What can be more inspiring than a visit of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida? You see the classic space ships, which transported the brave men and women to the moon and space, can listen the stories of real astronauts and even feel the forces of a real Space Shuttle start. At the historic launch control center you see the computers, in performance inferior to the 1980’s C64, but nevertheless used since ’69 for the historic Apollo and Saturn missions. We can imagine how it was back in 1970, when Apollo 13 Flight Director Gene Kranz said the famous words: “Failure is not an option.”
In fact, he did not. The quote is a resume, taken from a later interview, where Apollo 13 Flight Controller Jerry Bostick explained in general the work at Mission Control and if there never had been situations of panic: “No, when bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them. We never panicked, and we never gave up on finding a solution.”
“Failure is not an option” became famous, fostered by the Apollo 13-movie. The idea often got applied for business, especially the sales department. The regular market analysis defines “must win projects”, which have a relevant input for the salesman’s target settings. Taken this by the letters, the employee has to think that he or she has to win the project “whatever it takes”. If the company has no clear processes and limits in place and / or these are not properly lived with the corporate culture, the employee is now alone in a big grey area and has to interpret the “must win” for him- or herself.
In the universe of the “Babylon 5”-series, the leadership of the Minbari Federation is called the “Grey Council” and its members define their selves that they stand between the darkness and the light. This is the precise claim of the company’s management. They have to be aware that employees may operate in grey areas and for this management has to give a proper tone from the top so that grey areas get as small as possible; employees know exactly what the company expects from them and do not have to start with their own interpretations, what is meant and what not. Similar to the crew of the USS Enterprise we always will face new and unknown situations; grey areas will always exist. For this it is imperative to have an open corporate culture, where employees can address their concerns to management, other functions as the Compliance Officer or an anonymous whistle-blower-hotline.
Pressures are a part of business life, but we have to be honest that most properly we will not win all “must win” business. Failures are part of life, what also the NASA had painfully to experience. What we have to ensure is the sustainability of the business or as Thomas A. Edison once said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”