A Failure of Imagination

NASA encountered several challenges and tragedies in its quest to put a man on the moon. 

One of the greatest tragedies was the untimely deaths of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee during a “plugs out” test on the launch pad for Apollo 1

Following the tragedy, an investigation was launched as they tried to determine what went wrong and cost three astronauts their lives. 

An article in the Los Angeles Times by Michael Cabbage captured a lesson from the tragedy this way:

“What we really learned from the Apollo fire, in the words of [former astronaut] Frank Borman, was the failure of imagination,” said William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations. “We couldn’t imagine a simple test on the pad being that catastrophic.”

That failure of imagination lowered their guard and made them take things for granted.

It’s been 57 years since that tragedy, and most leaders still underutilize the power of imagination. 

  • Imagination is the key to innovation. 
  • Imagination sees a vacation destination in the swamps of central Florida.
  • Imagination solves problems.
  • Imagination sees a computer on every desk.
  • Imagination dreams up a preferred future.
  • Imagination sees a YIELD sign, not a STOP sign.


Three things fuel my imagination. 

Studying History

When I study history, I discover how the leaders of yesterday created the world we live in today. They imagined a system, a product or an organization that would change my day-to-day life. 

They imagined a democratic republic. They imagined a machine that would wash my clothes without my physical presence. They imagined the automobile. 

The things we take for granted today were once someone’s imagination.

Changing My Scenery 

Mark Batterson says, “A change to place + a change of space = a change of perspective.”

Sparking imagination happens when I break the routine of life. 

The change of scenery can be simple. We can drive a different route to the grocery store. We can go for a walk in an unfamiliar park. We can sit in a different seat when we go to church. 


When we were in Ohio for the studio recording of Leadercast ‘24: GHOAT, my wife and I went for a morning walk in the park. We noticed a small zip line on a playground, so I decided to be a kid again and take a ride. 

It turns out it was too low to the ground (or I weigh too much), and my pants got pretty dirty. 

It was embarrassing AND memorable. 

That little jolt of childlike playfulness was just what I needed to see the world differently.

So this is Tuesday’s Takeaway: To be a better leader, figure out what sparks your imagination and do more of it. 


Brian Rutherford

Brian Rutherford is the Chief Operating Officer for Leadercast. Brian has been telling stories professionally for twenty-five years. Stories that inspire people to see themselves and the world differently. Stories that challenge people to take meaningful action in the world.

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