this relate to your strategy? What are the lessons learned? For one, strategy is all about intelligence gathering. The amount of intelligence gathering for a mission like this is likely overwhelming to people like you and me. Yet every piece of data collected by the Curiosity Mission Team is completely thought through. Mission decisions are made based on facts from all the data collected.
Curiosity’s whole reason for being is to gather intelligence, not only while on Mars but also along the journey to the red planet. Therefore, as Curiosity travels to Mars, one of its many tasks is to analyze radiation levels in space in order to assess how astronauts on future missions would be affected.
In my experience, I find that great strategic thinkers have an intelligence gathering formula. The formula is: collect, analyze, and conclude. Strategic thinking excellence comes from being able to look for actionable data that is leveraged to advance strategic efforts. Those leaders who have developed their intelligence gathering skills are more effective at creating strategic direction and plans that matter to an organization.
Strategic thinkers should ask:
- What forces will play a critical role in the success of the strategy?
- What are the patterns or trends telling you?
- Where must you go for actionable information?
Using these three questions and others like them will help you to interpret the data and draw conclusions about your strategic path. Effective intelligence gathering will also be the key that helps you decide if you should learn more, slow down, or proceed with your strategy.
The second part of this article will provide will cover more about strategy lessons learned from this mission.