One small step…

“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 earth.”
John F Kennedy – USA President

Just over 50 years ago on 20th July, 1969, the whole world watched as Neil Armstrong became the first human to step onto the surface of the moon. It was witnessed by a global audience of over an estimated 600 million people. This was an amazing one-fifth of the world’s population.

The importance of this event at the time was indescribable. At the time, our family did not own a TV. In 1969, TVs in Australia were expensive, costing well over one month’s average wage. My parents had decided to rent a TV to watch the moon landing. This was how important this event was. At the time I was in primary school. The school also hired a TV and we all watched the event live on a grainy screen, and importantly for me as a 10 year old, lessons were cancelled for the day. In those days there was no the audio-visual equipment or computers in schools. Everybody was talking about man landing on the moon.

What are the management lessons from this historic event?

President Kennedy’s 1961 speech is one of the best examples of a vision statement, as within the decade, man had landed on the moon and returned safely.  However, it is important to remember that the moon landing was the result of decades of work by hundreds of thousands of people working across the disciplines of science, technology, and engineering, peaking at a cost of 4.41% of the Federal US budget in 1966.

How important is it for an organisation to have a vision?

A vision is a picture or an idea. It helps focus us on the future, provides inspiration and assists in overcoming the obstacles that inevitably appear along the way. A vision is a target. It should be aspirational, perhaps like the concept of a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) in Jim Collins’ book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, and be successfully communicated throughout the organisation.

Another example of the power of an aspirational vision is Rotary International’s End Polio Now program. In 1979 Clem Renouf, the Australian President of Rotary International read about in the Readers Digest how smallpox had been eradicated. After discussing this with a medical expert, he asked what other diseases could be eradicated. He was told that polio was one such disease. Renouf then proposed a vision where the world could be polio free. At the time, more than 350,000 people were infected by polio each year across 125 countries. Later that year Rotary’s Board of Directors passed a resolution for a program for “the eradication of poliomyelitis and the alleviation of its consequences” throughout the world.  Subsequently, in 1985 the End Polio Now program was adopted with the aim of eradicating polio worldwide. With so many countries where polio was still endemic, this was a challenging vision, a BHAG.

Rotary initiated the program and together with the support of UNICEF, WHO and other organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have now almost achieved Clem Renouf’s original vision. in 2018, only 33 cases of polio were reported in just two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. At times there were difficulties in overcoming cultural suspicion, low levels of education, training staff to manage and administer the program, political insurgencies and geographical remoteness. However, despite these obstacles, the original vision ensured the program continued and it is now almost complete.

What other lessons are there for managers in man landing on the moon and the ending polio program?

Apart from an inspiring vision, it demonstrated the importance of having a plan behind the vision. Furthermore, the moon landing is a lesson in perseverance and determination. In less than 10 years from Kennedy’s vision speech, Apollo 11 landed on the moon and the astronauts returned safely to earth. Great strides were made in technological advances in rockets, computers and other space-age materials and innovations. The Apollo Program required integrated circuits which lead to the development of micro-electronics connecting the world. This gave us pocket calculators, home computers, mobile phones, iPads and other high-tech devices. An inspiring vision can lead to other remarkable and beneficial outcomes. Today we can see the positive impact of Apollo Program everywhere.

There are a number of websites and other sources that provide methodologies on how to create a vision statement for your organisation. As can be demonstrated from the above two examples, strong and clear visions are powerful tools and can provide a framework for the future. The future can be positively changed for the better. This is the case with any organisation.

Visions should be compiled into a vision statement in a suitable form to communicate to staff, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Vision statements define goals and assist in creating a path for the future. Just look at the Apollo Program and End Polio Now.

Does your organisation have a vision statement?

If not, do you think that the organisation would benefit from having a vision statement followed by a well-constructed plan behind the vision?

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