One the qualities that I inherited from my mother, however wildly impractical it has been in my own life thus far, has been a fondness for romantic comedies. One of these comedies often comes to mind because of its unsettling but ironic applicability, called, sensibly enough, Failure To Launch. What I find most entertaining about this particular comedy is that the hero Tripp, played by Matthew McConaughey, has a bizarre series of events happen to him that indicate to those around him that he is living against nature and being punished in some fashion for it. Most humorously, he is attacked by a large but vegetarian reptile living in a mountain crag. The movie is pretty ridiculous, but it is entertaining at the same time, because it provides a look into the factors that keep people from reaching a state of full independence.
As it happens, today I chose as my reading the book I received last night from the Air & Space Power Journal, which happens to examine a variety of mostly obscure missions in the inner solar system. Unsurprisingly, one of the problems that rockets face most dramatically is a failure to launch. There is a great tension between the amount of factors that have to go right for successful missions into space and the degree of regularity that they are expected to have by politicians, bureaucrats, and taxpayers. Sometimes, as is the case with the failed Challenger Space Shuttle launch, which I happened to witness from across the state as a small child, there are glaring and serious problems with a proposed course of action that are nonetheless not always easy to communicate to those under the stress of making decisions where mistakes cost lives, jobs, reputations, and monumental amounts of money, but where the extreme pressure exists to make sure the mission goes as planned anyway.
Meanwhile, earlier today I also received an intriguing commentary on what IT professionals need to succeed, resilience. I tend to have mixed feelings when it comes to reading about or hearing about resilience. On the one hand, it is clearly a useful quality of great personal importance. The ability to overcome difficulties, to show flexibility in the face of pervasive and long-term mystery, and to be capable of strategic consistency while maintaining tactical flexibility in life and its business are all matters of personal interest. Yet, at the same time, resilience in many ways is an unsatisfactory sort of quality because those who usually invoke it do so as the sort of MacGyveresque ability to fashion and improvise rudimentary fixes in the absence of logistical competence by people in charge. Resilience is often viewed as a magic bullet to overcome failures of planning through being able to shoehorn something into working, no matter the stress it causes to those who have to do the improvisation, with those who failed on the front end to prepare seldom feeling the full brunt of the pressure to succeed induced by their poor planning and preparation.
How are we to resolve such matters? We cannot justify a failure to act simply because we do not have as many resources as we would like; at times what we have is simply what we have to work with. Yet at the same time we need to be careful of the interplay between resilience and resources. There is a certain level of logistical capability that encourages waste because it is well in excess to what is necessary, another range where one can see the difference between those who are resilient and those who are not, and yet another range that is below what is needful for thriving, a level of resource shortage that threatens survival. We need not think merely of material resources here—we can include matters such as security, respect, trust, time, and affection as resources that must be stewarded. When a mission is imperiled, or when people face great pressure in their personal and professional lives, we must look at a larger context, to recognize what resources are available to accomplish a given task. Yet, so often it seems that we are fixated only on the final result, without paying nearly enough attention to the lengthy planning and preparation that go into success. Strategy and logistics are of the utmost importance, along with the skill in diplomacy to build a broader base of support, and the tactical flexibility to show resilience when things do not go exactly as planned. But let us not lose sight of the larger picture, of which resilience is merely the tip of the iceberg as we go sailing about blithely and unaware of the dangers around us.