How Not to Kill Your Team’s Astronauts

Walker Brown

Have you ever seen the film Apollo 13? It is not, in case you didn’t know, the sequel to Apollos 1 through 12. It’s a nail-biter of a film that tells the true story of the ill-fated—and nearly disastrous—Apollo 13 moon mission. At the risk of spoiling it for you, the Apollo 13 crew never made it to the moon. Instead, they were on the verge of death when an onboard explosion made it nearly impossible for them to return safely to Earth.

This was the pinnacle of a high-pressure situation for the crew of Apollo 13, as well as the ground crew.

And in order to survive this high-pressure situation—to solve the seemingly insurmountable problems—they had to improvise. They had to come up with innovative solutions in a short amount of time (oxygen in the spacecraft was rapidly running out) and with the lives of three astronauts on the line.

I understand… does it ever feel like that at your workplace?
In situations like this, you require what the crew and support personnel of Apollo 13 required: ideas. And when everything is on the line, it doesn’t matter where the ideas come from.

However, some leaders do not appear to understand this.

When confronted with a high-pressure situation, some leaders shut everyone else out – or, at best, listen only to a small, select group of people at or near their hierarchical level.

That is a mistake.

Because, in reality, a good idea can come from anyone at any level. Isn’t it what really matters if Joe, the third shift custodian, comes up with the idea that saves the astronauts?

However, as leaders, we all too often allow our egos to get in the way. We believe that we are the only ones who can solve the problem and that receiving credit for the solution is more important than the solution itself. That’s the kind of thinking that will lead to the deaths of your world’s astronauts.

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish… if you don’t care who gets the credit,” Harry Truman once said.

Ideas (and options) can be your best friends in a high-pressure situation. So what’s the point of limiting them?

When I was filming my comedy TV show Almost Live!, a guest had to cancel at the last minute. Even though no astronauts were going to die, it was still a high-stress situation for me. The entire cast and crew, including my lowest-paid writer, contributed ideas. His suggestion was that if we could get some liquid nitrogen, he could fill the time on the show.

By the way, the name of my lowest-paid writer was Bill Nye.

That night, he was transformed into Bill Nye the Science Guy.

You never know where great ideas will come from… or who will come up with them. Whatever is at stake in your world – whether it’s the lives of three astronauts or seven minutes of dead air on a comedy show – gather as many ideas as possible from as many people as possible… and then choose the best option.