Sometimes in IT, you have to get out of your comfort zone and pull ideas from another industry or even another era in time.
I went on this journey recently when reading the memoir of NASA flight director Gene Kranz, “Failure is Not an Option.” Kranz was a key player in America’s manned space program from the early days, and his book includes riveting stories of those famous years. Throughout his memoir, he portrays the sense of optimism and perseverance that came out of those Apollo teams, eventually leading them to great successes, like the moon landing.
The book is very much a mix of aerospace and technology, shedding light on how the technology industries developed in the 1960s and ’70s. It also shows how patterns of the past can help us understand the future, for example why Elon Musk has a passion for Space X and why other entrepreneurs, like Peter Diamandis, want to reinvigorate the space industry with new ways of doing things.
In one of my favorite scenes from the book, Kranz ponders what life is like after you reach an ultimate goal. He writes about how, as the Apollo program wound down, the mission controllers – then in their 20s – struggled with questions of what’s next. “What do you do after you have been to the moon?”
“I knew how they felt,” Kranz writes. “When I won my wings, I believed I would fly fighters forever. When my dream ended, my world folded. So I had to pick myself up and get on with life, and find a new vision. In the process, I took a lucky fork in the road that got me first into flight testing and then into the space program. It was that one-in-a-million chance you take in life that pays off.”
I asked a similar question of myself when I was 21 and mapping volcanoes in Hawaii – a dream job, my dream job. How was I going to find a bigger goal, a greater passion than that? I’m sure many of my colleagues in IT have felt this way after implementing a close-to-the-heart solution for an important client or coming to the end of a special project.
Indeed, after every project we deliver to our clients, I go through a period of feeling, “What’s next?” But I have learnt over the years to relish in that gap of the unknown and prepare myself for the opportunities I know lay ahead. As one of my mentors said, use the time to recharge, relearn and regenerate – because it won’t be long until the next opportunity comes your way.
Those one-in-a-million chances Kranz spoke of? They don’t come along very often. And when they do, we have to be ready to grasp them with both hands and make the most of it.
Sometimes after you reach the moon, the best thing you can do is continue to say “yes!”