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Spaceship cleaners & really useless narratives

Twice yesterday I heard that apparently inspirational tale of the janitor at NASA who told Kennedy he was “helping to put a man on the Moon”. The more I hear it the less I believe it. In fact I think there’s something a little deceitful about the narrative if not just plain useless.

I had quite a bit of thinking constructed in my head then I found that someone had already done a pretty good and recent job here. I’d heard the Stone Mason story before also.

This narrative is supposed to drive us to think of a connected vision and purpose. A connected vision and purpose that applies from the bottom of the organisation to the very top. It’s given as an encouragement to inspire with something simply powerful throughout the organisation. It’s an attractive sentiment, especially in the Leadership space.

So I really have to question…

Why does an apparent story from the 1960s and another from 300 years earlier appear to be the only stories of such inspiration?

If the sharing of these two narratives was truly inspirational then wouldn’t we hear more similar stories of inspiration?

Why do these stories focus on one person telling how they were inspired when surely the moral is to inspire many?

What were the mechanisms that actually inspired these people as isn’t it that leadership that should inspire our action? 

Is the context, purpose & vision surrounding these two stories actually more attractive than who was inspired by whom?

Ignoring the facts of the situations, I don’t even think these two similar stories stand up well as either a fable or a parable. All they seem to do is either put a smug grin on speakers faces as they tell the story or make the audience nod their heads and carry on regardless.

So despite their apparent popularity and cuteness, are they really useless narratives?


7 thoughts on “Spaceship cleaners & really useless narratives

  1. Interesting blog David. Part of me is asking ‘does it matter’? The stories are vehicles; they’re used to pass a message on to help people create their own context. This form of storytelling isn’t new – look at Aesop’s fables, the Bhuddist Jataka Tales, and the Hindu Panchatantra.

    Are these just modern fables?


    Posted by andrewjacobsld | October 16, 2015, 7:37 AM
    • Thanks Andrew – always a good question to ask!

      I think your point on (useful) stories is spot on – they have a place in our lives. In the post I almost referenced Aesop’s “The boy who cried wolf” but it felt incongruous alongside these 2 examples. Aesop’s fables encourage you to a form of moral action or behaviour. Their context is rich and all the characters are apparent. The story is whole.

      By comparison these more modern “inspirational” stories are weak. What they actually convey is a soundbite not a story. There’s no sense of the behaviours that we can learn from. Personally I think that matters but systemically I think we should be wary of letting people think they are learning from soundbites when actually there’s little to learn from.

      I’d love to hear a modern fable that could stand alongside Aesop’s. Are there any modern fables?


      Posted by David Goddin | October 16, 2015, 8:00 AM
  2. I think usefulness comes with clarity of intent and interpretation.


    Posted by simonheath1 | October 16, 2015, 8:21 AM
  3. Hello David
    I very much like your analysis, I wish I’d been able to find a similar way to express my uneasiness with the use of these modern fable.
    The point you make in the comments that Aesop’s Fables encourage a form of moral action or behaviour captures it perfectly for me.
    In contrast the ‘helping to put a man on the moon’ story – particularly when it is used in some of the ‘Corporate Moral Booster’ sessions I’ve experienced- is a far more cynical attempt at getting people to manipulate and fall in line with the corporate vision (in my view).
    A spin off from that post were some comments from Nosapience about the apparent Welsh connections to that story (and possibly the Sir Christopher Wren Cathedral one) – I found them entirely plausible 🙂
    Thanks for making the link to my post.
    I think I’ll update it and make sure it links to your excellent analysis.
    Good to connect

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by whatsthepont | October 17, 2015, 10:22 AM


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