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Neil Armstrong and Doing the Impossible

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As I travel around the world as a strategic advisor and keynote speaker, I have the privilege of meeting many amazing people, including presidents, prime ministers, and Fortune 50 CEOs, just to name a few. Several years ago when I was speaking in Jordan at a leadership summit, I had the pleasure of meeting Neil Armstrong. Of all the people I've met, I must admit that this meeting was the one I was most looking forward to. So as you might guess, I, along with millions if not billions of others around the world, was saddened by his recent passing. In his memory, I wanted to share a story he shared that I believe has a profound message for our time.

He said that in the years of research, innovation, and testing that led up to his first footstep on the moon, there were many times that NASA engineers and scientists would reach an impossible roadblock. During these times they would say, "We will have to halt the mission. There is no scientific solution to this problem." Or, "We have tried everything imaginable to solve this problem and we can't solve it."

He went on to say that every time NASA's best thinkers and scientists reached an impossible roadblock, they were told, "We are going to the moon." And every time they would look at each other and say, "Okay...got it," and then they would try again and again. Soon, they would have a solution that worked. He said this happened many times, and each time the impossible turned out to be possible once they were reminded of the impossible mission they were on.

Having a compelling vision for where you want to go or what you want to do--something that is bigger than any one person, something that might even seem impossible--is the kind of vision that can cause people to want to do more, want to reach higher, want to keep trying.

Remember, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not stand up in front of all those people in Washington, DC and say, "I have a plan." Rather, he said, "I have a dream." And his dream was not to get elected or make vast sums of money. His dream was to better mankind. Putting a man on the moon was similar. It was a dream we could all share--a vision that would not have us question the cost--so we did it.

When Neil Armstrong was about to take that first step off the ladder and onto the moon's surface, he did not say, "One small step for a NASA astronaut; one giant leap for the Untied States." He knew that going to the moon was a human achievement for all of mankind.

Whether you are the leadership of a country, a company, a business, or a school, when you find yourself faced with something that seems impossible, remember how we put a man on the moon--by keeping a dream, an articulated vision of what we want to do, as a picture in our mind's eye. Human history has taught us that nothing is impossible when we have a big dream that is converted into a shared vision.