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“Think Like An Astronaut”: What Businesses Can Learn From Chris Hadfield

“Think Like An Astronaut”: What Businesses Can Learn From Chris Hadfield

Through his 21-years as an astronaut and three spaceflights, Colonel Chris Hadfield has become a worldwide sensation, harnessing the power of social media to make outer space accessible to millions and infusing a sense of wonder into our collective consciousness not felt since humanity first walked on the Moon. Called “the most famous astronaut since Neil Armstrong,” Colonel Hadfield continues to bring the marvels of science and space travel to everyone he encounters. The Financial Post takes a look at what Colonel Hadfield’s experiences can teach businesses:

I recently reread An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth after attending a lecture by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. As I’ve previously written of those who serve in special operations units, astronauts are characterized not just by elite training and discipline but also by what I’ll call “intrinsic motivation.” They not only expertly perform their assigned tasks, they also seek out new challenges.

Businesses can benefit greatly from employees who share the character and sense of purpose exemplified by individuals like Mr. Hadfield. But finding employees who, to use Mr. Hadfield’s phrase, “think like an astronaut” is no easy task. First, senior management must create a culture that fosters intrinsic motivation by articulating a succinct and inspirational purpose for their organization. Second, organizations must be able to identify the traits of individuals who possess intrinsic motivation during the recruitment process.


Astronauts see themselves as continuing the human tradition of exploration, pushing boundaries and looking beyond the horizon. As such, they see themselves as contributing to a higher purpose, to something way beyond the limits of a job description.

Businesses should define an important, strategic and compelling purpose. In The Orange Code: How ING Direct Succeeded by Being a Rebel with a Cause, author Arkadi Khulmann describes the Dutch multinational bank’s vision as: “to lead Americans back to saving.” Imperial Oil similarly describes their mission as larger than profitability: “Whether it’s finding oil and gas, making and selling high-quality petroleum products, or investing in innovative research, our business contributes to Canada’s quality of life and energy future.”

Once a business’s purpose has been identified, every piece of communication must centre around it. Recruitment communications must clearly articulate how every position and every employee is expected to contribute to fulfilling that purpose.


Candidates for the astronaut corps are already highly accomplished individuals with levels of intrinsic motivation that are off the charts. They are people who have already demonstrated a desire to go above and beyond what is demanded of them without the expectation of rewards.

To get a sense of whether or not a candidate has demonstrated intrinsic motivation, recruiters might look not just at job experience but also at extra-curricular accomplishments. Examples could include: a welder who coached her minor-league hockey team; a straight-A commerce student who was a successful class treasurer; an IT professional who managed her current employer’s United Way campaign.

Recruiters will want to understand how these sorts of experiences define a candidate’s character. Do they prefer guidance and structure, or have they demonstrated a desire to accomplish more than what is expected of them? More broadly, recruiters will want to consider the effect workplace environments can have on motivation in order to place candidates in positions where they will be able to excel.

By Martin Bert/Financial Post/November, 2014