Be the Command Module, not the Booster Rocket

In respect for this weekend’s “March for Science”, I wanted to start today’s post with some interesting facts about rocket boosters:

  • The heat from the two booster rockets on the space shuttle provided enough heat during the first two minutes of flight to heat 87,000 houses for one full day.
  • SpaceX's new Falcon Heavy rocket has 27 engines and will be able to carry 64 TONS into orbit.
  • No booster rocket stays in low earth orbit for more than a few minutes before falling back to earth.

I used to think that leading a team was about being a booster rocket. Lots of loud noise. Big, motivational meetings. Late nights surrounded by pizza boxes and Redbull. It was all about trying to get into “orbit", be it creating a new product or getting past some big milestone. In the movies, all of this leads to amazing success in business. 

After years of working on my own businesses and as a member of various teams, I can tell you that this popular version of business often is far more “show" than reality. The problem is most people think getting to orbit is succeeding in business. No, success is staying in orbit

In rocketry, a booster rocket will get you to orbit but a 2nd stage rocket is what speeds you up so that you can continue to travel around the earth, instead of falling back down. Getting into orbit is often "relatively" simple, but staying in orbit takes a tremendous amount of work. In movies this is often glossed over: an entrepreneur’s company is bought by some established business or a team’s hard work impresses a big boss and everyone gets promoted. But in 99% of cases, there is no easy success that comes from hitting the first big milestone, nor is there a waiting buyer for your brand new product. You’re work has only just begun. 

So, I suggest you don’t think of yourself as a booster rocket, think of yourself as the command module

Most of the successful people in business work hard, but they don’t pull all-nighters (or at least not regularly). They treat their teams well, develop a plan and then execute with consistent effort for months, often years, to not only develop that amazing new product or service but also build the market for it. That is because the best teams are working to stay among the stars, not just touch it briefly before falling back to earth.