Does “the right stuff” exist in today’s business world?
In my last post I talked about the movie “The Right Stuff” and the era described with the test pilots and the original Mercury astronauts. My intent today is to spend a little more time talking about what “the right stuff” is and whether we see much of this in today’s business world.
In order to proceed, bit makes sense to better describe what I see as “the right stuff.” Here is my version of what I read, heard and saw from the book, movie and other memories of that era:
- Bravery in the face of uncertain odds
- Advancement of a cause versus one’s own personal agenda
- Seeing yourself as part of something much bigger than your own personal story
- Working with others collaboratively to make something “big” happen
Let me conduct a short review to describe how this relates to the astronaut era.
The majority of the original 7 astronauts were test pilots of one type or another. The book and the movie both compare the 7 with the pinnacle of the terminology “the right stuff” Colonel Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier in a fixed wing aircraft. Col. Yeager, like many of his contemporaries, went up in experimental aircraft on a repeated basis and defied the odds in achieving results that had never been gained before. Many of his peers died trying to make these advancements, but they did not shirk their interest in pushing the envelope every time they went into the air.
The Mercury program was not viewed positively by the test pilot fraternity because the 7 astronauts were not the crème of the test pilot crop. Many test pilots were overlooked because they were not as well rounded or they did not have at least 2 years of college experience. Nevertheless, the Mercury 7 still exhibited similar qualities, if not the same “right stuff” by taking great chances with new technology in order to help our country keep pace and then surpass the Russians in the space race. Certainly they all exhibited bravery in the face of sketchy odds and they sacrificed individual glory in some cases in order to move the collective forward. They each also gained a vision of the bigger picture as they saw the growth and adulation of a captivated American public as the space program started to roll out. They each also firmly understood the importance of their ability to make not only the Mercury program happen, but many went on and participated in the Gemini and then the Apollo program as America met the goal of JFK to “fly a man to the moon and return him safely” to this world.
I look around at our world today, or to be more specific I look at America, and wonder if we have the vision and perseverance to achieve a similar feat at this point in history. We have a divided government where each side, or facet, focuses so keenly on their own interest and they typically forget about the big picture for today and for those who will follow after us.
The Right Stuff, at least to me, is more about selflessly moving an idea or collective forward and less about our own personal agenda. Many leaders in America need to examine their own personal motives and get a real dose of “the right stuff” and take some time away from their own personal goals and aspirations.
America, both as a government and as individual businesses, needs vision. What is our goal? Where are we heading?
Only when we can answer this will we have incorporated and institutionalized “The Right Stuff!”