Which ambitious projects were done the fastest?

The COVID-19 vaccine development ranks up there with Patrick Collison's list of the ambitious projects that were completed with the most speed.


November 20, 2020

Patrick Collison — the CEO of $36B fintech startup Stripe — is obsessed with how fast ambitious projects can get done.

His personal blog has a URL that ends with /fast; on the page he recounts some of history’s great achievements done at warp speed:

  • Disneyland: From 1st shovel to 1st ticket, the construction of “The Happiest Place on Earth” took just 366 days to complete.
  • Boeing 747: The planemaker completed its 747 program in 930 days (March 1966 to September 1968).
  • The Alaska Highway: From 1942 to ‘43, a construction crew built 1.7k miles of military roadway in a ridiculous 234 days.

Have we lost the need for speed?

Today, a single new bus lane in San Francisco is slated to take more than 7k days to complete.

Collison wonders why many of these “fast” ambitious projects took place many decades ago. He hypothesizes 2 reasons for the slowdown:

  • The process is more bureaucratic than before.
  • As a society develops, it “tends to become less dynamic and [more] beholden to interest groups.”

We can, however, celebrate the speed of emerging COVID-19 vaccines.

Moderna’s vaccine development took 300+ days from viral sequencing to announcing Phase 3 study results this past Monday. Here’s how this development stacks up with other ambitious (albeit not apples-to-apples) examples:

While a final vaccine has many additional hurdles to overcome, it should be encouraging for us all to see that humans do, in fact, have the capacity to work together and get monumental things done very quickly.

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