The Difference Between Launching A Rocket and Driving A Car

“Unfortunately, too many startup business plans look more like they are planning to launch a rocket ship than drive a car.”  -Eric Ries The Lean Startup

It would be a strange occurrence to ever get in my car and not know where I am going. Whether to work, the store, or a restaurant, I know where I am headed. The destination has been consciously decided before I ever open the door and get behind the wheel.

While unconsciously, I know that the path to that destination may not be without obstacle or issue. Traffic, accidents, closures and detours may change the route. And yet, that never changes the destination, only the path to take me there.

Even knowing this up front does not hinder me from heading out, from starting our journey. We know that we will face a plethora of unexpected hitches and hurdles on the road each and every day. We recognize it as just a part of the driving experience, a part of our daily journey.  And it has little if any effect on us because…

Every car is equipped with a steering wheel.

That steering wheel reminds us that we can navigate through these obstacles and issues. While it may take us off course or reroute us, we know that we can still eventually reach our destination.

Whereas, a rocket ship does not come equipped with a steering wheel. It takes numerous hours of planning and calibrating to make sure that the ship will reach its destination. All issues and obstacles have to be planned for ahead of time. As Eric Ries shares, “The tiniest error at the point of launch could yield catastrophic results thousands of miles later.”

In The Lean Startup, Eric Ries shares this analogy of driving a car compared to launching a rocket ship in regards to how startup businesses approach their work. But the analogy is not limited to startups. It has impact on what we do as educators. On how we approach our work in our schools and districts.

Far too often in education we find ourselves trying to launch a rocket ship instead of driving a car.

We tend to focus considerable attention and time towards planning and calibration, rather than beginning the journey knowing that we have equipped our people with a steering wheel to guide them past the unexpected and unanticipated. It is the difference between expecting implementation and creating capacity.

Launching a rocket is all about implementation. Most often you are just along for the ride. Everything has been planned and calibrated.

Driving a car is all about capacity. It is about equipping your people with a steering wheel to make those decisions and course adjustments on an ongoing and as needed basis.

Launching a rocket is an event. Driving a car is a daily activity. It is the difference between gearing up and getting going.

So, the question in the end then becomes…

Are you planning to drive a car? Or trying to launch a rocket?

Remember, we will always learn faster by doing than we ever will by planning.


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