On Christmas Eve 2008, I happened to catch this phenomenal broadcast on National Public Radio describing how the Apollo 8 moon mission still awes us 40 years later.  Besides moving references to the first pictures of the earth rising over the moon’s horizon and Archibald MacLeish’s essay in the New York Times, there was something that struck my attention — the guidance given to NASA commander Frank Borman: “do something appropriate.”

Despite the background context of the turbulent times of 1968, the race to space with the Soviet Union, and a change in mission direction decided only 4 months before, NASA deferred the decision on what to broadcast to the entire world on Christmas Eve — to the person doing the work.  NASA management did not micromanage what was, at the time, the largest broadcast in human history.  The decision to broadcast the first 10 verses of the King James Bible was made completely by Borman.  According to Borman (about 01:27 of the broadcast), “the only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate.”
Nowadays, in my pro bono work, I spend time supporting project managers who are looking at making the transition to Agile methods.  For many of these managers, giving up the action oriented skill of directing work top-down can be very, very difficult.  When tempted to control our teams more than necessary, perhaps we can all take inspiration from the incredible example of NASA, and instead simply advise them to, “do something appropriate.”