Subnominal

Subnominal?! Subnominal!? The bloody thing exploded, man!

Subnominal.

I integrated this word — and the philosophy behind its use — because of a catastrophic failure.

Like many folks I watch SpaceX launches and landings when I can because it’s a rocket company, man! That’s amazing!

As their team worked through the process of landing their reusable booster engines on floating platforms and concrete pads, they failed repeatedly and spectacularly.

One way SpaceX manages their emotional state as an organization is through internal language.

(This ain’t unique to SpaceX, of course, it simply clicked with me in the moment.)

While watching one failure which resulted in a beautiful explosion I caught the Launch Announcer’s description:

            ANNOUNCER
    Return landing on booster 1 was subnominal.

Subnominal? Subnominal!? The bloody thing exploded, man!


What if the announcer explained the failure with attachment to outcome?

            ANNOUNCER
    Return landing on booster 1 — oh, Jesus, oh Jesus, no — I just
    don't — I mean Jessica's navigation system rewrite and Enrique's
    new fin design...burned, incinerated. All the work and effort
    and capital and all they hopes of everyone on the team, dead,
    like booster 1.
        (beat)
    Booster 2 looks good, though.

Which version of communication keeps the team calm, collected, focused, poised for a future victory?

Which one sets up the psyche for a future win?

Speaking of wins…