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Innovation the NASA Way: What’s Your Mission?

One question often asked by readers of Innovation the NASA Way is the obvious:  “How can I bring the lessons learned from these chapters into my workplace? I don’t work in a matrix-managed organization and I don’t have limitless budgets at my disposal.” It is a legitimate question, and one that deserves explanation beyond the book.

NASA, always innovative, has experienced two periods of extreme excellence with the quality and speed of solutions implemented to meet the enormous challenges it faced. The first period was the space race, roughly 1957 to 1972, the desperate effort to catch up with the Soviet Union’s impressive accomplishments in space. The United States would later exceed these accomplishments by landing humans on the moon and exploring it. This period was unique in that the resources were vast—5 percent of the federal budget and a combined workforce of almost 400,000 people were marshaled to meet the challenge.

A second period of impressive achievement was a descendant of the first, a quieter race to beat the Russians in robotic, unmanned exploration of the solar system, which lasted roughly from 1962 to 1988. It began with the first robotic exploration of Venus ...

Five Lessons to Learn From The Wall Street Career of Ace Greenberg

Wall St. legendary trader Alan C. Greenberg passed away today from complications due to cancer. The 86-year-old, nicknamed “Ace,” helped to build Bear Stearns into a powerhouse investment bank to rival those of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, until it buckled under the in the maelstrom of the financial crisis, on March 17, 2008.

Greenberg started out at Bear Stearns as a mail clerk but hustled his way to the top–and it’s that sort of bootstrapping, blue-collar banker culture that he brought to the investment bank. Greenberg’s Bear Stearns wasn’t focused purely on gilded status, family pedigree or Ivy League credentials.

Greenberg had his critics, who suggest that he may have been able to do more to prevent the collapse of the firm he presided over for nearly five decades until Jimmy Cayne took the reins from him as CEO in 1993. Greenberg directed much of the blame for the demise of Bear to Cayne, and later told Bloomberg Businessweek that his relationship with his protege, who was ousted two months before the bank collapsed, had deteriorated to such an extent that the CEO would disagree with nearly everything that he suggested.

Whatever your opinion of ...

How Business Skills Can Develop Better Military Officers

As Kellogg Insight recently reported, research by Efraim Benmelech and Carola Frydman shows that in the right context, a military background can serve a CEO and a company well. But what about the flip side of that coin? How can business leadership skills help the military create better officers?

U.S. Army Colonel Rodney Haggins came to the Kellogg School in 2013 as an Army Chief of Staff Senior Fellow to address this question. Along with sharing wisdom as a decorated military veteran, one of his objectives at Kellogg is to generate recommendations for how the Army can improve its force management.

Given time away from the day-to-day demands of military life has provided room for self-reflection. “I’m thinking about total leadership: my own, my reference points, why I think and feel the way I do about things as a leader,” Haggins says. “There have been several things I have seen over the 27 years I have been in the military where I thought, ‘oh, we can do that better,’ or ‘this doesn’t seem right to me.’” This year at Kellogg has given Haggins the opportunity to add some rigor to those passing thoughts. 

In what areas does ...

Zomato Has a “Deskless” Office so That Employees Never Get Too Complacent

Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal says it took six years to define his company’s culture. From the moment he founded the restaurant listing and review site in his New Delhi apartment in 2008, he’s been laser-focused on growth. Today, his message to his 750 employees is clear: stay in startup mode.

“It’s very hard to articulate a culture,” says Upasana Nath, the company’s 35th employee and regional director for the Southeast Asian market. “Everything is hustle. Early on this year we moved to a five-day workweek. We were running six days the last couple years.”

The ecommerce company’s New Delhi headquarters is a “deskless” office, similar to software company Valve, where no one has a fixed desk. Without a permanent desk, says Nath, you can never get too complacent.

Goyal tells Quartz that the company’s “deskless” culture is largely symbolic, indicating to employees that they need to be flexible in terms of roles, locations, and reporting structures. “We still have that very early startup culture where everybody is able to do everything,” he says.

That ethos rings true among employees, whom the company calls Zomans. On job ratings and review site Glassdoor, many describe Zomato ...

How to Run a Team of People Who Never See Each Other

Millions of people make a living without ever setting foot in an office. Particularly in technology, companies are moving away from just outsourcing rote tasks to remote workers and toward building entirely distributed teams.

One leader is Elance-oDesk, the largest online marketplace for freelance talent. In addition to providing a platform for distributed and part-time work, the company practices what it preaches. Telecommuting in the United States increased by as much as 79% (paywall) between 2005 and 2012.

Elance-oDesk’s engineering lead, Stephane Kasriel, recently released an extensive guide to building distributed teams that combine on-site staff with a larger group of remote workers and freelancers. His team has about 50 people in the Bay Area, and some 200 that are remote.

Kasriel argues that particularly for smaller companies, distributed teams offer a huge cost and competitive advantage. There are great people around the world who are disinclined to move, do their best work outside of an open-plan office, or have conflicting family commitments.

Big businesses can offer higher salaries and better perks, but hiring can be very competitive, especially for high-skilled jobs in places where an industry is concentrated, such as Silicon Valley. The Brookings Institution’s Jonathan Rothbard ...