NASA’s Advice for Today’s Businesses

Important lessons to leverage the Power of the Crowd

Tiago Silva
ExtendNode’s Blogs for Entrepreneurs


Considering the current economic downturn, many companies are and will struggle to keep their heads afloat. Several business leaders and academics have been hypothesizing about the real impact of the global pandemic and suggesting different approaches to overcome it. Innovation comes immediately to the conversation and businesses can no longer ignore it as extinction is around the corner.

NASA is a pioneer organization in the innovation field and, even in a R&D-intensive industry, NASA has been developing new technologies and concepts by leveraging collaborative innovation. The aeroespacial industry showed how it can accomplish great results with the recent opening of a new age of commercial spaceflight. But, beyond partnerships among huge corporations, relies the Power of the Crowd.

But first…

The world has changed

In a recent past we’ve seen a steady economic growth. From the second quarter of 2016 the US GDP had been increasing from 1 to near 4% every quarter until the world was surprised by the pandemic early this year. Which brought growth numbers to negative terrain.

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Companies and individuals were affected by a crisis that, for the first time, lacked in offer, not demand. Governments and public institutions rushed to support the community and businesses to reduce the impact, but for the sake of long term prosperity, companies have to adapt and overcome. From now on businesses will have to embrace a new reality and seek for new ways to satisfy a customer that’s more digitally literate and avoids human contact, oftentimes with diminished resources.

Much of what worked in the past won’t work in the future

Steve Rader, from NASA, suggests that the recipes used before are no longer suitable for the New Normal. A new paradigm is needed to push companies further and extend their capabilities.

The truth is: The world is now better prepared to face wicked challenges.

  • 90% of all the scientists that have ever lived are alive today!
  • Worldwide patent applications more than doubled in the last twenty years reaching 3.3 million in 2018.

Knowledge is out there and people are willing to share it! Thousands of collaborative initiatives were launched during the peak of the pandemic and it made all the difference. To name a few: Tech4Covid19, Cluster Collaboration, Data Sharing.

This means smart people might not be inside your organization

From the brightest minds launching the next unicorn to the deep-pocketed firms hiring the best talent — they all have to recognize that a vast number of brains stay hungry and curious outside of the company’s boundaries. So it’s crucial to build bridges to the external world and promote collision to gather different points of view, knowledge and skills.

NASA has been embracing Open Innovation to foster creative problem-solving across industries and sectores. The key components of this strategy are:

  • Innovation lab
  • Challenges
  • Curated Communities

At NASA, the Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation is responsible for managing the Tournment Lab that provides access to Open Innovation platforms giving support across NASA’s Centers and Programs and to the US Federal Agencies.

Their goal is to collect wicked problems and necessities, and turn them into design challenges open to a passionate and knowledgeable community of innovators. Crowdsourcing is the vehicle to enable external inputs into the innovation process allowing scientists, technologists and anyone eager to help, to solve some of the most challenging problems.

The challenges have to be provokative to inspire and awake curious brains. Who wound’t love to forecast solar flares, rethink the future of work or solve the space poop challenge?!

The Power of the Crowd come from the Curated Communities. While organizations have highly specialized employees in a few number of core areas, outside are individuals that can translate knowledge from other industries and bring diversity to the table.

Author: Steve Rader

Curated Communities allow the right shift in the graph towards a broader and specialized range of knowledge but also “naturally selects” from the general population the individuals that are motivated to engage in such initiatives. There they can find think-alike people, be challenged, share knowledge and contribute to a common good.

Building external connections and leveraging the Power of the Crowd, organizations can have access to knowledge and resources that otherwise would be inaccessible. This means that SME’s and Startups can competitively feed their innovation process and launch increasingly better products and services.

Innovation is no longer an option. Doing it openly allows you to start in the middle, not the beginning.

-Tiago Silva