What we can learn from the mission to Pluto
In January 2006, a tiny spacecraft - called “New Horizons” - blasted off from Cape Canaveral (Florida) and began the longest and farthest journey of exploration humans have ever attempted: a journey to explore Pluto, a planet at 7,5 billion kilometers from Earth.
“New Horizons” was a so-called “flyby mission”. A flyby is a mission which simply sends a spacecraft zooming past a planet, with no ability to slow down to orbit or land, gathering as many pictures and other data as possible during a few hours near closest approach. Those missions leave no room for error. And this was also exactly the case for the mission of "New Horizons". It was rushing toward Pluto at 1,2 million kilometers per day. It would pass the planet on 14 July 2015. Only on 14 July 2015. There was no second chance and no way to delay the date. I once read a phrase from World War I describing warfare as “months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror”. The same applies to long spacecraft missions. After 9 years of space travel, “New Horizons” proved to be a successful mission and it indeed passed Pluto on 14 July 2015. Mission accomplished. Perfect timing.
Timing is very often critical to success. Also in the business, timing is everything. History is full of relevant examples. Consider HDTV, which could not gain traction until high-definition cameras, new broadcast standards and updated production processes also became commercially available. Think of Artificial Intelligence. Nothing new, but today it has really taken off because of the data explosion. Another example: the digital camera was famously invented at Kodak in 1975, but the infrastructure to support digital camera’s did not exist yet in the seventies.
So when launching new products or services, make sure to understand the wider ecosystem you operate in. Get a feeling of the changes in the market that may make innovation succeed. Or fail. And above all, be agile enough internally to respond rapidly when opportunities present themselves. Remember what Victor Hugo once said: “There is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come”.
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