In 1970, the ill-fated American Apollo 13 lunar landing mission suffered an oxygen tank explosion that crippled the critical service module and stranded the crew in orbit around the moon with no way home back to Earth. Through the ingenuity and determination of the astronauts and Mission Control back on the ground in Houston and with only the material, tools and skills available on their the severely damaged Apollo 13 space craft, repairs were successfully made. A creative, alternative approach back to earth was plotted and the crew were returned with out further incident.
The Apollo 13 incident, with it’s life and death consequences, is an extreme outlier but starkly illustrates the ideal that “failure is not an option”. While those words were a Hollywood creation and were never actually uttered, Flight Dynamics Officer Jerry Bostick responded when asked in an interview by the script writers, Al Reinart and Bill Broyles, “Weren’t there times when everybody, or at least a few people, just panicked?” :
“No, when bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them. We never panicked, and we never gave up on finding a solution”.
They believed that the goal of returning the crew safely was possible despite extremely limited resources and options. What would have the outcome been had they felt that the goal was impossible because of those staggering odds against their success? When you are the leader and bad things happen, all eyes are on you. How will you react? If you believe the goal is impossible, then you will absolutely fail. If you believe that the goal is possible, then you have a chance of success. Both sides of the same coin are infectious; optimism on one side and pessimism one the other. Pessimism is self-fulfilling. Optimism opens the door to possible success.