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Mar 25th, 2014 Share: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn

Complexity Kills

Yesterday Jane showed me Commander Chris Hadfield’s excellent TED Talk on “What I learned from going blind in space”. There is an interesting moment in the video where Commander Hadfield talks about how the Space Shuttle is this marvel of engineering, that it is the most complex flying machine ever built. Later he describes how Soyuz, in contrast, is essentially like riding an asteroid back to earth — a simple capsule, more like a cannon ball than a spaceship. And yet — it’s so maneuverable that you can land it in a 15 kilometer radius.

Jane and I had the enormous fortune to sit both in the full-scale Space Shuttle simulator as well as the Soyuz training capsule at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston a few years ago. The Space Shuttle looks like something out of a SiFi movie. The Soyuz looks positively antique.

The thing which struck me is the question of complexity — we lost two Shuttles in rather dramatic circumstances due to technical failure. Soyuz is widely consider the safest space vehicle there is: Soyuz didn’t have a major incident since the very early days of space exploration in 1967 and 1971.

Which brings me back to entrepreneurship: There is something to be said about designing your systems as simple and robust as possible. It might be sexy to create complex systems. They speak of your engineering prowess. But they also tend to fail much more often.

Build your startup like Soyuz.

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