February 13

Earth and Beyond

Wednesday’s Big Idea

Systems Thinking

How good is the U.S. Congress at problem-solving? The consensus is that it's not very good, and this is due to "A-to-B thinking." Bound by cycles -- both economic ones and electoral ones -- Congress approaches problems one by one, as opposed to looking at a system as a whole.

In today's lesson, Neil deGrasse Tyson argues that if we wish to create a culture of innovation, we need to start using systems thinking. Tyson's preferred analogy is NASA. This government agency's mission is not to solve problems one at a time, but rather to pursue big, audacious goals like space exploration. In order to achieve this goal, a different type of thinking is required than what we normally see in Washington. 

Tyson demonstrates that many steps are involved in bringing big ideas into practice. If we approached problems in total isolation, but a band aid on one here and one there, Tyson argues we never would have made it to the moon. Instead, NASA functioned as the thumping heart of a culture of innovation, an innovation ecosystem that produced results that went far beyond its singular mission statement.

We need to restore this ecosystem, Tyson argues, and the way of thinking that goes along with it, if we hope to make it anywhere in the 21st century. 

  1. 1 Make Room in the Budget for Big, ...
  2. 2 What’s Another $20 Million?
  3. 3 Fly Me To the Moon, and Cheap!
  4. 4 Winning the 21st Century Space Race
  1. Make Room in the Budget for Big, Audacious Ideas

    Make Room in the Budget for Big, Audacious Ideas

    Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson argues that we need to break out of our "A-to-B thinking" in order to bring big, audacious ideas into existence. 

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  2. What’s Another $20 Million?

    What’s Another $20 Million?

    We would have made progress on space travel if the NASA budget had allotted 20 percent for prizes that at least half the people thought couldn’t be done.

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  3. Fly Me To the Moon, and Cheap!

    Fly Me To the Moon, and Cheap!

    The price improvement curve ahead of us for space travel could improve from $45 million to $100, says Peter Diamandis.

    Read More…
  4. Winning the 21st Century Space Race

    Winning the 21st Century Space Race

    Elon Musk is the ambitious founder and CEO of SpaceX, a private company that has won more launch contracts than anyone else in the launch business. Musk tells Big Think how he has approached innovation in this space.

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