Want to Accomplish Your Own Moonshot? Look to These 'Apollo 11' Lessons.
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What do you call a far-reaching goal that seems impossible to attain? Had you lived 50 years ago and answered that same question, you might have used the same term we use today: moonshot.
In fact, half a century ago, that word came into vogue as America diligently worked toward not just safely putting a man on the moon but bringing him home in one piece. This week, we're observing the 50th anniversary of our nation's history-making Apollo 11 landing, celebrating with educational programs and, here and there, whimsical parties and events.
Yet, to the men and women all those decades ago who were tasked with making the original moonshot happen, things probably seemed a bit more grim. This had to do with the fact that achieving the atomic goal before them meant solving a series of problems that must have seemed ... endless.
In fact, most of those problems remained hidden from the public for a long time. The reason was their mind-boggling complexity, because as each mini-plateau was reached, still more issues surfaced that required immediate innovation. But the good news is that, as solutions emerged, NASA's scientists' ability to cope with the changing landscape led to discoveries that paved the way for inventions -- from electric cars to handheld devices.
What the moonshot can teach us
As the founder of a digital transformation company that strives to bring organizations into the 21st century, I've always been enthralled with the herculean undertaking of the Apollo missions. The tenacity it took to unravel years of questions and concerns is remarkable.
And that collective drive to reach a goal and solve an impossible problem should give every entrepreneur a jolt of inspiration.
Remember that the impetus to carry out a moon landing and return was hardly a random desire. It was the massive win we in the United States needed, to show up our Soviet rivals. In other words, it was akin to a company owner realizing that a disruptive startup is jockeying to take his/her organization’s top spot. If the first company can't become ingenious ASAP, it might lose everything.
To be sure, ingenuity often means taking risks and working in darkness, without a safety net. Originally, NASA’s space engineers had no clue how to get an astronaut back from the moon in a way that was not cost-prohibitive. Then, someone devised the concept of creating a main unit that would orbit the moon, allowing the lunar landing module to descend independently to the moon’s surface and return to the docked unit. That way, the Apollo craft never had to take off from the moon’s surface, making a return trip far easier to accomplish.
In short, creative solutions are everything and point to an important lesson we can learn from the moon landing. Here are three more that are just as valuable:
1. Big ideas with tight deadlines drive achievement.
America’s goal was to send a man to the moon by the end of the 1960s. Having a deadline that tight is what pushed everyone to pull off such a huge coup. Without deadlines in place, priorities tend to slip, and inventive thinking tends to go by the wayside.
Related: How to Deal with Deadline Pressure
Elon Musk and SpaceX function this same way, by setting tight time lines to realize huge gains. Already, their Mars-headed program has made plans to unleash its Starhopper to test its hops and chops. Although reports suggest that SpaceX ran into some early hiccups with its prototype, those issues now appear to be out of the way. And that means Musk can set his next aggressive deadline.
When you're undertaking a big new initiative or project, try setting an aggressive deadline and see what transpires. The pressure to perform often leads to brave actions and, ideally, bold results.
2. Well-known strategies keep everyone churning.
When everyone knows their organization's goal, they can see how their small accomplishments contribute to the whole. A fantastic story from the early years of the space race shows how everyone can get motivated if they know why their work is critical.
That story? According to legend, President John F. Kennedy visited a NASA hangar. There, he asked a janitor what he was doing. In response, the janitor simply replied that he was putting a man on the moon. His response showed that he wasn’t just toiling for a paycheck but for a purpose.
In that same spirit, make sure your teams are invigorated by the challenge and completely understand their roles in making that challenge a success. When everyone buys in, the mission becomes much easier to accomplish. Make the effort to keep all team members up to speed at regular intervals with a series of progress reports, group meetings or any mechanism that works for your particular company.
3. Working directly with internal resources can align visions.
Siloed teams can put a serious halt to forward movement of a weighty dream. At NASA, departments worked together to achieve micro-goals that applied to the larger picture. If you want team cohesion and unity, foster pathways and communication between and among all the individuals and groups that need to come together to breathe life into the larger vision.
As a megacompany, Google launches moonshots all the time by investing in its companies and people. Most recently, an extension of the corporation has been approved to provide self-driving car service to California riders. Additionally, Google has invested $2.5 billion into projects driven by perfectly aligned internal and external partnerships aiming to extend the human lifespan by tackling conditions commonly associated with aging.
How your own company achieves this kind of symbiosis will be unique, but it will start with communication. For your own aims, endeavor to get everyone on the same page -- and keep them there -- with frequent check-ins and brainstorming sessions. Remove the barriers that prevent people from interacting easily and embolden your teams to act confidently in pursuit of the goal. That trust will go a long way.
To be sure, realizing a moonshot requires problem-solving skills, agile design thinking and a willingness to think way beyond the known or obvious. Yet nothing is impossible forever. Let your entrepreneurial mind dream to the moon and back, and then take that initial small step toward fulfilling your vision.