3 min read

2. Growth is messy

Learning from the space race, unpicking history, and fun in the snow
Green shoots
Spring shoots. Image by Shutterbug75 from Pixabay

This month I’m listening to Gene Kranz’s memoir Failure Is Not An Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 And Beyond.

This is the third lens in recent years from which I’ve approached understanding the NASA missions. A few years back, Sophie Dennis first introduced me to the masterful Kennedy strategy behind ‘getting a man to the moon’ as unpicked in Richard Rumelt’s superb Good Strategy, Bad Strategy . Then, in  Guy Adams and Adam Belfour’s chilling but important Masking Administrative Evil, I read about some of the concerning power dynamics that both helped the programme(the early pardoning of Nazi scientists) and undid it (the later political mechanisations that led to the Challenger disaster).  However, this third book is the first time I’ve read a first hand account. Kranz takes us to the heart of the early space race, a crucible the nail-biting risk and people writing the rules of space flight as they went.

It reminds me of other technology books such as Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of A New Machine, or, to look to the history of my own government department, Ivan Fallon’s documenting of DSS digitisation The Paper Chase. All have the overwhelming message that ground breaking innovation is messy and difficult.

This month in digital government and design

  • I’ve been doing a lot in recent months to help people understand the history of digital government. In particular, I’ve been trawling through blogs and journals to help people understand the evolution of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the standards that department use for their services. I’m still working on this but I’ve found it helpful in helping people understand why services that were seen as exemplars in the past may not meet standards now.


  • This month began with snow, which for the UK meant the return of gritters with pun-tactic names
  • What’s better than a video of a panda sliding in the snow?  A video of a panda sliding in the snow set to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights
  • Is there a meme going around? Measure its progress on the Fenton Curve 

Until next month,