Problem-solving for the Apollo 11 mission
In a speech delivered to Congress on 25 May 1961, John F. Kennedy challenged his country with the words “I believe 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”. One day later, on 26 May, the National Space Council did not suit up an astronaut. Instead, their first goal was to hit the moon. Literally.
Three years after Kennedy’s visionary speech, NASA successfully smashed Ranger 7 into the moon. Ranger 7 was principally built to take high-resolution photographs of the moon before impacting the lunar surface. And then it took fifteen iterations before the world saw the gentle moon landing by the crew of the Apollo 11 spacecraft.
The history of this mission illustrates that great scientists, creative thinkers and problem solvers do not solve hard problems head-on. They do not waste energy fighting with the full complexity. Instead, they try to deal with fragments of the complexity and this will teach them how to deal with the full complexity. They first create a simpler problem that they can solve. They resolve that easier issue thoroughly and then they study that simple scenario with laser focus. Those insights often point the way to the solution of the original difficult problem.
You can perfectly apply this mindset to your work. When faced with a difficult issue or challenge, focus entirely on solving a subproblem that you know you can successfully resolve. There is a high chance that the deep work you invest on the subproblem will later be the guide that allows you to navigate through the complexities of the larger issue. So do not jump immediately into the full complexity. First just try to hit the moon. Walking on its surface is for another day.
Latest articles by Filip
- The power of reversible decisions
- Leaders should be genius spotters
- Unintended consequences
- Prepare for pre-flight quarantine
- Bias for action
- Dare to differ
- Be like bamboo
- Uncovering new forms of value
- The case for courage
- The Backwards Law
- Inspiring people with obvious insights
- You are the first domino
- Drive your brain in reverse
- Reidentify your identity
- Define your turn-around time
- Be like water
- Audit your social circle
- What problem are you trying to solve?
- The speed of Genghis Khan
- Celebrate wrong decisions
- Our obligation to imagine
- The difference between amateurs and professionals
- Corporate athletes believe in periodization
- Pioneering is lethal
- What we can learn from the mission to Pluto
- Build a starfish organisation
- Manson’s Law of Avoidance
- Think probabilistically
- Enlightening questions
- Live on death ground
- Build margins everywhere
- The new storytelling
- Be fascinating
- Forget the brand, think categories
- Time management versus time alignment
- Creating a memory of the future
- Spotting talent that whispers
- Problem-solving for the Apollo 11 mission
- Innovative thinking by using adjectives
- Doing right and doing good is not the same
- What you aim at determines what you see
- How survivor bias distorts reality
- Act like a victorious lobster
- Only the paranoid survive
- Different is better than better
- How to avoid narrow-framed decision taking?
- A message to today’s young generation
- What can companies learn from cities?
- Are you suffering from the Concorde Syndrome?
- The backward way of addressing a performance problem
- Apply the 80/20 rule in multiple ways
- Act on lead measures to reach your goal
- Are you an architect of moments that matter?
- The power of working with constraints
- Are there enough Tarahumaras in your team?
- Apply the Pareto Principle to leadership
- Create a dragonfly vision