The Learning Leader Show With Ryan Hawk

Full Show Notes can be found at

#324: Charles Fishman

Charles Fishman is the acclaimed author of One Giant LeapA Curious Mind (with Brian Grazer), The Wal-Mart Effect, and The Big Thirst. He is a three-time winner of the Gerald Loeb Award, the most prestigious prize in business journalism.


  • Leaders who sustain excellence =
    • They insist on excellence. “The work needs to be as good as it can be.”
    • Getting to the moon was the largest project in the history of civilization
    • Clarity of the mission – Everyone must know the goal
    • Must keep people motivated
    • Standards must be clear – And the reasoning behind each action (intentional)
  • President Kennedy was frustrated with how the U.S. was doing versus the Russians in space.  He needed to make a bold statement.  When it was made, the administration felt there was a 50/50 shot that it could happen.
    • It was important to announce broad goal and the reason behind it
  • “Take the stairs” – Think of it as a blessing. “I get to do this.”
    • Not because it is easy, but because it is hard.
    • “A master stroke of leadership because it was a stretch goal, but it wasn’t insanity.”  It must be balanced.
  • There are tapes of JFK talking scientific discovery where it was obvious he had little understanding of it.  –>  It’s important to have people you have confidence in leading areas where you’re lacking knowledge.
    • “If JFK wasn’t assassinated, we may not have gone to the moon.  He was starting to get cold feet about the cost.”
  • The space program created a culture of learning from failure:
    • “Every single failure had to be investigated, understood, and resolved.”
    • “No Random Failures” was the motto.
    • “Every failure is a gift.” — There were 14,000 recorded failures in testing.
  • Collaboration — How to keep so many people aligned?  There were 400,000 people from 20,000 companies working on the Apollo missions!
    • NASA’s management style:
      • Clearly defined roles – What are your solutions to the problems?
      • Gave assignments and qualities that needed to be met
  • NASA had a culture where they brought everyone together for in person meetings.  “Every minute of a mission would be walked through.”
    • There was transparency and decisions got made.
    • Get people together in person and do something important.  This built camaraderie among the dispirit teams.
  • Bill Tindall — A mission planning genius on space navigation.  He was also gracious, self-effacing, and had a great sense of humor.
    • Bill respected what others had done, had respect for the mission.  He had the confidence to be calm.  A different person who used a different manner would have been a disaster working with the leaders at MIT.
    • People have to be persuaded to follow you.
  • Both Gene Kranz and Bill Tindall were unafraid to hear input.  They were confident enough to find the right answer (wherever it came from).
  • We are entering the most exciting time in space travel (Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos)

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