Thirty years ago today (January 28, 1986) the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded 74 seconds after lift off. If you are old enough to have seen it, you undoubtedly remember exactly where you were when you heard the news. It was one of those moments that dumbfounded the nation and caused people to be glued to their television screens. (Thirty years ago there was no wide-spread Internet; I got a phone call to tell me about it and subsequently called others.)

As was discovered later, the cause of the explosion is likely the “O-rings” that were not meant to withstand the unusually cool temperatures of that day. Much has been written about the failed chain of communication and many fingers have been pointed in blame. The bottom line is that seven people died because the pressures to launch — given the hype of having “the first ordinary citizen in space” — outweighed the precautions to wait. 

We make decisions every day that are based on incomplete data and unknown risks. Usually a billion dollars and lives are not at stake, but the choices we make often have far-reaching implications for our organizations. Before you act too quickly to launch the rocket, be prudent about having enough information to make an informed decision. And if you are the one providing the information, share with confidence and not timidity, even if the pressures are high to fade into the background.   

The legacy of the Challenger is that it should challenge all of us to have the perseverance to influence a decision and the patience to wait when the uncertainty warrants.

— beth triplett

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