President Kennedy’s “Man On The Moon” address to Congress on May 25, 1961 probably sounded like a far-fetched idea to many. How could it not? Putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade must have sounded like a crazy idea at best.
But as we all know, the glimmer of an idea that started with the X-15 program in 1959 was made a reality on July 21, 1969 when Neil Armstrong walked on the surface of the moon. As it turns out, Kennedy’s vision had months to spare.
Right now, we have another seemingly far-fetched goal in front of us: health care reform. I think that the powers-that-be would do well to learn some lessons from NASA. Here are nine lessons to consider.
1. Develop a big, audacious goal and set a course to attain it. The goal might seem like it is a long way off, but there must be well-defined steps along the path. NASA has projects Mercury and Gemini to lay the foundation for Apollo. Health care needs a big, audacious goal AND a well-defined series of benchmarks along the way. Right now, these really don’t exist.
2. Don’t settle for anything less than success. NASA continued to forge ahead through challenges and adversity. They kept their eyes on the goal, and wouldn’t settle for anything less than success. Health care reform needs the same attitude. The goal can’t be compromised along the way just because of a little adversity here and there.
3. The future is now. In 1961, we didn’t have the Internet or any of the modern digital technology that we have now. But NASA seized the moment with whatever cutting edge technology they had at the time, and made the future a reality within a decade. The last major development in health care reform, prior to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was the implementation of Medicare on July 30, 1965. According to my calculations, that puts us at about 46 years to get to the ACA – almost 5 decades! And even that has been symbolically repealed 33 times.
4. Push the envelope. NASA had scientists pushing the envelope of their thinking. The pilots and astronauts were pushing the envelope of flight. Everyone pushed the limits of their thinking. Health care reform strives for incremental variations on the same old theme. If you do what you’ve done, you will get what you’ve got.
5. Problem solving requires effective collaboration. It has always been a common theme in the space program: the importance of effective problem solving. You can have groups of 100 or 1000 people that are working to solve a big problem, and the solution is dependent upon each of these groups working together towards the common goal. Health care reform? Each of the stakeholders seem to be out on their own limb, with little interaction amongst them to truly solve the problems that exist.
6. No hidden agendas that benefit from the program’s failure. You cannot have groups from #5 above that are subconsciously subverting the progress of the program because of their own agenda. You must have a cohesive approach to problem solving, especially with big problems, otherwise failure is imminent. It must be all-for-one for mission success. Health care reform has far too many groups that aren’t fully committed to the big, audacious goal or the process of attaining it. They will need to be, or we can expect to fail time and time again.
7. Bring in the best minds – and let them create. NASA let their scientists come up with out-of-the-box solutions. Just look at the legacy of Apollo 13 and you will find some creative solutions to what appeared to be impossible problems. There are plenty of great minds in health care – let them run wild with their creative solutions. I would suggest that you will find something valuable along the way that will not only provide better care but will do so more effectively.
8. Be fearless. The space program has always had a very healthy respect for decisions made and the ramifications of them. There isn’t a fear of the unknown that limits anyone’s thinking or beliefs. NASA has never been afraid to lose sight of the shore or, better yet, lose sight of planet Earth. Health care reform has to be fearless as well.
9. Implement solutions as though life depends on it. If NASA gets stuck in the “paralysis of analysis” during a mission, the project may fail or people die in the process. Strangely enough, health care has the same answer. We just don’t tend to look at it with the urgency that perhaps it deserves.
NASA continues to do incredible things like putting a one ton US-made vehicle on the surface of Mars. They continue to formulate big, audacious goals. They dream big dreams. They bring together the greatest minds, and mix in a healthy dose of ingenuity, creativity, and courage. They don’t hesitate to go where they’ve not gone before.
So tell me again, just what exactly is limiting us from building a better system of health in this country?
Photo credits: dctim1