Go Fever: The Challenger Shuttle Disaster and Why You Might Want to Start Imagining Your Future Failures

challenger video link

Click here to listen to the story.

Here’s the transcript:


Ever heard of “go fever?” It’s what happens when you get so focused on achieving a goal and so confident you can do it that you stubbornly press on when all the signs say “stop.”

The term comes from NASA and the days leading up to the Challenger shuttle disaster. Engineers told NASA officials that a freak cold snap the night before the launch would likely compromise critical rubber o-rings used to protect the shuttle from blazing hot rocket exhaust.

But they’d never lost an astronaut. And even when things went horribly wrong with Apollo 13, they’d managed to overcome the problem. So, NASA ignored the warnings.  NASA had a launch date in mind and they determined to meet it. NASA had go fever.

<challenger launch audio>

I learned about go fever from a recent freakonomics podcast about failure. Their point was that on one hand fear of failure can paralyze you and keep you from taking the risks you need to take to succeed. But on the other hand, too little respect for failure can blind you to potential pitfalls.

They talked to a psychologist named Gary Klein. He studies decision making and consults organizations. And he spends a lot of time with companies after a project has gone horribly wrong to help do the post mortem — break down everything that went wrong and try to learn from it for next time.

But it occurred to Dr. Klein that it would be even better if he could help his clients spot likely sources of failure – before it happens.

So Klein takes his clients though a thought experiment he calls a “pre mortem” . Here’s how he describes it to Freakonomics.

<Gary Klein quote audio about “pre-mortem”>

Conventional wisdom says you should picture yourself succeeding in order to overcome failure. But, turns out, visualizing failure could be a good way to prevent it — and the antidote for a stubborn case of go fever.


Freakonomics Podcast on Failure (amazing!):
Challenger disaster audio and video:

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