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Like many of you, I watched the on again, off again, on again, launch status of space shuttle Discovery over the July 4th holiday. It seems NASA has been dealing with an increasingly skeptical public and vocal policy opponents who want to severely limit or eliminate NASA's future projects. It made me nostalgic for the excitement, optimism, and commitment that President Kennedy triggered in America in 1961 when he challenged us to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. What a vision and what a mission! And what an exhilarating time for every citizen of the country to witness and enjoy the patriotic pride of the remarkable progress towards the achievement of that lofty goal in July 1969.
But if it wasn't for a little Soviet satellite called "sputnick" it might never have happened. America was complacent and smug in the 1950's with our assumed "scientific superiority" over the Russians. Sputnick was a wake-up call of immense proportions. It was our old friend COMPETITION calling us to action. And act we did.
Today, I'm concerned we are in a mood similar to the 50's. We are not compelled to action because of an increasing complacency and a lack of national conviction for space. The best thing for NASA and the entire space program would be for the Chinese to embark on an aggressive space exploration initiative like a flight to the moon to plant the Chinese flag. Then things would change and in a big way.
The compelling point is not to underestimate the power and value of competition in our organizations and in our lives. Competition simply makes us better and raises the bar of our performance. Just like Annika Sorenstam and Tiger Woods have elevated the games of their golfing peers. That's what competition does!
Competition is definitely more friend than foe. I remember a story about when Walt Disney would give tours of his operations and during those tours the "story boards" of the projects his cast members were working on were highly visible. When asked about whether he had concerns that Disney's ideas could be compromised or stolen he chuckled and remarked how his team at Disney could create faster than anyone could copy. How's that for an attitude towards competition? What's yours?