“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” 50 years ago this month, American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.
This monumental achievement was the culmination of years of effort by a large dedicated team at NASA, committed to making this milestone happen.
What can we learn from this accomplishment?
Bold Goals Can Be Vague: When president Kennedy proclaimed that before the decade was out that we would send a man to the moon and return him to Earth, there were no details. Setting out an seemingly impossible goal without a firm roadmap allows you and your team to think big and explore all options — the team at NASA had to figure out how to engineer everything needed for the mission pretty much from the ground up, often creating technology and solutions that didn’t exist previously.
Create an Action Plan: On the counter side of a bold, vague goal is the need for eventual steps to get there. Once NASA had the end point in mind (man to the moon and safely returned), a series of steps was developed working backwards to get to that final step. Once each step was completed, the team would use the knowledge gathered to move on to the next part of the process, but not before.
Gather a Team Built With Varying Skills: The original astronauts in NASA’s space programs (Mercury, Gemini, Apollo) had similarities (size/height, physical skills, military service) but also each brought different abilities: Some were naval aviators, some test pilots, some engineers and some were all of the above. By building a team with some differences in background and training, it allowed the astronauts to share ideas and view challenges from different perspectives.
Learn From Mistakes: One of the greatest tragedies in NASA’s history was the loss of all three Apollo I astronauts on the launch pad during a devastating fire as part of a test sequence. Use of pure oxygen turned out to be a deadly mistake and all three men perished when a flash fire engulfed the capsule before they could escape. As a result of the tragedy, major design revisions were made to ensure a similar outcome was never repeated.
Use Competition to Your Advantage: While the greatest measure of success is your company’s own eventual growth and development, it doesn’t hurt to compare a little against your biggest competitors. Competition with the Russians to be the first to the moon drove NASA engineers to work harder, faster and with more resolve than ever before. The goal of ‘beating the Russians’ was not only a motivator but also unified everyone involved under a common team goal.
Give Kudos to Your Team: Even though the Apollo astronauts were the stars of the space program and the most visible elements to the general public, they always made sure to recognize all the thousands of people working behind the scenes. Armstrong’s first step off the ladder onto the surface of the moon would not have been possible without everyone from engineers, flight controllers, radio operators and technicians to secretaries and office assistants.
Don’t be Afraid to Spend Towards your Goal: Like most government projects, the budget for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs that eventually got us to the moon spiraled out of control. However, the government realized the importance of seeing this goal through no matter the cost and invested appropriately. If your business has a goal of being first to market with an innovation or wants to dramatically disrupt an industry, be prepared to invest in the products, services and staff needed to get there — No one ever remembers who was second!