Apollo 11: Rocket Science and the Future of Hiring

Jun 16, 2009
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

We are approaching the 40th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission in which the world witnessed the first human to walk on the moon. This event was an historic moment for mankind and one that will live on as one of the most triumphant moments for the human race.

I was recently reading an article in which many of the members of the mission control team were interviewed about the mission and the various roles and tasks they performed. One of the most interesting things was a discussion about the fact that almost all of the mission control team members were very young.

The mission required extensive use of computers and the ability to use computers to do things that had never been done before. Computer science was such a young field, and the moon mission so unique, that there were no persons with any experience doing what needed to be done. In order to accomplish the mission, NASA hired a group of people who had the ability required to work with computers and experience working with computers, no matter what the application. The article did not say what methods were used to determine how hiring decisions were made, but clearly a non-traditional approach was required. We all know the result of the decisions NASA made and we all know that the combination of workers, equipment, and planning resulted in a resounding success — the kind of win any corporation would be proud of!

Even though the Apollo 11 mission happened 40 years ago, it’s ripe with lessons for those of us in the hiring profession. This is especially true when it comes to creating strategies to use assessment in the future of the hiring and the workforce. My thoughts:

  • As has always been the case, the bottom line is that understanding the traits valued for getting the job done and including the scientifically based assessments required to measure them in your hiring process will help ensure you achieve successful performance of your mission.
  • Creating the future may often require taking a leap of faith in someone’s abilities to make a contribution. Testing can help make this leap easier by helping to identify those individuals who possess the raw abilities and characteristics required. A caveat here is that — as with any employment testing situation — time must be taken to identify abilities and characteristics critical to desired outcomes as a first step in the development of the testing program.
  • Training and experience are an excellent way to help mold the raw material that brought to the table. When seeking to do something that has not yet been done using new technologies, training is essential, as is the ability for hands-on learning in which team members can educate one another.
  • Ideas are and will continue to be the currency required for successful progress. Identifying applicants who are creative and possess the proper thinking styles will become increasingly important.
  • Bringing together persons with backgrounds in different areas and asking them to function together as a team will be essential to success. New innovations and progress are increasingly requiring input from those with vastly different backgrounds.
  • Given the above point, it seems logical that an increasing amount of attention be paid to ensuring a harmonious cultural fit between the members of the team. It is often mismatches in work styles and values that cause problems within a team dynamic. There are an increasing number of applications which allow organizations to measure, model, and optimize fit when creating and aligning work teams.

Technology is continuing to make the above points easier for those folks with out a background in testing and assessment. As with almost every other area in our lives, technology is radically changing the landscape. When is the last time you sent a fax? Could you be as efficient without email? We are entering an age of unprecedented accelerated technological advancement. The time horizon for quantum leaps in technology has been shortened to milliseconds when one considers the grand scheme of things. The computing power and things needed to put a man on the moon 40 years ago can probably be duplicated by several laptops now.

The things we are going to see in our lifetime are going to blow our minds. This statement will be true for those of us in the general business of hiring, and those of us who specifically concentrate on assessment. Virtual simulations of entire jobs, human interactions, and interactions between humans and machines are going to be the future of hiring. I have just started to see some of the first steps in this direction. What I have seen and learned so far is that it is going to require a diverse set of perspectives to create the hiring tools of the future. Folks in the testing and recruitment industries are going to need to team up with persons in other, seemingly unrelated industries in order to make it happen.

I am currently working on putting together a consortium that represents key stakeholders from the assessment and gaming industries as well as persons from other areas yet to be defined. I am just at the concepting stages at this point, so I encourage interested parties to post here if you want to talk about this idea.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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