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5 Business Lessons the New Horizons Mission to Pluto Can Teach Us

Posted by West McDonald on Jul 14, 2015, 9:04:26 AM

Today marks an incredible moment in the history of humankind: The New Horizons spacecraft will finally reach Pluto, whizzing by at a blazing 30,800 miles per hour (49,600 kilometres/hour for the rest of the Space community!).  It has already delivered some of the highest resolution images of our 9th planet (or dwarf planet, depending on your views) and the pictures it will take today should be mind blowing.

This is very cool news, but what does it have to do with business? Here are 5 lessons that the New Horizon’s mission to Pluto can teach us to make our businesses grow:


1. Planning works:  Think your revenue targets for July are stressful?  How about planning a 10 year and 3 billion mile (5 billion kilometres) road-trip to Pluto with no place to stop for gas or repairs?  That is what Glen Fountain, the New Horizons Mission Project Manager from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, had to do (you can read the launch interview in 2006 HERE).  And he succeeded all thanks to meticulous planning that tried to account for every potentiality.  Next time you groan about having to do your quarterly goal planning remember how Glen must have felt putting together a 10-year mission plan.

2. Trust your team: The New Horizons team consists of around 200 people today (a team making history of its own by having the most women ever to lead and work on a NASA space mission!) but has had thousands of people involved since 2006.  Considering they were all working with a bootstrap $700 million dollar budget and total project length of 15 years, that is a great amount of trust!  Sometimes the hardest thing to do in our businesses is to let go of tasks and to delegate major responsibilities.  It may be hard to do, but as the photos of Pluto being taken today will illustrate, delegation and trust are critical if we want our businesses to grow and thrive.


3. Work with what you have:  At Print Audit, we develop and provide industry-leading software for print governance.  We’ve been doing that for over 15 years. One thing I can tell you from working in the software business this long is that you are NEVER done developing.  We come out with updates to our technology on a monthly basis.  When the team at NASA was working on New Horizons it had to choose hardware and software in 2006 knowing full well that by 2015 standards it would be completely obsolete.  And according to the mission lead, Glen Fountain, “cutting edge” lost out to “we know this will hold up.”  That didn’t stop them from forging ahead and waiting for what’s around the corner shouldn’t stop you from growing your business today.  Work with what you have and don’t make the mistake of always thinking about waiting for what’s around the corner.  You have what you need to succeed today.

4. No ask, no get:  As if being relegated to the status of a dwarf planet wasn’t insulting enough, Pluto getting its close-up almost never came true.  That is until 1989 when a group of scientists known as “The Pluto Underground”, headed by Alan Stern, marched into NASA HQ and asked why a mission to Pluto was never planned.  The answer: Because nobody had ever asked.  The lesson here: ASK!  Want the contract? Ask for it!  Want to know if your customer is interested in your solution? Ask them!  Want to get that promotion? Ask for it!   The rewards will far outweigh the pain of wondering “what if?”


5. Be bold and do the unexpected: Print Audit made a bit of its own history in early 2015 with the launch of the Insight dashboard.  Moving from old-fashioned but tried and true .csv reports to a dynamic dashboard-driven reporting style was not on the minds of any of our competitors.  We pushed ahead anyway.  The response from the market has been overwhelmingly positive. The New Horizons team also did something bold that nobody saw coming:  They secretly sent a man to Pluto.  Unknown to most people is that the ashes of the man who discovered Pluto, Clyde Tombaugh, are actually on board the New Horizons spacecraft. Incredibly bold!  The lesson here is clear:  Be bold, do what you think is right for the future of your business, and amaze the world with your vision and leadership.

As we celebrate the success of the New Horizons’ milestone journey to Pluto today let’s be sure to think about how we can boldly go where nobody has gone before in our business lives.  Take some time today to think on the 5 lessons detailed in this article and begin to plot your own 3 billion mile journey to interstellar success!


About the author: West McDonald is the VP of Business Development for Print Audit ( and the owner of FocusMPS (

Topics: business, business strategy, Business Tips, managed print, Managed Print Services, Mission, MPS, NASA, new business, New Horizons, office, Office Equipment Dealers, pluto, print audit, printing, sales, selling, Service, Space, strategy, success, team building, tips

West McDonald

Written by West McDonald

West McDonald is Vice President of Business Development for Print Audit.

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