Home Concepts Managing Stress & Challenges Bringing the Overview Effect Down to Earth

Bringing the Overview Effect Down to Earth

15 min read

In the years since the first astronauts left the planet, the coupling of the Overview experience and the hard-edged excellent performance required for space travel has infrequently found its way back to Earth in government, universities, and business in practical ways.  As astronaut Ed Gibson put it:

Our coming back and sharing our experiences is like a drop of dye  going into the ocean; it is quickly diffused. (2)

Gibson is right, and yet the experiences of only 500 plus people have already had a huge impact on our thinking, bringing a great boost to the environmental movement as only one example.

The Phenomenon and the Abstraction

The Overview Effect is both a phenomenon and an abstraction. Most of what we can say about it is an abstraction, a description of what someone else experienced. Words do not do it justice, any more than the feeling you have on seeing your firstborn child, or falling in love with your soul mate, or hearing a great piece of music. For 60 years, the astronauts have been describing the feelings evoked by the Overview Effect, visions of the possibilities of a world without boundaries, a lifting up of one’s own spirit, and a sense of connection with others and the planet.  However, the phenomenon itself is almost impossible to communicate with enough nuance, detail, color, and emotion to capture the sensation of rushing around the Earth at 17,500 miles an hour, or standing on the surface of the moon and looking back at your home rising in a star-filled sky.

Beautiful pictures and videos are helpful and some have succeeded in creating “aha” moments for viewers on Earth. However, none of these are the phenomenon itself.  Regardless of the challenges, when the astronauts return to Earth, they are asked to describe it, and they do their best. To date, one of the most successful efforts at communicating the Effect has been accomplished by a group of young filmmakers from the United Kingdom, Planetary Collective. Their short film, “Overview,” has now been played by 1.7 million people on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/planetarycollective/overview

The Problem on the Surface Goes Deep

The authors have been facilitating organizational change for more than 50 years. They have found that corporations, universities, and government agencies are divided into parts that are isolated from one another – “silos” —wherein lack of communication, superficial relationships, and individuals and departments going their own way are commonplace. In many cases, knowledge about the workings of the whole system accompanies this isolation and a grand future for the organization is beyond the vision of the people in it.

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