My colleague here at SmartPlanet, John Dodge, has been doing a stellar job of covering MIT's observance of the 40th year of the first moon landing. My own personal favorite journey was that of Apollo 8, which was the first human spacecraft to reach the moon, orbiting it multiple times during the holiday season in December 1968, and providing the first amazing shots of earthrise from almost 239,000 miles away.
Think about it. Ten years prior to that, we were struggling just to get a satellite into earth orbit. The NASA Mercury-Gemini-Apollo space program of the 1960s was an incredible marshaling of resources and determination, requiring the most audacious project management skills ever seen.
Yes, NASA received generous government funding during that period. But we all know throwing money at something doesn't necessarily mean its going to work the right way.
What made the difference was a sense of vision and purpose. I was discussing this very topic in a Webcast a couple of months back with Miko Matsumura, chief strategist for Software AG, who said that major initiatives within corporate settings also need visionary leadership to move it forward, not just technical management. Miko observed that the United States landed people on the moon in 1969 not just because NASA was a well-managed operation. The drive for the moon, accomplished within eight years, was the result of leadership, starting with President John Kennedy's pronouncement in 1961. "This statement is a leadership statement... ...so it's interesting to see how the leader can really harness a really large group of people into a common goal and common mission."
There is no shortage of information out there about the importance of leadership and vision. But what many organizations miss is commonality of purpose -- the alignment in which everyone's sights are set on the same goal. NASA had this "magic" in the 1960s, but you don't have to be planning a moon flight to experience it. You can be merely planning commercial suborbital flights, such as Virgin Galactic is doing. But sports teams also feel this magic of shared vision during winning seasons. Successful startups tend to feel this magic in their early days of success. And yes, established organizations can benefit from a shared vision as well, to move into new markets, or undergo transformation. What is your organization's shared vision? What gets everyone excited about going into work every morning?