Innovation, agility and complexity in space - Brightest Minds series

18 Aug 2017

  • Innovation
  • Thought leadership
  • Technology

Marketing is an increasingly complex beast. From data management to keeping up with technology advances and the changing expectations of the consumer, you’d be forgiven for being overwhelmed. But it’s not rocket science. The lives of people orbiting through space aren’t quite in your hands but they are for Jason Crusan.

Crusan, who will be presenting the keynote presentation at the upcoming ADMA Global Forum, is the Director of Advanced Exploration Systems for human space flight. He says: “That basically means I build everything that keeps astronauts healthy and alive in the space environment. That’s everything from habitats to life support systems to radiation sensors to mundane logistics.”

While Crusan’s experience of “making science fiction reality” may be light years away from your humble posting at an FMCG conglomerate, Crusan shares a number of challenges you can probably relate to, namely in terms of dealing with complexity.

“I've always been interested in how to engineer complex systems. How do you come up with a way to un-structure a complex problem and split it apart to enable a broad base of participation in solving that problem?” he says.

More than 18,000 people work at NASA in addition to external contractors and Crusan says the agency is under pressure from external stakeholders, Congress and taxpayers that fund the space program. The agency also collaborates with private enterprise.

“Every day, you hear about a new space company and as a space agency, we help fuel those new companies,” says Crusan. “We use their services, but then, also, at the same time, they help us go after the next big science question, the next big exploration question. NASA's changed a lot. It's not just us doing these things. There's an entire global industry that's supporting our space endeavours.”
Given the scale and complexity of the projects Crusan and his team are working on, he acknowledges the importance of celebrating small wins.

“Like any large organisation, you get bogged down in the bureaucracy of things and I constantly remind myself and my team to step back and look what we just did. It's pretty amazing, the technology breakthroughs and the pace of which those are coming,” he says.

Motivation comes through incremental progress but Crusan admits it can be difficult to see the end game. He says: “Some people are happy working in one specific technology area for 20 or 30 years. Other folks need more instant gratification. There's a lot of work involved in aligning the skill sets of your teams and what motivates them.”

In this era of test and learn, NASA’s philosophy “test like you fly” is possibly the most relevant to our sector. It speaks to the agency’s commitment to ongoing testing and the important learnings that come from it. “We do test a lot, and fail a lot, actually,” Crusan explains. “We fail a lot of times in the lab, in the test chamber, on a small-scale test. We fail hundreds of times, potentially, before you go see a flawless mission that is live on television when NASA lands on Mars or sends the next human crew up to the space station.”

But Crusan’s greatest piece of advice for marketing professionals is to concede control. He says: “Everybody tries to control their brand and the messaging. Just like in the complex system we're working with at NASA, you actually don't control those things. You may believe you do, but you really don't.”

Don't miss out on Jason Crusan's keynote presentation at ADMA Global Forum 2017, where he'll be outlining the pioneering apporaches that NASA is using to develop prototype systems, advancing key capabilities on the International Space Station, and validate operational concepts through near term missions in the next decade beyond Earth's orbit. 

Need more info?