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Apollo 13 – Lessons Learned from a 50-year-old (near) Disaster

lessons learned from a 50-year-old (near) disaster

By Liddy Bakker

My daughter studies in Europe and once universities stopped their lectures, she managed to get a flight to NZ and now shares our bubble during lockdown. Since she studies Aerospace Engineering and with the 50 year anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission, it seemed a good opportunity to watch the movie another time.

I did remember it to be a good movie about problem solving during a manned space mission, however, I did not realise just how topical this movie was and how applicable it is to our current situation. The following “lessons learned” are as much applicable during COVID-19 as 50 years ago:

When disaster strikes and it looks as if the rocket and crew will be lost, Gene, the command leader in Houston, clearly states that the loss of life is unacceptable. He sets a very clear target of getting the men back to earth alive. Then, when all his people on the ground start listing all the equipment that is malfunctioning, Gene interrupts and tells them to focus on what actually works.

Out in the rocket, the crew were having a terrible time but remained focused by taking one step at a time. Jim Lovett trusts their skills, listens to their suggestions, and firmly intervenes to ensure the team stays focused on the issues rather than allocate blame.

Collaboration is mirrored back on the ground where initial panic is replaced by creativity. This is combined with a preparedness to question anything, a relentless pursuit of option after option, to try-learn-adapt-try again. They manage to create a re-entry procedure by using only 20 Amps! It is amazing to realise how close they got to actually dying out there.

As a business owner who is faced with a completely new situation of having a consulting company in lockdown, I have caught myself referring back to some of their strategies and have found them to provide good guidance during this lockdown. Lessons Learned:

  • Set a clear target: We are getting through this with all of our people.
  • One step at the time. Don’t try to look too far ahead, just focus on the next step.
  • Concentrate on what still works, don’t lament the broken.
  • Be creative, don’t limit yourself to what you set out to do, look at where you can add value.
  • Use everybody’s strength to work as a team.

Using these ground rules, we have been able to find new ways to support our customers, built internal capability and grow together as a team.

About the author: Dr Liddy Bakker is the Director for Knowledge Management and Founder of Productivity People