David Livingston is a business consultant, financial advisor, and strategic planner. For more than twenty-five years, he has worked in oil and gas exploration, real estate development, finance, marketing, and direct advertising and sales. He currently specializes in solving business problems for entrepreneurial operations, start-ups, and businesses with ten or fewer employees.
David Livingston has also served as an adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Business at Golden Gate University teaching Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management. He earned his BA from the University of Arizona, an MBA in International Business Management from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, and has almost completed his dissertation for a doctorate in business administration at Golden Gate.> His doctoral dissertation evaluated high-risk commercial ventures in outer space. Livingston has spoken at various international space conferences. The topics that Livingston discusses at the space conferences on venture capital financing for new space businesses, RLVs and space tourism, and the exporting of ethics from Earth to commercial space. This interview took place between April and May 2000.
Resonance: We have met at a couple of Space conferences. Can you please tell us about your interest in space development and how this ties in with your business interests?
Livingston: My interest in space development began in childhood as I was fascinated with the science fiction space movies and television shows. When the Russians beat us to space with Sputnik and our early Vanguard launches failed, I was totally bummed out. The manned space program was the most interesting human accomplishment I had ever known and I always wanted more. I was crushed when the manned visits to the Moon ended. Still, somehow I always held on to a dream that my career and business interests would be connected to this passion for space exploration. Writing my doctoral dissertation on the commercialization of space provided me with the opportunity to connect my dreams about outer space to my business interests. Since my work has been that of a business consultant and my experience includes finance, marketing, real estate, management, planning, and problem solving, it seemed a natural for me to transition into the field of commercial space.
Resonance: You have a special bent on the development of the Moon. This has to do with the idea that appropriate and sustainable development are issues to contend with beyond the planet Earth. Can you elaborate on this?
Livingston: Actually, my “special bent” is much broader than the development of the Moon. I see all LEO activity, the Moon, Mars, and asteroids as potential economic markets in the near-to-intermediate future. The Moon is a logical initial step on the way to commercial space development, but it is not the ultimate or final destination for either commercial space ventures or manned space flight. In fact, revisiting the Moon and initiating lunar economic development projects may be part of an overall plan to visit Mars and eventually establish economic settlements on the Red Planet. I do think the Moon represents a quality opportunity to perfect our human space travel program beyond LEO. We have already been to the Moon, but we need to learn how to do it again. We need the heavy-lift rockets; we need the equipment and the life support systems. The Moon also seems to be the best economic target for developing the systems, equipment, vehicles, and programs that will take us to Mars. I also think the Moon is a great place for the private sector to learn how to ethically operate in space so that we don’t end up seeding our space settlements with the problems inherent in our current economic models.
Resonance: Could you please describe your business interests and the work of Livingston Business Solutions?
Livingston: Livingston Business Solutions is my consulting company. I specialize in working with entrepreneurial and start-up situations, small companies with ten or fewer employees, and individuals leaving larger companies and starting a business on their own. I also work with business owners, often writing business plans for them that are used for internal development programs or in securing additional capital. When I am called in to solve a problem, I often find that the actual problem is not related to the symptom I was hired to fix.
Since I started work full time on my doctoral dissertation a few years ago, I have scaled back my consulting services to focus on my dissertation. While I will continue working with Livingston Business Solutions, my interest more and more has shifted to exploring how the business community can implement the commercialization of space, and to demonstrate that business opportunities in space are real and not just for NASA, government agencies, or the large aerospace companies.
Resonance: Where do you see the role of venture capital and the general investment community regarding the manned return to the Moon?
Livingston: Venture capital is often misunderstood, so I would like to digress from directly answering the question and say a few words about venture capital. While venture capital as a whole represents a large sum of money, it is usually a small component of the financial package for a given business. If we are talking about a young business or a start-up, venture capital financing can represent very important if not essential money, but it does come with a price. Depending on circumstances, it can come with representatives on the board of directors, a different management team, a new set of policies and directions for the company, and it may also mean that there has been significant equity dilution in favor of the venture capitalists. Sometimes the investor exit plan is at serious odds with the company management. Venture capital funding is often money of a “last resort” because it has so many potentially unattractive strings attached to it.
It is important to keep in mind that venture capitalists closely examine market and financial potential. Though they may have a love for the business sector or the product, the investment proposal has to meet their criteria for financial performance. Based on three venture capital industry surveys I have conducted over the past four years as part of my dissertation research, I know that venture capitalists do not consider space investments a priority. Most do not even understand the difference between one type of space investment and another. What they all have in common is an expectation of risk versus reward and no commercial space company can realistically come close to meeting their requirements.
If we are talking about investing in businesses related to man going back to the Moon, the businesses must clearly demonstrate a market for the goods and services they intend to produce, as well as financial returns that exceed the opportunities currently available from Earth-based businesses. Venture capital money won’t simply go to Moon-oriented ventures without a high degree of analysis confirming basic investment criteria. I don’t see any Moon-oriented business ventures, other than perhaps some entertainment ventures, that would be attractive to venture capital investors at this time. Even the participation of venture capital investment in a heavy-lift space transportation system to be used to go to and from the Moon would have to show a large enough market with enough flights to enable the investors to earn the desired return on investment. I have not seen any business plans for developing this type of space vehicle. The RLV companies that are attempting to secure venture capital and other financing are having a difficult time doing so, in large part because the market they are attempting to serve, satellite launches of various types, doesn’t justify the investment. Where are the lunar business proposals that can show a profit for investors? If a lunar business proposal did exist that showed a market for the services or products, showed the type of returns expected given the risks of the venture, had a reasonable exit strategy for the investors, had a proven management team at the helm, then yes, venture capital might have a role in the investment. But until such time as the business case can be made, venture capital will be a difficult market to crack for lunar businesses or for other untried projects in outer space.
Resonance: At every stage of technological development, it appears that two diametrically opposed camps evolve, one sending out dire warnings and the other touting the coming revolutionary changes that the new technology will initiate. Usually, the gray area in between is where society’s path eventually crosses. It seems, however, that revolution is an appropriate descriptor for the changes in communications technology during the past ten years, especially since this information is becoming universally accessible. Does this explosion in instantaneous information exchange cheapen the value of information and actually make our ability to find “useful” information that much more difficult?
Livingston: This is a difficult question to both consider and answer. I don’t believe that the quantity of information necessarily cheapens its value, but our ability to find “useful” information is more difficult, not just because of the explosion in instantaneous information exchanges. For many years, we have seen our educational system deteriorate. Students, teachers, administrators, and educational policy makers are involved in a dumbed-down system. Government has asserted itself as a stronger participant in our lives, as our “protector.” Policies and agendas have developed that have made it easier for us to live our lives without having to rely on the type of skills, intuition, and knowledge we once had. We need different tools today—technical tools, political tools, etc. The explosion of instantaneous information means we are bombarded with data. All the technical search engines, government programs, and agenda-driven educational approaches can’t compensate for the fact that now, more than ever before, we need to rely on discretion and common sense. Since many of these senses have been downplayed in favor of technology and other benefits of our modern society, many of us have discovered that it is more difficult to find useful information from all that is now available. To the degree that we have been politicized, that we have been educated in ways that don’t develop our discernment and individual strengths, to the degree that we have been manipulated to buy into the controls over us in the modern world, we are handicapped in this age of information.
For those of us who can find useful information in the reams of data, the opportunity is stronger than ever before. But at times I just don’t believe it is in the overall interest of society or government to have so many of us finding the useful information. It is important to keep in mind that one way to maintain influence over the choices we make is to simply overwhelm us with data, some of which is useful and of high quality, and some of which is garbage. I believe now more than ever we need to fine tune our discernment skills, to be able to tap into our intuition and our common sense, to broaden experience and perception. When we can do this, we find the explosion in instantaneous information exchanges to be most useful, rewarding, and beneficial.
Resonance: What are the “drivers” in your life? What do you find to be the most interesting things that are worth spending a lot of time on?
Livingston: My two sons are my most powerful and important “drivers.” Seeing the world that they are going to inherit and work in, knowing that they will have the option to live, work, and even play off this planet—this drives me. I want to do my part to give them this foundation, a foundation with integrity, ethics, and with a potential never before known to mankind. Another related “driver” is making sure that their world is a world of peace, where my sons and others like them are not ordered into a war zone for reasons that simply serve the agenda of a few leaders. Even at the beginning of the new millennium, this is the model we are living by and it is no longer acceptable.
I find that spending time with my sons is the most interesting thing I can do because it keeps me young. It keeps me focused on the future. I also find it interesting to read about virtually every topic I can because I constantly have to be flexible in how I see the world and what is going on in it. I think that pursuing truth and facts—not relying on what is told us on television, by officials, in newspapers, etc.—is all worthy because it sharpens our discernment skills. Obviously, we can’t do this with everything, but if we just pick one or two areas of interest and check out what is going on for ourselves, we enhance our abilities across the board.
I also think it is crucial to have lots of fun. Without fun and excitement, what type of life do we have? We are designed to laugh; we have emotions that enable us to enjoy ourselves and others. We need to take full advantage of these human attributes. It is just as important to have fun and enjoy ourselves as it to focus on our work. In my spare time, I enjoy photography, astronomy and star gazing, driving trips, scuba diving, and all sorts of entertainment. I also love to read—to read everything I can get my hands on.
Resonance: What are you currently reading? What projects are you now working on?
Livingston: I’m currently finishing the last chapter of my dissertation, so most of my reading pertains to my research. I am also preparing several abstracts and papers for upcoming space conferences through the fall of this year. In addition, I have a rough draft of a book I’ve been working on that demonstrates how altering one’s approach to obstacles can subsequently change the course of one’s life.
Aside from my dissertation research and my current projects, I am currently reading Time, God & The Big Bang by Daniel C. Matt and Thinking About Creation by Andrew Goldfinger. Books I’ve recently read include The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake, edited by David Erdman; Power vs. Force, The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior by Dr. David Hawkins; Fighting Back: A Memoir of Jewish Resistance in World War II by Harold Werner; and The Turning Point by Fritjof Capra.
Resonance: What is your work style?
Livingston: I like to make an outline of what I have to do for a certain project. Then I gather the information or research for each element. Often I go off on tangents and have to revise the outline before I begin to write. I don’t have a name for this process; it is just how I seem to take on a project and get it finished.
Resonance: What are the roles of art in society? Does art do something for society that cannot be done by anything else?
Livingston: Art is extremely important. Of course, art does things for society that can’t be done by anything else because art can be our inspiration, guide, and teacher. Art is so valuable to us, all forms of art. It also reflects who we are and even what we are. Art can also be a source of great insight. It can move us to great heights and enable us to feel the pain and suffering in ourselves and others. It can move us to action. A society without art would be so bland; it would just be horrible.
Resonance: How are art and science intertwined? Does science have a role in art? And what about the role of art in science?
Livingston: Art and science are complimentary. They are both vital to our well being and our human spirit. Oftentimes art can express what science is doing or trying to say. Often it can lead to scientific development. In the world of science fiction, which I consider to be a form of art, we see that what was written or depicted in stories and drawings years ago is actually used in science now. If we look at the rocket ships used by Tom Corbett Space Cadet and Rocky Jones Space Ranger, we have the basic design of a reusable launch vehicle. Going further back, we see the same thread in the classic Jules Verne book From the Earth to the Moon.
Art can often go where science has not yet been. Art inspires science. Alternately, science can show the way for an artist by opening up new ideas and visions.
Science has a role in art and vice versa. The visions of the artist are very similar to those of the scientist. The medium is simply different. I think that each discipline influences the other by promulgating the new, by pushing the envelope.
Resonance: Speaking to a young person of about 13-14 years old, just entering High School, what advice would you offer?
Livingston: I’ve done this twice with my sons as one started high school this year and one is graduating this year. I told them both the same thing and I would say the same to any young person entering high school. Read as much as you can on all topics. Take a variety of classes and study hard. Pursue outside interests. Question and examine what is presented to you as fact. Make truth an important issue for you. Always have integrity and be ethical. Don’t take things for granted and don’t make judgments about others. Always keep your B.S. detector in high gear and don’t suppress your passion regardless of how stupid you think it might be or how futile you think following it might be. Go for it! Don’t let others unduly influence or discourage you from your interests, passions, and goals. Don’t let friends, teachers, and well-meaning adults label you.
Resonance: In your view, what framework is needed for a return to the Moon with a permanent manned presence?
Livingston: We need the national commitment to do so. If we had the national commitment, at both a governmental and a societal level, then I believe we could be back on the Moon in seven to ten years. But without that national commitment, I don’t think it will happen anytime soon. I think we are missing this national commitment at this time.
Resonance: There has been recently the ongoing debate of whether the Moon or Mars is the next suitable focus of the space program. Do you have thoughts on the debate?
Livingston: The debate is healthy and I support it. As I said earlier, I don’t see the Moon as the final destination of a space program or policy. I see the Moon as an important step in a much bigger space program, perhaps including Mars or maybe including something else. Returning man to the Moon for a permanent presence is important to us for so many reasons, but it is just the first step to establishing a manned permanent presence off Earth that will over time take us to where only our imagination has previously gone.
The debate keeps the issue alive and helps us to reestablish the interest in a manned space program. The two sides of the debate are really not in opposition. They are connected and supportive of each other. They are synergetic. They are not mutually exclusive.
Resonance: Corporations are notorious for having endless meetings, and for following the latest management “guru’s” fads for improving productivity. Are any of these of any use?
Livingston: If potential new space businesses can’t demonstrate a solid business plan and approach, corporations or those with money will find little or no interest in making the business happen. All the meetings, gurus, and fads in the world won’t change this on any meaningful scale. I think the only way these things may be of use is to help keep the interest alive, to keep minds open to the possibilities of space businesses and their profit potential, to keep people in a searching and exploring mode.
Resonance: Is there a direct connection between corporate R&D expenditures and long-term growth? If so, then why isn’t such R&D spending much higher?
Livingston: I’ve not studied this issue but I think that there is a direct connection. R&D spending represents the future of the corporation. I suspect that R&D spending is lower because we as a people are more focused on the immediate rather than the long range. We want economic and financial rewards now, not 20 years from now. Corporate executives facing stockholders wanting returns, good numbers, etc. look to today’s developments, not the developments down the road. It is harder to sell an R&D investment when there is no foreseeable payoff and some of it might result in a failure. This is an important issue but I think for this to change, we will have to change our priorities, the way we value things in our society. We have to come to understand that long-term planning and R&D holds the key to our future and is worth our time, commitment, and investment. Until we have a change in the way our society thinks and acts, I don’t see a meaningful increase in R&D spending.
Resonance: Are students in the liberal arts receiving sufficient introduction to science and engineering? And are students in the sciences receiving enough of the liberal arts?
Livingston: I don’t think so. I just completed a two-year process with my oldest son in visiting prospective colleges and universities. Most of the liberal arts programs we looked into are deficient in science and engineering. In some of the schools we checked out, a student could have a liberal arts education with no engineering classes and only one basic science class. I’m not happy with this approach and believe that liberal arts students should receive a decent introduction to both science and engineering.
I also examined the science and engineering programs at the schools we visited and I think these programs did a slightly better job of including some basic liberal arts courses in their program. But from my perspective, it is hard to imagine going to college, specializing in a science or engineering discipline, and coming away with little or no background in world history, political science, literature, art, Greek tragedies, etc. Or going to college and specializing in the liberal arts and coming away with little or no science or basic engineering. How can anyone be balanced in life if he doesn’t know about the world he lives in, how it evolved, or understand the disciplines that impact his life every single day?
Resonance: Has Government received a bad rap for being ineffective and layered with people who don’t do very much?
Livingston: No. Government does employ incredibly talented, skilled, and hard- working people, but because of its very nature it provides a ripe environment for workers to flourish who fit the characteristics you describe. And when ineffective people are settled in a position, government often can’t or won’t do anything about it. This is well known and, in my opinion, has contributed to government being a magnet for the ineffective worker who does not intend to do very much.
When I’ve brought these matters to the attention of supervisors or department heads, the response is usually that not much can be done about it because of the hiring systems and the policies in place. I think that as far as this problem is concerned, it is a top-down problem. The attitude at the top has to change and there has to be a willingness to take action and hold people accountable. Starting at the top with changes would demonstrate throughout the workforce that this type of behavior in the workplace is no longer acceptable.
Resonance: What is the role, if any, of government in encouraging innovation?
What issues prevent government from being more effective?
Livingston: Government can and should be helpful in encouraging innovation. It can do so actively with policies and incentives, and it can do so passively by not getting in the way of private industry, thus enabling private industry to flourish in this direction. Government can do both but, regardless, it should not make policies or take actions that inhibit innovation. Restrictive tax policies are one way innovation can be inhibited. Excessive public interest policies, which are supposed to have good intentions but don’t, can also inhibit innovation as well as harm society and the environment.
Resonance: If you could solve just one of this nation’s problems, which one would it be?
Livingston: This is a hard one to answer. I am torn between solving a problem that goes to the heart of government credibility or solving a problem that may have more immediate and tangible benefits for individuals. In this interview, I will opt for solving the problem of government credibility.
The problem I would solve is the lack of integrity in government, the lies and cover-ups at so many levels. When governmental leaders lie, the credibility of the entire political process is lost. Subsequently, the people’s will and ability to support the government—our government—is diminished and, in some regions, totally nonexistent.
Probably the greatest contribution I could make toward solving this problem is to be an example of one who leads an ethical life. Despite the economic and political opportunities in this society, we need to exhibit true integrity in our dealings with one another and to teach these qualities to our children.
I realize that it is next to impossible to legislate integrity. We can’t expect our government leaders to have higher values, more integrity, and a more ethical approach to life when we don’t demonstrate these qualities ourselves. Solving the problem of government credibility does not require more laws, although holding individuals accountable and enforcing existing laws certainly would help. But as parents and teachers, we must demonstrate kindness, consideration, and honesty. Once we demonstrate these attributes, there would be zero tolerance for anything else coming from our government and our leaders. New leaders and elected officials that reflected our new selves would eventually be our leaders and running our government. Over time, the problem I’ve discussed would disappear.