The words of US President John F. Kennedy are often quoted in business publications as one of the best known examples of a clear goal or mission statement – to put a man on the moon within a decade.
What is often overlooked is the grit and determination that helped to realise Kennedy’s vision. If you have seen the film Apollo 13, you will recognise Gene Krantz who was Flight Director for that spaceflight. In the film, Krantz was held to have said:
“Failure is not an option”
This was in relation to the challenges of getting the astronauts home safely after the explosion that crippled the Command Module.
It is one of the most memorable lines in the film, but Krantz never said it. In real life, Krantz had more down to earth words to describe his vision – these were “Tough and Competent”. They were his mantra and he made his whole team write them on the boards in their respective offices as an aid memoire. Toughness had accountability at its heart. Competence was about perfection. Combined, they embodied Krantz’s determination that Flight Control would be as perfect as he could make it.
In his autobiography, Krantz relays the methods through which he drilled perfection into his team. Day after day they worked through simulated mission after simulated mission. They dealt with random incidents or problems, such as rocket failures on launch or the loss of critical systems. These were truly random, even Krantz had no idea what would happen in the simulations. The approach was always the same, stay calm, work the problem, find out what is wrong (don’t guess), evaluate options and then act. These are still good guidance for delivering success today.
Of one thing Krantz was always certain, that whatever they practiced, they would eventually end up dealing with something that they hadn’t considered or planned for. Thus the story of Apollo 11 entered into popular history.
One thing I forgot to mention, Krantz thought that the line “Failure is not an option” was so good, he chose it as the title for his book. I think he also expressed the feeling that he wished he had thought of it saying it in the first place.
The picture that starts to emerge is one of the grit and determination that made Gene Krantz successful, right at the moment when NASA needed him the most. Undoubtedly some of the success is down to the way that he prepared his team for the challenge, but the most significant part of all was his mindset towards success. In this respect you can see the appeal of the statement “Failure is not an option”, whilst he may not have said it, Krantz was the expression brought to life. However we can learn more about how we can achieve success ourselves from his approach to life:
Have confidence in yourself (and have faith in other people)
Presence under pressure – always be in control of yourself and remain in the moment
Continual ambition – look to the future don’t rest on the past
So is your mindset calm determination, confidence, calmness and one of continual ambition? Do you ask yourself what you bring to your career that will make yourself or your organisation successful? Do you feel that you are not living up to your potential and enjoying the success you deserve? Have you got more to give, but just not found it yet? If you find yourself struggling to answer these questions and want to be more successful, perhaps it is time to talk to a coach?
Time for one last quote from Krantz:
“We had risen to probably one of the greatest challenges in history, put a man on the moon in the decade. We’d created incredible technologies. But what was most important, we’d created the teams, what I call the human factor.”
So for Krantz success meant two things.. a mindset and a team behind him. So if you have a good team behind you, why not make success a mindset too? Who knows where that will lead, however if you don’t start you’ll never find out. Above all, ensure that failure is not an option.