I was reading in my daughter's chemistry book the other day and read about the Mars Climate Orbiter. Apparently, NASA launched this spacecraft to explore Mars, but when they attempted to put it into orbit around the planet, it disappeared.
What happened? There were two teams working on the specifications for the spacecraft's orbit around Mars. One team was in Colorado, the other in California. The problem? Each used different units for calculation. One team used English units while the other used metric units.
Obviously, neither team bothered to specify which units they were using. No one bothered to ask the simple question--"Are you using the metric system for this project?" They made assumptions and communicated to each other based upon those assumptions. Wow! What a seemingly ludicrous waste of time and money! It is laughable to think that scientists would make such a preventable mistake. Yet, I am guessing that everybody learned something. Either communicate all the information clearly or standardize the procedures or both.
This story asked me some critical questions:
What are my communication practices?
What assumptions do I make in conversations?
How often have I and my discussion partner been talking for hours only to discover that we have been discussing two different things and have to start the conversation over?
How many issues would have been resolved if I had asked a very simple question instead of remaining focused on my own point of view?
And like those red-faced, NASA scientists must have done following their blunder, I blush at my responses to these questions.