I’m heading to Houston tomorrow for the LEI Summit—always an exceptionally inspiring and educational event. I’m particularly excited to visit Houston because I just saw the new documentary, Apollo 11. It’s amazing. Composed of video taken by NASA and the Apollo 11 astronauts, along with Walter Chronkite’s actual description of the events, the movie provides a kind of fly-on-the-wall perspective of the now 50-year-old mission. It’s riveting. 

My favorite part of the movie (aside from, you know, the actual landing on the moon) is the launch status check just before the Saturn V rocket lifts off. The “go/no go poll” was dramatized in the movie Apollo 13, but not by much—it’s pretty close to the real thing. (Here’s the status check for the launch of the space shuttle Discovery.)

You seldom get to see such tight coordination of knowledge workers. In physical assembly lines or manufacturing facilities, sure. But knowledge workers are more disconnected—communication and information flows asynchronously through emails and memos. Much of their work is done on a “push” basis, rather than pulled at the moment of need by customers, which reduces not just the drama, but also the inherent tension of the need to do the job precisely right. 

But in the go/no go poll, you see dozens (hundreds?) of knowledge workers coordinating their efforts as precisely as any high-tech robotic fabrication machinery. Each person (and each team) delivers exactly what the flight director needs exactly when he needs it. It’s a symphony of work, a ballet of knowledge, a miracle of coordination. 

And when you’re choking on yet another stupid “reply all” email, it’s utterly inspiring.