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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Emotional IQ

Yesterday, over dinner and some awesome wine at Max's Wine Dive (thank you, Seth!), The Talented Videographer (TTV) described part of her interview yesterday with former NASA flight director Glynn Lunney, who directed part of the Apollo 11 and 13 missions. Lunney was talking about the achievement of the Apollo program, and how remarkable was.

He pointed out that it took a huge monetary investment by the United States in something that many thought was impossible. When Kennedy proposed they make the moon by the end of the decade, it was so far beyond current technology that it was a staggering, and seemingly impossible goal. And investment in the project reached 5.5% of the federal budget. By contrast, all of NASA's budget is around 0.5% today. And because virtually all of the expertise still had to be developed, what you had was huge number of young men and women (including Kennedy) trying to do something most thought impossible, and which did not promise to provide a substantial return on investment. But they decided to roll up their sleeves and give it a shot.

Lunney compared this to the exploration of the New World -- Europe spent a huge amount of money equipping expeditions and charting the new continents. But within a century, sometimes, far less, most of those countries lost their holdings in the New World to revolutions. Many never recouped those initial costs. At the same time, from the perspective of hindsight, it was an endeavor whose value could not be measured by the amount of gold or sugar which they New Continent could provide.

Lunney's point: sometimes huge investments are necessary without the promise of gain. Cost-benefit analyses cannot capture the non-monetary value of an investment.

What I loved was that TTV re-framed this in terms of relationships -- there's lots of work and sacrifice that has to go into a relationship, especially a marriage, upfront. And when you're talking about things like career tracks, there are some sacrifices which don't promise equivalent rewards. But the real value, the long-term reward, can't be measured in that way. It's the kind of connection between public and private, historical and personal, that I wouldn't have been able to make. It was beautiful.

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