The Apollo 8 Saturn Five rocket launched from Cape Canaveral on December 21, 1968. Baby boomers like me remember in particular the anticipation and excitement of this mission: it would be the first manned flight to travel to the moon and back. And indeed, after nearly three days in space, the Apollo crew of three approached the Moon, and prepared for lunar orbit. Anticipating the upcoming point that they’d be briefly out of sight (and fully alone) on the far side, Mission Control relayed that the Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI-1) move was ‘a go,’ and that the astronauts were “riding the best bird we can find.” Commander James Lovell simply replied “we’ll see you on the other side.”
I’ve been wrestling for several weeks now to find an apt metaphor for the unique place we are today – this very moment. We are certainly still in throws of a real global pandemic – a thing like nothing we’ve witnessed before. The change, uncertainty, disruption, and carnage of this last year – on our business, society, human connectivity, and millions of individual lives – has been astonishing. And we’re not yet out of the woods – with still too-high case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths, along with new variant viral strains that are testing today both our medical response and our general fortitude.
And yet, there is also much cause for optimism and relief. Several vaccines (whose accelerated developments have surprised even the most optimistic of scientists and epidemiological experts) are rolling out across the world, and gaining momentum each and every day. It appears now that in just a few more months we may reach a very substantive portion of the population with this life-saving protection. Additionally, and at least for the moment, case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths in the US are declining in nearly every state.
In my life, I frankly don’t remember another time of such a stark juxtaposition – both imminent and real life danger in the moment – but with extraordinary promise and optimism just around the corner. The possibility of a rapid ‘return to normalcy.’ A true ‘bounce back.’
Economic downturns often happen quite fast, but recoveries are generally slow. Catastrophic weather events arrive overnight (and depart almost immediately) but their effects last for years or more. And most certainly we’ll see many significant and long-term impacts from this pandemic. The road to recovery will be long, sometimes painful, and all-too-likely uneven as well.
And yet, while in the midst of this thing, we can also feel a growing sense of upbeat energy. Later this year, we will I think find ourselves in a much, much better place – both in terms of health and wellness, and in our business, industry, and society. Many economists and business experts forecast a rapid rebound ahead, as consumers look forward with gusto to reclaiming their lives, to returning to a sense of ‘normal’ life as they see it, and to again investing in the future ahead.
Right now, it is as if we ourselves are right there – in the Apollo 8 capsule, three days out from Earth. At this moment, we are pointed directly away from Earth, and at the inflection point of uncertainty, risk, and danger. Still, with faith, confidence, and action, we’ll soon be rocketing around the Moon, headed back home, and marveling at an unimaginable ‘Earthrise’ view we have never seen before.
“We’ll see you on the other side.”
This is our moment – you and I. This is our time – as individuals, as a firm, and as a global community – to prepare for our Earthrise. Don’t miss this; don’t waste it. Remember that, as a leader, you’re not just sitting at home, Christmas Eve, 1968, listening to the broadcast on the family TV. No – you and I are astronauts now, in the spaceship, plotting the course. You’ve got the steering wheel, and the throttle, in your hand. You, your colleagues, and – along with the rest of us – will decide what’s next, where we go. How fast. How big. How bold. It’s our turn. So, let’s do it.
“We’ll see you on the other side.”