close-up of the moon's surface


But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…

– John F. Kennedy Moon Speech – Rice Stadium, September 12, 1962

Yeah I’m geeky, I know, but I really love listening to classic presidential speeches and this excerpt is from one of my favorites.

In 1961 Russia put the first man, Yuri Gagarin, in space and from then on it was a race to put a man on the moon. Kennedy’s famous moon speech united a country under a common interest. My favorite line from that speech is “because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” You see, the moon speech wasn’t really about the moon at all. It was about uniting the country under a single purpose. It was about finding a common interest among all Americans and exploiting that interest in the name of unity.

The president’s message was clear “we choose to go to the moon.” He didn’t dilute it with buzzwords or strategic statements about unity and patriotism. He made it simple and understandable even to small children.

I believe this is how companies should set goals or better yet, a goal. And this is how we should set personal goals. Simple, concise, and easily understandable by small children.

Safety first!

Another famous example of setting and communicating a simple but effective goal is the story of Paul H. O’Neill who was the CEO of Alcoa Corporation from 1987 to 1999. On October 1, 1987 when he gave his first speech as the CEO of Alcoa, their stock price opened at $10.14. On December 31, 1999 when O’Neill eventually stepped down as CEO, it closed at $83.00 a share. That’s a 718.5% increase in share value during his tenure!

slow safety first caution
Safety first

How did he turn around a company who’s stock price had been stagnant? He didn’t promise the shareholders big returns by cutting costs or increasing profits instead he concentrated on safety. He did what? Yup, he presented a single, easily understandable vision that would govern all company decisions and ensure that all employees were rowing in the same direction.

As O’Neill’s vision became socialized through the company I can imagine decision-making conversations going something like this:

Employee: “I think we should replace this piece of equipment.”

Manager: “Will this be a safer workplace if we do?”

Employee: “Yes.”

Manager: “Okay then, we’re going to replace that piece of machinery.”

Simplicity and success

Simplicity is the key to success. Success is the accomplishment of a value-base goal and in this case safety was the value all company goals were based on.

When I think about how I apply this concept to my own life I think about freedom. I value the ability to choose. I need to keep my life simple because it gives me the ability to be flexible with my decisions. I’m pursuing financial independence because of the freedom of choice that it provides me. Financial independence isn’t really the goal rather complete freedom is the goal.

I believe that my life is a product of my decisions. Where I am in life and all the things I’ve gone through can be traced back to decisions that I’ve made (with the exception of extenuating circumstances). Good or bad, informed or not, they were all my decisions. For example, I chose to drop out of college after only one semester and because of that I didn’t go back to school until I was 30 years old. When I did go back to school I chose to participate in as many career-seeking activities as I could because I knew I had to have a job when I graduated. Yes, there were many other things going on in my life that influenced those choices, nevertheless, the choice was always mine.

Success is intrinsic

Since I believe my success in life is intrinsic, I need to remove as much complexity as possible. As long as I have a single goal that is simple, concise, and easily understandable to small children then I have confidence in my choices because I have less variable to consider. The more complicated my life is the harder it is going to be to have confidence in my decisions. The easiest decisions have the least amount of variables. Setting and working towards a value-based goal is the path to success. It will get you there in the most efficient way possible.

Do you have a simple vision that governs the decisions in your life?

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