Today is the 48th anniversary of one of the most remarkable dates in the history of the human race. On this day in 1969 the entire world was holding its collective breath, glued to radios and television sets in every city around the globe, listening to these famous words: “Houston, the Eagle has landed.”
The Apollo 11 Moon landing was a riveting moment in time. It taught us all a lot about the human race and about our potential for greatness. I believe it shaped all of us in ways we are still seeking to understand.
I was just a kid as I sat on the couch with my dad, staying up later than I had ever been allowed to before, watching that crude black-and-white television signal and listening to Walter Cronkite report on those intense final minutes as the Eagle touched down and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin exited their fragile lunar lander to step into the powdery moondust, the first human beings to step on the surface of the moon.
I believe that this experience contributed to a worldview that inspired me in numerous ways and have influenced my business values and my interactions with others. Here are three lessons that I believe can apply to all of us in business and leadership.
Lesson One: Dream Big
The Apollo program began with an extraordinary vision; perhaps even the largest vision that any nation had ever embarked upon. On May 25, 1961, John F Kennedy stood before the US Congress and proposed boldly that “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” He went on to say why:
We choose to go to the Moon… not because [it is] easy, but because [it is] hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.
That big dream empowered an entire nation and ignited other dreams in people around the world to reach beyond themselves for something that many thought was impossible. There was so much to learn, so many things yet undiscovered that needed to be understood in order to accomplish that dream. Nobody knew anything about the impact of zero gravity on the human body, or about the effects of the vacuum of space. We had yet to understand how to protect a craft hurtling through the atmosphere at speeds that would create a flaming trail hundreds of feet long because of the heat. We had no idea how to actually send people a quarter of a million miles from Earth, communicate with them, and then return them safely back to earth. It seemed truly an impossible dream. And yet it was made. In dreaming big, it inspired us all.
Lesson Two: Go for it
Not only did the nation dream big through Kennedy’s inspiration, but they really went for it. It wasn’t just a dream, left to die like so many others amid bureaucratic nonsense, but it became real. People actually strived to accomplish this goal. A plan was put into place. People sacrificed in amazing ways as they believed in it, lived it and tried to achieve it. They risked everything, and indeed some even gave their lives in order to try and make this come true.
You may dream in business, but are you actually going for it, or is your dream just a nice wish on paper somewhere? Dream big, then truly commit to that dream and see how it ignites the imagination of everyone your life touches.
Lesson Three: Stay the Course
There are many businesses, leaders and others who dream big. They may even put together a plan and begin moving towards that goal, but then they abandon that dream along the way. The pressures of reality, of naysayers and setbacks take their toll and the dream dies. Staying the course is critical to building your goals for several reasons.
First, people are slow to believe that anything you’re doing is real. We see so many failures that we do not automatically jump on board when someone says they’re going to do something. We want to see proof. People look for the cracks and the failures; they want to see what goes wrong and how you respond.
Secondly, it takes time for people to understand what you’re trying to do. There’s a process where people first hear, then they understand, then they internalize, then own it and finally, way down the road, they act in terms of supporting you or becoming part of your mission. It has been discovered that most sales people give up before they allow this long process to reach that last stage. They fall short just before a person is ready to make the commitment. You need to stay the course to see your dream come to fruition.
In the space program, there were many setbacks. America could have backed away when astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White, and Roger B. Chaffee died during the tragic Apollo 1 capsule fire in 1967. Yet the nation did not back away. The program continued moving forward. The nation stayed the course and ultimately saw success.
That success inspired hundreds of millions, not just in the United States but around the world. The impact of that achievement cannot be measured. It affected everything we do today in the way we live. It impacted the way we communicate, the technology we use, and even the way we think.
Business leader Richard Branson is a great example. He began Virgin Airlines because he was unable to get a flight to the destination he wanted to reach. He walked through the airport, asking people if they would be willing to put together a charter flight with him. He was not afraid to go for it, and as he gathered this core group, a legendary business and then an empire was born.
Elon musk is another leader who is willing to dream big, really big, and not let realities get in the way. They said it couldn’t be done. He didn’t let that stop him from creating Tesla and then SpaceX and now other enterprises. He not only dreamt big but went for it and stayed the course. Great lessons in leadership and business.
Take a moment to think about your business. Are you dreaming big enough? Have you moved forward towards that dream? And are you staying the course? You too can change the world.