Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the first-ever Moon landing. Fast Company is commemorating the historic occasion by publishing fifty excerpts from a new book by contributor Charles Fishman, titled One Giant Leap, which examines the staggering effort involved in the Moon program.
It’s a fascinating collection of stories, including one about the importance of learning from failure. The piece examines the development of the Apollo lunar module, which remains the only spaceship designed solely for space. As Fishman puts it, “It never had to fly through the atmosphere, so it could be designed with almost pure utility, without the sleekness and protection required to account for atmospheric friction or drag.”
The lunar module’s unique design presented the company that built it, Gumman, with a fundamental challenge, however: How could they make sure this mission critical technology was safe if they couldn’t test it prior to use?
A key answer to this challenge was looking to failure as a guide. Fishman writes that the Gumman team embraced the philosophy that there are no random anomalies, believing instead that “every single failure of every single component had to be investigated, understood, and resolved.”
Hunting down the root causes of various failures was no easy feat, considering the sheer number of parts involved in the spaceship. However, this culture of learning from failure not only was instrumental to the Moon landing, it also informed NASA policies that remain in place today.
Fishman details one of these failures, which began with a window unexpectedly shattering due to external pressure changes. After investigating the issue in collaboration with the window manufacturer and other stakeholders, NASA ultimately developed a new procedure that included a special protective cover that showed even the slightest of touches.
While it’s unlikely many of us will find ourselves in such a unique and high-stakes environment as the Apollo program, there is much we can learn from a culture that believes “every failure is, in fact, a test, and even more, a gift.”
As anyone in the analytics industry knows, data is fallible and sometimes leads to incorrect hypotheses. When and if you find yourself in this situation, remember the ethos espoused by Gumman and the other organizations involved in the Apollo effort. What can you learn from the mistakes and how can this failure inform future analytics projects?
It may have happened fifty years ago, but this is an invaluable lesson that we can all learn from today. After all, it helped put a man on the Moon.
To learn how NASA transformed its culture to improve data sharing and accelerate innovation check out this recent APEX post.