When all hell was breaking loose immediately following the explosion aboard Apollo 13, Flight Director Gene Kranz called for calm and asked his team aloud:
"Let's look at this from a standpoint of STATUS. What do we (have) on the spacecraft that's good?"
He warned his team about guessing at possible solutions. He urged them to not let emotions cloud their scientific analysis when searching for answers.
By identifying what WAS working, the remarkable men and women at NASA eventually figured out how to help the astronauts survive and return safely to Earth.
We should remember what happened then as we continue to deal with this COVID-19 pandemic. The explosion of the virus and its aftermath are not unlike the Apollo 13 crisis. This has shaken us to our core.
We have an overwhelming sense of fright. We are scared about becoming infected. We are worried about our jobs and businesses. We are frantically trying to figure out how to keep ourselves and our families safe and healthy.
As we struggle with the dramatic disruption of our daily lives, we should stop for a moment and ask the same question Kranz posed to his team:
"From a standpoint of STATUS, what do we have that's good right now?"
Lists probably differ among us, but we likely can agree that these advantages are on our side right now:
We have extraordinarily dedicated and committed health care providers
We are witnessing incredible bravery from front-line heroes who are treating those infected. We have seen them before in our history – from the soldiers who stormed the beaches at Normandy to first responders who ran toward the burning Twin Towers on 9-11. The doctors and nurses and specialists in our hospitals and emergency rooms right now are equally amazing. They are doing battle every day – because that’s what they do. And for that, we are blessed.
Brilliant researchers have figure out how to identify, treat and manage this virus
Vaccinations were developed at a faster rate than ever seen in our history. We continue to see scientists leverage their experience, knowledge and advanced technologies to develop immunizations and treatments.
Even more technology enables us to continue socializing and communicating
Laptops, iPhones, social media, Zoom, FaceTime, text messages, emails, etc. have helped us stay connected and – in many cases – sustaining parts of our economy. We are leveraging software to get food delivered to people in need, to speak with a physician on iPhones and to share photographs of our pets, new babies and games on Facebook to help pass the time while being socially distant.
Leadership is solving the challenges
We are a deeply divided country politically. Unfortunately, some politicians continue looking at the COVID-19 outbreak through their jaded, imperious prism. Within private industry, state and local government and the nonprofit sector, though, leaders are taking bold actions to protect and help our communities. They are bringing together the best minds to collaborate on solutions and public policy - which offer hope.
The remarkable human spirit continues to thrive
Despite our isolation and uncertainty, there are stories of incredible love and support for each other. People are finding creative ways to comfort and look out for our families and neighbors. We are figuring out how to sustain local businesses to the best of our abilities.
As the Apollo 13 team worked tirelessly on life-threatening challenges in the days following the explosion, it was rumored that Kranz overheard administrators expressing doubt and concern. One said the outcome could be the worst moment in NASA history. Kranz supposedly said: “With all due respect, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”
What we are experiencing today is not unlike what millions felt following the attack of Pearl Harbor or when the airliners crashed into those New York and Washington DC buildings and the Pennsylvania farm field. We should look at what we did in the weeks, months and years afterward back then. We took what was still good after the explosions and made our society remarkably better.
History is repeating itself. We are taking what is working and make it better because, as Kranz told his team during the height of the emergency, “Failure is not an option.”
Jeff Owen is a Partner with Arête Purpose Consulting and is a Partner with Clever Dogs Media. He learned about hope during a crisis from his late father, a World War II Navy veteran who served in the Pacific Theater.