Wednesday, May 24, 2017

SpaceX’s Reusable Rocket – an example of Visionary Strategy

In Martin Reeves, Claire Love, and Phillipp Tillmanns’ Harvard Business Review article, “Your Strategy Needs a Strategy,” the authors define four strategic styles based on the characteristics of predictability and malleability.  A classical strategy works for those companies operating in a predictable and immutable environment; an adaptive strategy in immutable environments that are unpredictable; a shaping strategy in unpredictable environments where there is power to change; and a visionary strategy in predictable environments where there is a power to change. 

According to the authors’ research, a visionary strategy would work well in the aerospace industry where “bold strategies” and “big bets, the build-it-and-they-will-come strategies” are best suited when leaders can look into the future and mold it to their advantage.

I think the perfect real word example of visionary boldness is Elon Musk, his SpaceX company, and in particular his “big bet” on the reusable rocket.  When you navigate to the SpaceX website, the company underscores its visionary prowess with a very simple statement: “SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft.  The company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.  Additionally Elon Musk’s vision on the reusable rocket was clear in June 2015: “If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred.  A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.”   Musk vision was realized in March 2017, when SpaceX achieved the world’s first re-flight of an orbital class rocket. (

According to MIT Technology Review (, the reusable rocket was a breakthrough technology in 2016, given the ability of the rocket to blast off and return to earth through the use of  onboard software to fire thrusters and manipulate flaps that slow, having them land upright on legs, and saving tens of millions of dollars. 

With all the success that SpaceX has had the United States still has not sent astronauts into space since the space shuttle was scrapped.  When NASA announced the $2.6 billion strategic partnership with SpaceX in 2014, the agency expected SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their Crew Dragon spacecraft 2017, but no launch plans have been announced to date.  It will be interesting to see how the relationship between SpaceX and NASA unfolds given the changing political environment. 

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