Elon Musk thinks he has a problem with worker complacency.
The head of SpaceX says one of the reasons his company’s Falcon 9 rocket blew up following takeoff last month was because his people have been sitting on their laurels. In a post-mortem conference call about the explosion, Musk said:
“This is the first time we've had a failure in seven years so, I think to some degree, the company as a whole became maybe a little bit complacent.”
Yahoo Finance Columnist Rick Newman believes Musk is onto something.
“Elon Musk is probably right, ” he argues. “Yes, you do get complacent. You just start to take success for granted.”
Newman feels that any complacency at SpaceX would be understandable.
“They’re doing things people didn’t think you could do- use off the shelf parts and do something as sophisticated as rocket launches, and they’ve drastically cut costs, ” he explains. “They’ve had a few setbacks with tests along the way but everything has really gone right with this company.”
But Newman notes that Musk recognizes that “close enough” doesn’t cut it in this business.
“He pointed out with this failure that a rocket launch is either 100% or nothing, ” Newman says. “There’s no such thing as 99% successful because if something goes wrong you have a catastrophic failure such as what we saw.”
Musk explained that the actual physical cause of the accident was a failed strut that allowed a helium bottle to burst free inside the rocket's liquid oxygen tank. Newman says Musk will likely make sure that won’t happen again.
“He actually blamed the failure on a part provided by a supplier and he suggested they would be changing suppliers- he didn’t say who that supplier is, ” Newman notes. “He’s clearly saying this is what caused the crash but we also have a cultural thing and we’re going to take a look at.”
In his call, Musk added:
“I think this is certainly an important lesson and something we're going to take with us into the future.”
Newman isn’t surprised by that line.
“This is a popular Silicon Valley theme and especially popular with Elon Musk- the necessity of learning from failure, ” he points out. “Elon Musk is obviously very successful but he’s had his stumbles and I think he’s trying to export what he has learned to his company and say let’s make this a learning moment.”
And Newman believes this setback will end up benefiting Musk and SpaceX.
“He did say this is going to be good for the company in the long run, ” Newman concludes. “He’s probably right about that.”
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