How to Create Change to Keep Oakland Beautiful.

For something to be beautified (e.g., removing trash; planting trees; painting a house), it needs to be improved from its current condition. The desired improvement is probably not going to happen by itself, so somebody (possibly you) has to ignite the change. Sometimes, we realize that something needs to be enhanced, but we don’t know how to go about getting it done.

While the process of change can be difficult, it can be boiled down to a few key steps. To dramatize these steps, recall the movie, Apollo 13, which was based on a true event. If you haven’t seen Apollo 13 (it came out in 1995, starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ron Howard), I highly recommend that you do so.

1. Diagnose the problem. Clearly understanding the problem and its root causes is critical to bringing about change. With a clear problem statement, solutions can be focused and accurately aimed.

In Apollo 13, the problem to be solved was not the explosion on the spacecraft (that was a triggering event) — the real problem to solve was how to get the three astronauts safely home.

Apollo 13 service module after separation from the command module, revealing explosion damage.

Apollo 13 service module

2. Identify and assess potential solutions to the problem. There’s often more than one solution to a problem, so the possible ‘treatments’ need to be evaluated and compared. All aspects of the potential solutions need to be assessed (e.g., effectiveness of the solution; cost; degree of difficulty and risk; regulatory constraints; decision and ownership rights) before determining which solution provides the greatest value and likelihood of success.

Remember the scene in Apollo 13 in which a team at Mission Control tried to create solutions to the Apollo’s carbon dioxide scrubber problem by only using items that were available inside the spacecraft? I didn’t know duct tape could be used in so many ways! Talk about getting creative…

3. Determine the preferred solution and develop plans to execute it. Once the solution offering the greatest value and likelihood of success is determined and a course of action is decided upon, detailed plans need to be developed, describing the specific action steps, time frames, and necessary resources needed to accomplish the change.

In Apollo 13, the step-by-step directions radioed up to the crew were very important in order for those tired and stressed astronauts to understand and execute correctly. In their situation, execution was a matter of life and death.

I love the scene in which exhausted Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert (played by Kevin Bacon) put a stickyback over a switch, with ‘NO’ written on it, so he didn’t accidently jettison the lunar module from the command module while the hatch between the two spacecraft was still open (he wouldn’t even have had time to say, ‘oops’ if he’d made that blunder)!  That may be more care than we need to take in order to plan for trash removal or tree planting, but it’s a good lesson regarding being careful with the most critical steps and also of being aware of our weaknesses.

4. Create a team to execute the plans (assuming the solution requires multiple people). Once the problem is defined, the best solution has been selected, and the execution plan has been developed, a team can be created to perform the execution of the change. The team would have the proper number of people needed, who possess the necessary skills and play defined roles. Each person would need to understand his or her role as well as how the role relates to the rest of the team and contributes to the success of the change effort. Of vital importance, the team needs a clear leader who can oversee the work, make decisions, motivate people, and communicate effectively.

In the movie, there were multiple teams working to bring the astronauts safely home, including the three astronauts themselves. And remember how critical a role Flight Director Gene Kranz (superbly played by Ed Harris) played, as the leader at Mission Control?

Left: The real Gene Kranz. Right: Ed Harris as Gene Kranz in Apollo 13.

Gene Kranz

5. Execute the change. Follow the detailed execution plan and monitor the implementation of the change. If unanticipated problems occur, identify and execute any necessary mid-course corrections.

Much of the Apollo 13 movie centered on executing the change and making mid-course corrections as other problems arose (and, boy, did they…).

6. Celebrate success. Take the time to acknowledge the team’s successful contributions and take pride in making the world a little more beautiful.

Cut to the reentry scene in Apollo 13, when radio contact was finally restored and the main chutes deployed. Can you say ‘euphoria?’

Apollo 13 landing


So, the next time you see something that needs to be improved or beautified, don’t get frustrated — take action and play a role in creating positive change. It can be hard work, but the results can be highly satisfying.

Keeping Oakland Beautiful is everybody’s business.

We encourage you to share your thoughts in the reply section. We welcome the dialogue and learning of others’ perspectives.

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