There’s no question that SpaceX is at the cutting edge of technology and innovation right now, but you can bet that all eyes are on Elon Musk and his company when issues like a failed rocket launch come up. Recently, on June 28th, SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket –only to fail about two minutes after takeoff from Cape Canaveral. It is suspected that a faulty two-foot-long, one-inch-thick strut was the cause of this failure. At the time, the rocket was carrying about 4,000lbs of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). The lesson here, I guess, is that even wildly successful companies who have become accustomed to routine things going smoothly (successful launches in SpaceX’s case) can have simple mistakes or malfunctions that create big problems. Because a recent history of success may be contributing to a sort of complacency within SpaceX’s company culture, this failed rocket launch can actually be a benefit and a lesson to learn from.
The company’s own growth and success could very possibly have led to a culture that doesn’t feel intense risk of failure that it once did as a small startup, even though the overall attitude of the company is still very much that of a startup.
From a recent article on Space.com:
“Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002, with the aim of helping reduce the cost of spaceflight enough to make human outposts on Mars a feasible prospect. A certain level of paranoia marked the company’s early days, when its relatively small staff was still learning how to build rockets, Musk said.
But the fear of failure apparently subsided with every successful liftoff after SpaceX’s last launch mishap, which came during an August 2008 liftoff of the company’s Falcon 1 rocket. And that trend was likely amplified by the company’s explosive growth, Musk said.”
Now that a sort of complacency has set in, this accident could be a great way to encourage a more watchful and attentive company culture that will work more diligently to prevent future incidents. As I see it, mistakes are going to happen no matter what, it’s what you do to learn and grow from those mistakes that will propel a company even further forward. Musk has said that he has done things like send a mass email out to the entire company before a launch asking that anyone contact him if they think there might be any sort of issue with the launch. People who have watched success after success may not have paid much heed to that email before now.
Perhaps a new level of fear of failure will impact the culture of the company enough to keep them on their toes. In my opinion, one failure does not necessarily determine the worth or the success of the entire company. This is a great opportunity to rework the company culture so that all members of the team are on the same page and the complacency is that has been felt is minimized.
I think that SpaceX will continue to do great things in the future and will continue to improve both in their technology as well as their own internal company culture. What do you think? Do you think this will be a wakeup call or do you think that SpaceX is too large right now for that small startup paranoia to kick in? Comment below!