“Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” was the sentence said by Jack Swigert, the Command Module Pilot of the Apollo 13 mission. A few moments later, the mission commander Jim Lovell, looking out the window of the spacecraft, reported “a gas of some sort” venting into space, confirming the situation’s seriousness.
What followed was an intense three days of problem-solving, improvisation, and overall lack of sleep for ground control staff in Houston. After all, what was at stake were the lives of the 3-member crew of the Apollo 13 mission.
It might sound that “Houston, we have a problem” (how the quote was shortened for the Apollo 13 movie) is not a thing one might want to hear.
But the alternative? Having a problem and not hearing about it.
2 things that are “good to know”:
What is your mission?
In the case of Apollo 13, it was to bring the crew to the Moon and back. The “to the Moon” part was dropped under the new circumstances.
In our “ordinary” efforts, it’s often not a matter of “life and death.” But good clarity in what you want to achieve will go a long way helping you stay on course.
How do you spot a problem?
The crew of Apollo 13 heard a “pretty large bang.”
But in case there is no bang… In what ways can you find out you’re off course early on?
The rescue of the Apollo 13 mission was possible only because the problem demonstrated itself early enough. As they were still en route to the Moon, the lunar module had charged batteries and full oxygen tanks, ready to be used on the lunar surface. This way, it could be used as a “lifeboat.” Had the problem appeared after the moon landing – the return trip would have been impossible, and the astronauts would have died.
While your circumstances may not be that dramatic, spotting problems early may pay off.
The challenge is not when someone tells you you’ve got a problem. The challenge is that most of the time, no one does.