guest blogger john hare
A great deal of fuss is made about thinking out of the box without clearly defining why this would be desirable. Seldom discussed also is why so many people are ‘in the box’ and so few think ‘out of the box’. The box must not be as bad as some peopleÂ say if so many seem to find it a comfortable place to be. I have been described as “unable to find the box” at times. I believe that evidence to back this claim has posted here in the last month. The question is, which is better, in or out. I say neither.
The box can be thought of as a house. It is a refuge from the cold or heat, is comfortable and predictable within limits. Without a house, you are either homeless or a nomad. Some people are owned by their house with the bills and upkeep dominating every aspect of their lives while the homeless envy the comfortable lifestyle. Being a prisoner of your house is less desirable than not having one at all. There must be a middle ground between shut in and homeless. There must be a more desirable middle ground between box prisoners and people out of the box. Nomads usually carry some form of minimal housing with them.
The most successful home owners are the ones that have only a reasonable portion of their assetsÂ in the home. They have theÂ time and financialÂ freedom to enjoy the comforts of home, and resources to travel to see what else is out there. The most successful businesses have a solid home base and the ability to reach outside to bring in new people, process, equipment, and ideas without risking that base. Businesses solidly in the box are tied to their base and eventually out competed by businesses that can get outside. Businesses without a base come and go all the time with nothing solid to fall back on when the weather changes. My construction company had a weak base and it cost me 51% of the company to joint venture with a strong base business when construction practically stopped. I chose 49% of an operating company with financial reserves over 100% of one that was bankrupt. Roughly half of my local niche competition is now out of business with about three quarters of the rest in worse shape that I am. My out of the box merged with a strong base to form a business that neither of us could have done alone.
In the space business, the box is an important concept to understand. Many people claim out of the box is not doing the dinospace “cost is no object” model. Many of them nail themselves into the only what is proven and known box. This business of space is a long way from being proven and known. The most flagrant nail themselves into the airbreathing vehicle box by specifying that rockets are too fuel hungry/dangerous/expensive and always will be. One of the most dangerous trends I see is the tendency for people and companies to nail themselves into a box that is different from the other one and claim that they are outside the box. The problem is that they are just in a different box that is frequently even more restrictive than the one they left.
IÂ work from aÂ box that is restrictive also. One of the walls is that conventional practice almost always seems too expensive and complicated to me. Another is that I don’t speak the language of the professional community in this field since I lack the educational background or the experience to replace it. Another is that I don’t believe in government subsidies, though if a serious SBIR were offered I wouldÂ accept it. Another is that I believe that businesses should turn a profit from willing customers or go out of business.Â And it keeps going to make a straitjacket of a box to compare with any other. That I can’t look at an interestingÂ machine in construction or aerospace without wanting to know how it works and why it uses a particular layout is one of the walls that constantly shifts and makes it frustrating for me and others that are on the same road.
The strong businesses that open the space frontier will be nomads. They will carry a minimal box with them to better pastures so they can be protected from the weather, and move with the game. They will be able to enter and leave other boxes at will becauseÂ many of themÂ are in a tribe that looks out for each other. Many of them will work together onÂ a hunt for fantastic gameÂ that people in the stationary boxes will never see. They will be able to trade with people in widely separated boxes for products they can’t make themselves, and pay for them with Â products the stationary people can’t imagine. Whether it is a beaver pelt or nickle-iron asteroid, the nomads and the home civilizations are stronger as a team than either of them can be without the other.Â
Don’t tell me you don’t have a box, we all do. If you insist onÂ Â scramjets and will listen to no arguments, that is your box. If you will hear no new arguments for or against pressure fed, that is a box. Each person needs to know where the walls of their personal box are, and if they are there to keep out the wolves and weather, or to shut out the ever changing reality that is life, and for most of us, the space business. Your box needs doors that can allow you toÂ come and goÂ while allowing friends in occasionally, and a strong lock to keep out the freeloaders.
Is it easier to find an optimum normal nozzle, and take the performance hit the rest of the mission, or to find an altitude compensation technique?
Is it easier to work with high pressure plumbing, tanks , and gas pressurant systems with the relative mass and performance penalties, or to find a pump system that eliminates enough of those problems to more than pay for itself?
Is it easier to get government funding, or to shoulder the burden of building a finance base without it?
Is proven technology always the right way to go when developing new spaceflight capabilities?
Is risky high tech development always the right way to develop new better capabilities?
What shapeÂ is your box? Are the wallsÂ your mansionÂ or prison?