Over the weekend, amid protests and unrest in cities across the country, along with a continuing global pandemic, something incredible happened. NASA launched a pair of astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time in nine years. And, for the first time ever, it did so in partnership with a private company.
Even if you had somehow not heard about the launch, it still likely comes as no surprise that the company behind this feat is Elon Musk's SpaceX. Regardless of what you think about Musk, sending humans into space is not a small feat.
It's also an important lesson for every business right now.
There are a lot of challenging decisions facing small businesses right now. For example, millions of small businesses are trying to figure out how to safely reopen to the public. They're trying to figure out how to serve their customers and take care of their employees at a time when doing either of those has never been more difficult.
I get it--the decisions you have to make may not seem as consequential as deciding how to launch a human into space, but the lesson is the same, and for many businesses, the stakes aren't all that different. The challenges are real and the consequences of failure can be devastating. Getting it right, in many cases, could very well be a matter of life and death.
On Wednesday morning, before the Falcon 9 rocket was first set to launch, Musk gave an interview with CBS This Morning. In it, he shared three things we can all learn from how SpaceX and NASA put America back in the lead in space travel.
1. Don't be afraid of big challenges.
There are few things that inspire a greater sense of awe and wonder than the idea of people traveling through space. Equally, there are few things that require overcoming more challenges, or require greater technical accomplishments, with so much on the line. There's a reason we compare hard things to rocket science and brain surgery.
"This is the culmination of a dream. This is a dream come true. In fact, it feels surreal. If you'd asked me when starting SpaceX if this would happen, I'd be like '1 percent chance, 0.1 percent chance,'" said Musk.
Imagine if no one did the hard things. Imagine if you woke up and decided that starting a business was just too hard. Your customers and team are counting on you and your idea. They are counting on you to do the hard things that bring that idea to life as a business.
2. Focus on what matters.
Overcoming challenges requires a relentless focus on what matters most. When you're launching people into space, that means delivering the astronauts safely to their destination--in this case the International Space Station (ISS). According to Musk, their safety is "the only priority" for his team, and is "really all I can think about right now."
That isn't all that different for your business. Right now, the only thing that matters is figuring out how to best take care of your people, your customers, and your community. If you don't get that right, nothing else will matter.
3. Share credit and take responsibility.
Rarely does someone accomplish a really hard thing--whether that's launching a business or launching a rocket--on their own. Often it's the person at the top who gets the recognition, but a good leader knows to share the credit.
"I'm the chief engineer of this thing, so I'd just like to say that if it goes right, it's credit to the SpaceX-NASA team," said Musk. "If it goes wrong, it's my fault."
That second part may actually be the more important leadership lesson, though it isn't something we hear all that often lately. If you want people to join your idea or your adventure, show them that you're willing to be generous in sharing the credit for its success while being accountable for the outcome.