I was thrilled to read today’s story of the European Space Agency successfully landing their spacecraft on a comet traveling 34,000 miles per hour. Despite so many things that could have doomed their “comet chasing” mission, the ESA team got enough things to go right to achieve their ambitious goal.
What does this wonderful story tell us about how we define success? I see three things:
1. “Overnight success” is a romantic notion. It took ESA ten years of focus, collaboration with multiple space agencies (including NASA), and hard work to reach its goal. Think how Twitter struggled in obscurity for a decade before becoming a global sensation today.
2. Successful ventures need a shared vision. Whether it’s Tesla, Netflix, or space exploration, a shared vision must include agreement on what long-term success looks like. The more specific and visual the better. Imagine the ESA team’s shared vision of their space probe sitting on top of a comet to deliver extra focus and motivation when overcoming major obstacles.
3. Good luck is just part of the journey. Successful CEOs acknowledge that their success is partly due to being in the right place at the right time. While luck is one piece of the puzzle, so is good planning.
And this brings us to Philae, the washing machine-size space probe that detached from its mother ship, Rosetta, one day ago. As it landed on the comet its jets of cold nitrogen gas failed, despite several attempts by mission control to ignite the thrusters. Was it merely good luck that the capsule didn’t bounce off the comet’s surface? Well, the ESA team admits that they were a bit lucky, but they were also well prepared. Thanks to contingencies built into this final step of their long mission, the Philae also relied on harpoons and ice screws to ensure a firm grip on the comet. Now that’s good planning! Hats off to ESA for its extraordinary achievement.
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