Tough and Competent
Eugene F. Kranz, author
“It was as tough a test as could be conceived and put to flight control . . . if there was any weakness, the team would have crumbled. The teams dealt with IT!! There is no way that you could have a team stand up the way we did. We knew we had IT. It was all built in as we had been working on IT! for years.”— Arnold Aldrich (Apollo 13) Tough and Competent documents the leadership and teamwork principles which emerged from an organization of novice, part-time engineers in NASA Mercury Control. By July 1969, when faced with the stress of the Apollo 11 mission to land Americans on the moon, they had matured into a group of hardened individuals empowered to make the split-second decisions to land with only seventeen seconds of fuel remaining. What had changed? Team chemistry, IT!, is the unifying soul of operations that emerged from the leadership, working, and social environment to achieve organizational excellence. Mission Control could address quickly the risks and complexity of spaceflight operations. The intangible element, IT!, elevates performance to where the impossible becomes commonplace. IT! was born in a bare-bones warehouse floor work environment, where learning by doing developed the materials for flight. Controllers spanned diverse backgrounds: Philco tech reps, farm boys, Native Americans, and junior college grads who became self-made engineers. A free exchange of knowledge developed expertise among colleagues. Everyone brought unique viewpoints and skills which coalesced into IT! In relaying his long tenure at NASA, Kranz narrates the development of IT! and how it began with a watershed moment. When he addressed a stunned team after the tragic loss of Apollo 1, Kranz delivered his “Kranz Dictum” that ""Tough"" and ""Competent"" were the new tenants of Mission Control. “Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. . . . Competent means we will never take anything for granted.” Moving innovation forward was never simple. From Gemini to Apollo launches, the Skylab program, and the stunning loss of the Challenger crew, Kranz was the face of NASA leadership. His views on lessons learned through decades of Mission Control are valuable for any innovation-based organization.