Hey Houston, We’ve Got a Problem. What CEOs can Learn from NASA.

During the Apollo 13 mission, astronaut James Lovell told mission control, “Hey, Houston, we’ve a problem here,” when an oxygen tank blew up and the command module’s lost electricity. This shifted the mission from landing on the moon to getting the astronauts back home alive. Sometimes, as CEOs, we need to shift the way we are operating and declare an emergency.

Vistage speaker Charles Bernard, the founder of the sales training firm, Criteria for Success, spoke to us about operating states in a workshop about sales and marketing. In what state is your sales operation? The usefulness of declaring an emergency is to change our day-to-day action when we are experiencing a dramatic change in business conditions. We need to take some time out to Formulate new initiatives. We also need to turn to our network of help so that others can help us see what we may not. Our network could include consultants, other industry professionals, or a Vistage group—which consists of 14-16 other CEOs in non-competing industries that meet once a month to help one another solve business challenges. It is only after we form some new ideas, that we can Concentrate on the action steps and move the situation into Momentum and Stability. Here are the Operating States that Charles presented:


-Dramatic change in business conditions


-Negative impact on bottom line

-Negative impact on morale


-New initiatives



-Flying by seat of pants if no plan


-Revenue Building

-Intense prospecting

-Pipeline building


-Solid pipeline

-Frequent prospecting

-Closing more often

-Plan is being executed


-Predictable forecasting

-Consistent behaviors

-Frequent closing

-Recurring results




-Franchise model

-Satisfied clients, repeat business

-Efficiencies throughout organization