Building a Problem-Solving Factory

I’ve been following closely the astounding progress in Boca Chica as SpaceX designs and builds their new Starship, all-purpose spacecraft. They’ve built 10 prototypes, 3 of which have already flown, constantly improving on the design and build process. Thanks to Gwynne Shotwell’s inspiring leadership and Elon Musk’s engineering genius, they’ve done this in a fraction of the time and cost that NASA takes for similar accomplishments.

They have repeatedly said that they’re not building a Starship. They’re building a Starship factory. The focus is on the factory, not the ship. That makes this fundamentally different from any other space organization except maybe Rocket Lab (the little guys who should get more recognition.) This large-scale, process-driven attitude is why SpaceX is about to revolutionize human travel. They are already the most valuable privately-held company on the planet, and many people, myself included, predict they will overtake public companies like Apple and Amazon in a few years. (Ironically, every single investor in SpaceX has signed a personal pledge that profit will never be prioritized over the needs of the human race.)

I once worked with an intern who surprised me when I showed her how to fix an error in her code. Most interns would thank me and move on, but she wanted more. She wanted to know how I’d come to the conclusion, what I did to track the problem down and what my thought process was. I saw her taking this attitude a few times; focusing on the process of the problem solving and what we did to get to our conclusion instead of on the conclusion itself. I think this strategy, while requiring more up-front work and costing her the embarrassment of asking seemingly stupid questions, has led her to a more sustainable and lower-stress career.

I started thinking of this concept of building a problem-solving factory in your mind instead of focusing directly on your problems. This is why I listen to self-help books.

Don’t focus on the problem. Don’t even focus on the solution. Focus on the solution-building system.

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