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The Final Puzzle: Seeing the Deal and Dealing With the Unforeseeable

for it, and when it happened, they worked through it and learned from it. For Gene Krantz, failure of the mission, failure to succeed in the ultimate challenge of putting a man on the moon “was not an option.” However, and as dramatically shown in the movie “Apollo 13,” failure of a subsystem, a planned procedure, or an individual to succeed in his assigned task, was a daily occurrence. If failure was not an option for Gene Krantz, I guarantee that he would not have been the manager of NASA’s mission control. Failure was his daily companion, and success over failure was his ultimate achievement!

In the military world, this mentality might be described as “losing a few battles in order to win the war.” Indeed, it should not be surprising to know that Gene Krantz and much of the NASA management team, as well as all of the astronauts, in the 1960’s were ex-military and very well disciplined in this principle! If you have military training, you should also accept this principle as instinctive. If you don’t, then you can watch “Apollo 13” and read Colin Powell’s Leadership Primer at the end of this book, and I think you will begin to appreciate the principle.

In my view, this is the simple reason why the United States beat the Soviet Union to the moon. More importantly, this will be the reason that your enterprise will ultimately be successful – that you and your team accept a priori that the best-laid plans will change and that, to be successful, you absolutely must become adept at expecting the unexpected and dealing with the inevitable challenges and “failures” along the way. If things will go wrong, if failure is almost a guaranteed daily companion in the world of product innovation businesses, then how do you deal with this and ultimately succeed?

Dealing with Predictable and Unpredictable Failures

  • 1.

    Understand how and when predictable failures are most likely to occur and develop contingency plans to put in place in the event of such a failure (i.e., always have a “plan B!”)

  • 2.

    When unexpected things go wrong and you have no obvious plan forward, be ready to develop a new path forward in real time – right now, without hesitation.

The Inventor’s Puzzle, Copyright © 2009 by Mark Lake


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