Planning To Go To The Moon

After proposing the rough idea to congress in May, 1961, on 12 September 1962 while visiting Rice University, John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

If Kennedy had said, “We should go to the moon someday.” do you think it would have happened?  Not a chance.

The planning elements of the goal are clear.  The mission, the time, the resources, the commitment to implement are set out.  Your plans will work better with the same guideline.

The idea of traveling to the moon likely existed as long as people could look at the sky.  In 1865, Jules Verne added some detail in “From The Earth to The Moon” and a motion picture of that journey appeared in 1958.

The method changed from Verne’s cannon to rockets. Beginning in the ’30’s rocket technology advanced to the point of maybe someone could get to the moon someday.  By the ’50’s it had advanced much further and computer assistance became a viable thing.  By the ’60’s it was time to try some of the ideas.

Pushed along by the president’s wish and by the vast sums available, a huge team of specialists devoted themselves to making it so.  And it happened

apollo11 on the moon

On 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed at the Sea of Tranquility.  It was a formidable engineering and management feat.  It teaches us a lesson that applies in our own planning processes.  You must follow the proper order.  Vision, Method, Implementation.

Your long plans (financial and other) work the same way.  Percolate a vision, clarify the vision, state a specific plausible goal, gather resources, develop methods and implement.

You may not have the $400 billion (price adjusted) that was expended by NASA, but then your team will be smaller, the methods known, and the goal a little less difficult.  The numbers don’t matter.  The technique does.

You can be certain that the planning around methods and implementation that were devised in 1962 were not the ones actually used.  Not even close.  The planning journey presents new methods, refinements of old methods and obstacles that no one noticed earlier.  Plans are never as easy as set goal, implement method and wait.  Sometimes you need to revisit the goal to reset priorities and reassess methods.  The achievement is almost anticlimactic.

As you reach your goal, be it your estate plan, your succession plan, your retirement plan or your education plan, perhaps you will be able to say, “One final small step for me, one giant project completed for me and my family.”

Having a goal is easy.  Finding techniques to satisfy it is usually possible.  Implementing and revising as you go is the hard part.  That is what separates the doers from the spectators and the critics.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.