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Posted by on Jun 3, 2010 in Politics, Science & Technology, Society | 0 comments

Time for the Apollo 13 Approach … on Steroids

If you’re a fan of the movie Apollo 13 — starring Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, et. al. — you’ll likely recall the scene where one of the characters (either Harris’ or Sinise’s character, I can’t remember which) pulls a NASA team together, hurls an array of stuff across a table, tells them that this stuff is what’s aboard Apollo 13 and what they have to work with, to keep the three astronauts alive while they figure out how to get them home safely.

It’s a decent example of the wisdom of crowds at work. Don’t rely on one or two people to figure out how to address a daunting challenge. Involve a whole mess of people and empower them to go at it.

There’s already a whole mess of people trying to figure out how to deal with the disaster in the Gulf. But I have to ask: Is that mess of people numerous and diverse enough?

Where are the other oil companies? This isn’t just BP’s problem; it’s their competitors’ problem, too, if any of them ever want to drill in deep domestic waters again.

Where are the Ph.D.’s from major universities, who might have relevant expertise, or pieces of relevant expertise that (when combined) suggest solutions no one else has considered?

Most importantly: Where’s the process, the system, for challenging these incremental brains — for organizing their inputs and vetting their ideas? And no, this is not a process

The Unified Command overseeing the Deepwater Horizon disaster features a “suggestions” button on its official Web site and more than 7,800 people have already responded, according to the site.

Granted, the approach I’m suggesting won’t prevent truly bizarre ideas; reference the “nuclear option” discussed in same article linked immediately above. But that’s OK: Bizarre ideas are part of the process: you mix things up, generate wide ranges of options (including those never-in-a-million-years options), then you cull out the best of the best.

Maybe the current, in-motion fix will work. If it doesn’t, it’s time to stop assuming that the existing mess of people is sufficient and that only certain types of expertise are relevant. It’s time to start systematically broadening the network of involved brains, if for nor other reason than the likelihood that the current brains are burning out.

It’s irrational to expect the President to fix this problem. But it’s entirely rational to expect him to consider and recommend approaches that will get even more American ingenuity engaged. Time to go Apollo 13 on this problem, Mr. President — and then some. [continued]