Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fly Us To The Moon, Please!

Sputnik I
When I began high school in September 1962 (true!), students had two choices of modern language: French and German. Additionally, after regular class time, the school offered classes in Russian.

German? Russian? Yes. On May 25, 1961, JFK had made his "man on the moon" speech and launched a national commitment to learning science and technology. At the time, understanding German was critical to learning about rocket technology, among other things. If you don't believe me, just look up the name Werner Von Braun (or Einstein).

Why was Russian offered?

Today, it's difficult to explain the impact of something called Sputnik I and the Russian space program upon our national consciousness at the time. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik I into outer space on October 4, 1957, and suddenly our national confidence that only we could do the impossible was shaken if not entirely shattered. All we had to do was listen on short wave and ham radios to the satellite's "beep,beep" as it made its 96 minute trip around the globe. Talk about start-ups! Sputnik was Apple, Google, Facebook* and more, wrapped and tied up with a totalitarian red ribbon.

Later, as America's own space adventures went from folly to flop, the Soviets shocked us once more. On April 12, 1961 they put the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into outer space, where he made one full orbit of earth before returning safely home. Boom! The cold war began to heat up fast.

Why do we bring this up now? We bring it up because post-war America was cruising along in the Fifties: creating unprecedented national wealth, building our cities, and dominating world events as Russia and the rest of Europe dug themselves out of the remnants of war and its deprivations. Our cities had been untouched, our industries had been humming along (thanks in part to many women having"manned" them during the war). We were mostly having one big party after another.

Yuri Gagarin
Does this sound familiar to you? Does this sound something like the 1990's, when we were all working, all building wealth, at least on paper, the Soviet empire was crumbling, and the new Chinese form of capitalism was in infancy? We won the big one! Party down!

Then: the internet bubble burst, 9/11, Afghanistan I, Iraq, Afghanistan II, Too Big Too Fail, and assorted mind-numbing banking calamities, corruption everywhere, a political left-right standstill, and our current presidential campaign, Zzzzzz.

Which brings us back to JFK's speech to Congress just a month after Gagarin landed back on earth. Here's the important part of what he said that usually does not get quoted:

"I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified the long range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment."

JFK was talking about the space race and he famously went on to commit us to landing a man on the moon by "the end of the decade." We did that on July 20, 1969.

But, it doesn't matter what his subject was. Maybe you don't give a hoot about getting to the moon. Maybe you think that was a waste of time and money. Maybe you're not a Democrat and don't admire JFK one little bit. Maybe you're a Martian sent to report in advance of our next rulers (please hurry)!

It doesn't matter. What matters is what he said, when he said it, where he said it (he was asking Congress to do something), and, most importantly, how he said it. Imagine if he had asked all the pollsters and consultants if he should commit to actually accomplishing a goal within a specified time with the whole world listening?

Now, we've lost that national confidence to do something insanely great together as Steve Jobs might have said. Something bold. A BHAG**, Big Hairy Audacious Goal!

Will somebody please stand up in front of us and challenge us to do something truly, outrageously, insanely, intergalactically great without first asking a thousand experts?

We're tired of being strapped in while standing still. Fly us to the moon. Please. We're begging.

* Ed Note. Why do we use those companies as a comparison? In 1958, As a direct result of Sputnik's success, the U.S. started something called ARPA, Advanced Research Projects Agency. Later, it was ARPA-NET itself, which formed the basis of the internet, as developed by Xerox Parc, where Steve Jobs eventually visited.

**Lately, I've been working with Amy Cuevas Schroeder and her DIY Business Association. She recently asked me what my BHAG for the year was...and it got me thinking.

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