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  #1  
Old 27 January 2008, 09:20 AM
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Glasses NASA janitor

Comment: Rumor is that either President Kennedy or Johnson visited NASA
one day, saw a janitor working feverishly at sweeping the floor, asked him
what he was doing and received the reply, "Because I'm working to put a
man on the moon". This has been used as an example of great leadership
vision trickling down to the smallest parts of an organization. IS THIS
STORY TRUE?
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  #2  
Old 27 January 2008, 03:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
asked him
what he was doing and received the reply, "Because I'm working to put a
man on the moon"
Well, that didn't exactly answer the question. You see, there are 6 basic questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. This fellow was asked "what" and he responded with something that seems like it would more appropriately be the answer to "why."
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  #3  
Old 27 January 2008, 07:17 PM
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Doubtful. First off, cleaning crews work late at night, when there are fewer people around, and areas can be closed off for cleaning. I imagine NASA never really sleeps, but trying to get things done in the middle of a presidental visit seems a little futile to me. In fact, I would think the cleaning would have been done before the President got there.

Second; nobody cleans a floor feverishly. If you care anything about the job, you clean the floor methodically. That's why you're not going to see a janitor moving quickly while cleaning a floor. It just stirs up the dirt and makes you miss areas.

I would not doubt that the cleaning crews at NASA do take their jobs seriously and feel that they are making a contribution. Despite the stereotypes regarding public servants, I've found most people working for the public sector are happy to have these jobs, and do the best they can.
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Old 28 January 2008, 12:01 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Horse Chestnut View Post
Doubtful. First off, cleaning crews work late at night, when there are fewer people around, and areas can be closed off for cleaning. I imagine NASA never really sleeps, but trying to get things done in the middle of a presidental visit seems a little futile to me. In fact, I would think the cleaning would have been done before the President got there.

Second; nobody cleans a floor feverishly. If you care anything about the job, you clean the floor methodically. That's why you're not going to see a janitor moving quickly while cleaning a floor. It just stirs up the dirt and makes you miss areas..
Spy/Secret Agent then?
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  #5  
Old 28 January 2008, 12:29 AM
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Spy/Secret Agent then?
Nah. A custodian working in the middle of the day is more than likely a paid assassin.

Horse "The janitor's got a gun!" Chestnut
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  #6  
Old 28 January 2008, 01:25 AM
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Quote:
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Doubtful. First off, cleaning crews work late at night, when there are fewer people around, and areas can be closed off for cleaning.
Never worked for the government, have you?

Meaty "do you have to vacuum now?" Pop
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  #7  
Old 28 January 2008, 01:32 AM
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Tsk, Tsk

If only that janitor had worked harder at keeping the floor clean, Apollo 13's tank wouldn't have exploded.

- snopes
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  #8  
Old 28 January 2008, 02:55 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
If only that janitor had worked harder at keeping the floor clean, Apollo 13's tank wouldn't have exploded.
But it's a good thing the toilets were clean. Those three men might have been lost.
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  #9  
Old 28 January 2008, 03:05 AM
Nick Theodorakis Nick Theodorakis is offline
 
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I heard it was Christoper Wren and St. Paul's Cathedral, but the story probably goes back to the pyramids or maybe a Sumerian ziggurat.

Nick
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Old 28 January 2008, 03:28 AM
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Certainly the details are likely apocryphal, but I'd bet good money (which I don't have to spare right now so I'm very confident) that sometime in the 60's at the space center in Houston was a janitor, or receptionist, a cook, or a purchasing agent who felt as though their small effort was part of the larger team contributing to something phenomenal.

I'm disappointed that persons whom I believe to be kind, empathetic individuals would belittle such a state of mind.

If I had been at Cape Canaveral or Houston, the Grumman plant in Long Island or any of a dozen other places and serving in some menial capacity I would STILL feel very proud of my meager contribution to the larger goal. Such motivation is a wondrous thing.

Believe in people, they'll impress you a hell of a lot more often than they'll let you down.
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  #11  
Old 28 January 2008, 03:34 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CannonFodder View Post
Certainly the details are likely apocryphal, but I'd bet good money (which I don't have to spare right now so I'm very confident) that sometime in the 60's at the space center in Houston was a janitor, or receptionist, a cook, or a purchasing agent who felt as though their small effort was part of the larger team contributing to something phenomenal.
Maybe so, but realistically the guy who sweeps the floors isn't working "to put a man on the moon"; he's working to keep the floors clean. It's akin to a peanut vendor at PETCO Park claiming that he's "working to win a championship for the Padres."

- snopes
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  #12  
Old 28 January 2008, 03:37 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
Maybe so, but realistically the guy who sweeps the floors isn't working "to put a man on the moon"; he's working to keep the floors clean. It's akin to a peanut vendor at PETCO Park claiming that he's "working to win a championship for the Padres."

- snopes
In my opinion that peanut vendor IS working to win a championship for the Padres. His contribution is certainly more oblique than a closing pitcher or number 4 in the batting order, but he contributes.
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  #13  
Old 28 January 2008, 03:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CannonFodder View Post
In my opinion that peanut vendor IS working to win a championship for the Padres.
No, he isn't. He's working to make profits for a concessionaire (and himself).

- snopes
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  #14  
Old 29 January 2008, 02:09 AM
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Personally, I'm working to put Humpty together again but I'm not so sure I'm making much of dent in the effort.
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  #15  
Old 30 January 2008, 12:51 AM
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I read the title of this thread, and was hoping it was something like "Good Will Hunting" (or, even better, "Lyle's Constant")

As for the question of the OP, I checked my usual sources, and found no occurrence of "NASA" and "janitor" in presidential papers. While this, of course, proves nothing, I'm inclined to believe it's a made up demonstration of using vision to encourage productivity.
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  #16  
Old 30 January 2008, 05:02 AM
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I think all our support staff - administrative, technical, maintenance, custodial - provide skill and labor which is essential to our research, and they have every right to take their share of credit in the accomplishments made by the labs that they help keep operational.

I'm with Horse Chestnut and CannonFodder. The story is apocryphal, the response is a bit nonsensical, but the attitude is invigorating and really quite common in highly-motivated research environments.

Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
Maybe so, but realistically the guy who sweeps the floors isn't working "to put a man on the moon"; he's working to keep the floors clean. It's akin to a peanut vendor at PETCO Park claiming that he's "working to win a championship for the Padres."
Realistically, the guy with 30 years research experience and a team of a dozen Ph.D. research assistants isn't working "to put a man on the moon"; he's developing lubricating oils.
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  #17  
Old 30 January 2008, 09:58 AM
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If he buys into the "company plan", then even the person cleaning the floor is helping to put a man on the moon. If he fails to do his job, then someone else's performance may be hindered, thereby hindering someone else's performance... it is the chaos effect in the workplace... but easier to see.

Using snopes' analogy, Barry Bonds isn't working to win the World Series, he's working to hit a little ball with a stick, and that's it.
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  #18  
Old 30 January 2008, 01:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Horse Chestnut View Post
Second; nobody cleans a floor feverishly. If you care anything about the job, you clean the floor methodically. That's why you're not going to see a janitor moving quickly while cleaning a floor. It just stirs up the dirt and makes you miss areas.
You do if somebody tracked mud accross your nice clean floor and the president is due to arrive any minute...
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  #19  
Old 30 January 2008, 01:50 PM
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Quote:
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You do if somebody tracked mud accross your nice clean floor and the president is due to arrive any minute...
I hate when NASA engineers do that.
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  #20  
Old 30 January 2008, 02:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Malruhn View Post
Using snopes' analogy, Barry Bonds isn't working to win the World Series, he's working to hit a little ball with a stick, and that's it.
Not really. Barry Bonds is actually employed by his team and gets hired for a specific objective. A peanut vendor is more than likely just an employee of the park or the vendor who gets contacted by the park who's job is to sell food products at a huge markup. They may work in the same office, but their jobs are totally different.
ETA. Somehow, I really doubt that Barry Bond's ability to hit balls gets hindered when somebody doesn't get their peanuts.
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