Over the past few weeks I’ve shared examples of defying conventional wisdom via the historic story of the Trojan Horse as well as the lesser-known example of Ignac Semmelweis from the world of medicine. Today, I give you a rousing illustration of challenging conventional wisdom from the realm of politics.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy boldly asserted that the United States would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. He proclaimed: “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. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
Was President Kennedy delusional? Did he not realize that his statement was illogical, that it had no basis in reality? At the time of his speech, only one American had flown in space (less than a month earlier), NASA had not yet sent a man into orbit, and the technological basis for orchestrating such a mission did not yet exist. Even some NASA employees doubted the feasibility of this ambitious goal. Meeting President Kennedy’s challenge required a remarkable flurry of technological creativity. And guess what? America delivered. Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, as the whole world held its breath in amazement, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to set foot on it.
Daring to dream big and setting ambitious, seemingly impossible goals are what some of the greatest men in history have done and what visionary business leaders do. Their vision inspires their team to be highly creative, because the targeted goals cannot be met by traditional means. As Kevin Rollins, former CEO of Dell, expressed it in 2004 at the height of the company’s success: “I set irrational goals (Michael [Dell] and I together), to encourage our team so they don’t think of conventional solutions. If we asked for a 10 or 20 percent increase in productivity, we’d get conventional solutions. But if we ask them to double their productivity, then they have to rethink everything.”
Coincidentally, there is a concept in space exploration called gravitational slingshot, which is the use of the relative movement and gravity of a planet or other celestial bodies to alter the path and speed of a spacecraft, typically in order to save fuel, time, and expense. The Mariner 10 probe was the first spacecraft to use the gravitational slingshot effect to reach another planet, slinging past Venus on February 5, 1974, in order to explore Mercury for the first time. Using the gravitational pull of planets to propel spacecraft? Now that seems like a brilliantly novel and unconventional concept!
Enjoying these examples of Defying Conventional Wisdom? You can have them available right at your fingertips in my book Slingshot: Re-Imagine Your Business, Re-Imagine Your Life.
[Original illustration from Slingshot.]