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  • Kenneth E. Fields

7 Scaling Secrets - #5 – Being Able to Both “Run” and “Change” Your Business Simultaneously

As the 7th crewed Apollo mission, Apollo 13, was expected to be what pilots called a milk run. The checklists were clear, the roles were clear, and NASA had ‘been there, done that’ when it came to the moon.

The original Apollo 13 crew, from left to right: Jim Lovell, Ken Mattingly, Fred Haise. Credit: NASA

Almost 56 hours into the mission, it was clear that things would be different as astronauts Lovell, Swigert, and Haise heard a "pretty large bang" that resulted from an explosion that vented precious oxygen into space. That bang led to the famous quote “Houston, we've had a problem” (which was altered for the movie Apollo 13 to “Houston, we have a problem”)


Oxygen was needed for both breathing and electric power, so the NASA team on the ground had to find a solution quickly. They decided to move the three astronauts into the Lunar Module which had fully charged batteries and full oxygen tanks but was only designed for two astronauts. The main challenge was quickly determined to be the carbon dioxide being exhaled because the Lunar Module was not equipped to remove it for three people.


NASA engineers devised a way to use carbon dioxide scrubbers designed for the three-person Command Module in the two-person Lunar Module “using plastic, covers ripped from procedures manuals, duct tape, and other items” – literally working on the spacecraft while flying it. There were no instruction manuals for this process, it was pure improvisation that, after an hour of work by the astronauts, led to an immediate impact in the Lunar Module…less carbon dioxide.


This is the kind of challenge that we often see for scaling companies as well. “Running” the company is almost second nature. It’s ‘easy’ to take orders and fulfill them, ensure the right levels of stock, and deal with customer complaints. It’s much more difficult to “change” the company. For example, installing a new ERP, creating a new way to go to market, or onboarding tens of people at a time when one person at a time was the norm.


To make these changes happen, we can’t leave things to chance. The urgent will almost always take priority over the important. So it’s important to start with the North Pole: what are the tangible things we want to accomplish in the next year? Then we take those ‘projects’, clearly define them on one page, and assign them to a member of the leadership team. In addition to their ‘run’ activities, they also are responsible for making sure that a ‘change’ happens and reporting on it.


Will things go perfectly? Of course not! We will have multiple business priorities that arise and need to be prioritized. However, having a list of our key activities and their final objectives will allow us to decide if they should remain in the ‘urgent and important’ box or if they need to be moved to the ‘non urgent and important’ box…intentionally.

Balancing the ‘change’ and ‘run’ activities can be difficult, especially if you don’t have a clear plan. So, start by clarifying what you need to change and then assign it to someone on your team. Who knows, they develop a brand-new solution that makes a huge difference in the life of your company!

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