Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

The Brainy Business | Understanding the Psychology of Why People Buy | Behavioral Economics

Jul 19, 2019

In honor of the 50 year anniversary of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, we are going to talk about behavioral economics lessons you can learn from NASA! On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong descended onto the lunar surface and uttered those immortal words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

It’s hard to believe that was 50 years ago, and that – knowing what we know today about technology – that it was able to be done with the equipment they had available.

Most anyone today would think it was impossible to have completed that feat in the 1960s. So the questions may arise – why then? Why the moon? Why did it matter so much?

There are lots of lessons your business can learn from NASA during the space race. While your failures are likely not life or death situations and you may not be breaking world records at every turn, and this story unfolded half a century ago, I want to break down five areas where your business – no matter what industry you are in – can learn from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions at NASA.


Show Notes:

  • [05:40] On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong descended onto the lunar surface and uttered those immortal words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
  • [05:43] Most people today would think that would be an impossible feat with 1960s technology.
  • [06:40] The cold war intensified as the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite, into orbit in October 1957 – much to the shock of the United States.
  • [07:19] This led to fear and essentially kicked off the space race. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (also known as NASA) was created in 1958.
  • [07:47] Kennedy really ratcheted up excitement and budget for NASA.
  • [07:59] In Kennedy's famous speech at Rice University, he mentioned that the budget and taxes would be increased to accommodate the new space program. 
  • [08:24] Overall, the Apollo program cost nearly 20 billion dollars – a third of NASA’s budget for those 13 years, so public interest was important to keep funding around for the program.
  • [08:42] Kennedy also does a great job of priming and framing throughout the speech, and playing on the past victories and pride of the US, Texas and the city of Houston.
  • [09:17] In the moon speech, he did great work to motivate the audience and the general public about the importance of the program and to encourage them to get behind the initiative.
  • [10:53] Kennedy drew a line in the sand that helped launch the program. He also helped to overcome some hurdles by saying we CHOOSE to go to the moon.
  • [12:02] Acknowledging our mistakes and hinting that the Soviets had mistakes helped to instill confidence and combat the availability bias.
  • [13:24] Kennedy also made the task ahead relatable to the audience.
  • [14:35] Kennedy's speech was truly amazing and inspiring. Everybody should read /watch it.
  • [14:57] There are a lot of lessons that your business can learn from NASA during the space race.
  • [15:47] 1) Look for problems (and solutions)
  • [16:31] It would be impossible to think of every possible issue that could come up, but it was critical to think through as many of these pieces as possible.
  • [17:01] Using challenges as inspiration is in direct competition with a bias humans are susceptible to called functional fixedness.
  • [17:23] There are times in your business when this natural bias in your brain is doing more damage than you realize.
  • [19:00] When the astronauts needed to fix their CO2 scrubber, they were literally faced with fitting a square peg in a round hole. Flight director Gene Kranz famously said, "I don't care what anything was designed to do--I care about what it can do." 
  • Those on the ground were inspired to overcome their natural tendency toward functional fixedness to create an ingenious hack to save the lives of the astronauts over 100,000 miles away.
  • [19:12] It's important to think through problems before they come up.
  • [20:05] 2) Test and Retest (But Know When to Move)
  • [20:34] Simulations and trial runs were critical.
  • [21:38] They still moved forward instead of suffering analysis paralysis.
  • [21:51] Narrow down your focus to one or two important goals. Break your goal into small tasks and set up tests to ensure they can be done.
  • [22:35] 3) Autonomy and Support
  • [22:53] The teams were united working toward a common goal, but they were also given the autonomy they needed to solve problems.
  • [23:44] The leadership mindset came from the top down.
  • [25:26] I always told my teams that I would support them in any decision they made and let them know how delegation was a sign of my trust in and respect for them.
  • [26:19] In your business, do you delegate enough and trust your team to take on and really own your big vision? Do they feel supported to look for new options and innovative paths for you?
  • [27:01] 4) Visibility Makes a Difference
  • [27:21] The moon landing made the impact it did because of videos and photos cataloging it every step of the way.  Mirror neurons allow us to experience what we are seeing.
  • [28:23] Are you making your important projects visible enough to rally the troops? While not everything needs to be put on video, and not every little detail needs to be shared with everyone…there is a lot of power in transparency.
  • [29:13] Where can you share more – either via video or other communications – to ensure big goals and projects are remembered?
  • [29:27] 5) Word Choice Matters
  • [29:58] No one told Neil Armstrong what to say, or asked him what his first words would be when he stepped onto the lunar surface. The words he chose perfectly captured the moment,
  • [30:00] What he said was easy to remember, poignant, and succinct.
  • [31:31] Gene Kranz had countless quotes including, "failure is not an option."
  • [32:11] The lesson for you as a leader, and within your business is this: in the moment, it may feel like word choice isn't critical. You may think you can always clarify, but the subconscious brain is picking up on so many millions of bits of information. It would take many words to undo the damage of not saying something properly.
  • [33:12] As you move up the ranks in an organization, the words you use in everyday conversations matter much more than you realize.
  • [33:50] I encourage you to be thoughtful each and every time, because the words you choose in any conversation could be the difference between changing the world forever, and just another day.
  • [34:12] RECAP:
    1. Think about the ripples and look for problems before they come up so you can plan for them…and always be working on innovative solutions. 
    2. Break your goal into smaller tasks, and test each step before you move forward on the final goal (but make sure you actually do move forward)
    3. Let your teams know you trust and support their decisions, and that delegation is an extension of your belief in them
    4. Make big, important projects as visible and transparent as possible
    5. Take the time to choose the right words, because they might be famous quotes attributed to you one day!

Thanks for listening. Don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Android. If you like what you heard, please leave a review on iTunes and share what you liked about the show. 

Links and Resources: