I was four when President Kennedy gave his famous speech declaring that we would go to the Moon.
We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon...We choose to go to the Moon in this decade, not because it is easy, but because it is hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win!*
*Some parts removed for emphasis.
I don’t know if I heard the speech during its original delivery, but there’s no question that it shaped my childhood and continues to shape my life today. Growing up in the sixties we were always thinking about putting a man on the Moon. As a kid I had an astronaut’s helmet, a map of the solar system, model rockets, and a ray gun to blast extraterrestrials. It didn’t stop there; we also drank Tang and ate Space Food Sticks, just like the astronauts. To get ready, my brother, my sisters and I converted our bathroom into a space capsule, and with a countdown of 3, 2, 1, Blastoff! would open all the valves to launch ourselves into space.
Rarely do we encounter such bold and inspiring vision as what Kennedy cast on that September day in Houston. He understood that the best visions are large and challenging. Otherwise, why bother? For us on SSC, it's noteworthy that the opening to Kennedy’s speech is a sailing metaphor, as he says:
We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.
As a teenager my grandfather gave me a gift: a copy of Joshua Slocum’s classic, Sailing Alone Around the World. Little did he know that his three dollar and fifty cent gift would literally change the trajectory of my life. As with many young men, Slocum’s story captured my imagination and led to a vision of following in his wake. That vision guided my education as a naval architect, my work as a marine engineer, my passion as a sailor and ultimately my decision to set off on my own boat.
Vision tells us where we’re going
Our personal visions, and the visions of our leaders, shape our future and tell us where we’re going. In my early thirties I was writing software and was a member of the Software Entrepreneurs Forum, where I had the opportunity to hear many of Silicon Valley’s visionaries speak. For me, the one who stood above all others was Bill Gates. Whenever he spoke he would cast a crystal clear vision of where Microsoft would be in a year, two years, and five years. My admiration continues to this day for how thoughtfully he considers and articulates his direction. You always know where he’s going and why he’s going there. This kind of vision casting is the mark of a true leader.
Where focus goes energy flows
We know that our energy flows to where we place our focus. Focusing on a clear and exciting vision directs our energy toward creating a clear and exciting future. Without such vision the future can seem murky and frightening, leading us to turn our focus toward the familiarity of the past, and too often to the places where we were hurt, injured or wronged, reliving the bad moments over and over, as if prodding a wound and never letting it heal. While it’s good to be informed by the past, if we drive down the road with our eyes on the rearview mirror we’re likely to get in a wreck. As the song says, There ain’t no future in the past. Having a clear and strong vision helps us to keep our focus forward.
We need a vision big enough to inspire us
One of the challenges of any vision is that it needs to be big enough to inspire us. People’s natural tendency is to resist change and continue along their current path. A vision needs to be big enough for us to overcome that resistance and move into action with conviction and courage. In the absence of these you have a vision without action, an idea that remains a mere dream, never to be fulfilled. Sadly, the vast majority of great ideas suffer this is fate. But when we have a vision that is big enough, that can move us individually and collectively, then that vision has a chance to change our world.
Our future should always be bigger than our past
But our vision can't just be big. It also needs to promise us a bigger future than our past. This poses a challenge for childhood stars, athletes who peak early, and others who achieve major life accomplishments at an early age. For the twelve astronauts who walked on the Moon it was especially challenging; that’s a tough act to follow! At least one suffered from depression and alcoholism and many experienced failed marriages and other downfalls.
In accomplishing the goal my wife and I set of sailing to New Zealand I experienced my own Now what?! moment after we arrived. This underscores one of the challenges of a grand vision, which is that it should always live within a larger purpose that continues as you set your next goal. In business we call that the mission.
When President Kennedy cast his vision of going to the Moon he understood that the vision had to be large, it had to challenge us, it had to have a clear goal with a set time frame, and it had to bring us together. It was a model of great vision casting.
Honoring great visions
In this month of July, 2019, it’s worthwhile to pause and reflect on some of the great visions that have shaped our history. July 4th is the 243rd anniversary of our Declaration of Independence, an extremely bold and courageous act by our founding fathers. I doubt if they could ever have imagined the greatness to which their vision led. And this July 20th is the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon. I can still recall watching our TV as he spoke his famous words honoring the giant leap that had been made by mankind.
In timely fashion, this month we have also activated a new Vision page on the Sailing Science Center website. This has been in our business plan and our formal presentations from Day One but is now made public as we roll into the more active phases of our project. You may want to check it out. You might also check back from time to time as we add detail to the page.
We wish you all a Happy 4th of July!