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Charles Fishman

The moon landing was one small step for man—but it took the teamwork of 400,000 ordinary people.

Author of The Big Thirst and One Giant Leap

Contact Charles For Booking
Charles Fishman | Author of The Big Thirst and One Giant Leap
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

If we want to achieve near-impossible outcomes, under tremendous pressure, we can. That’s the most important lesson, and the most important inspiration, from the race to the Moon in the 1960s. In his new book, One Giant Leap, #1 New York Times bestselling author Charles Fishman tells the story of the Moon landing as it has never been told before—bringing to life the impossibility of the challenge President Kennedy set before NASA and the nation, and bringing to life the ordinary people who made it happen. 

When JFK said, “We should go to the Moon,” NASA had no rockets that could launch to the Moon, no spaceship that could fly there, no spacesuits, and certainly no car that could drive on the Moon. Eight years later, the astronauts were planting the American flag at Tranquility Base. How do you achieve the kind of teamwork, the kind of innovation-on-demand, that Apollo required? Fishman unpacks the long-forgotten lessons from the race to the Moon for managing complexity and high-stakes projects today. The story is riveting, and the lessons of the 1960s—how to unify people around a common mission, despite divisions and challenge—feel fresh and urgent in the current climate.


In talks filled with memorable stories, based on years of original research, Fishman captures the astonishing accomplishment of ordinary people who achieved something beyond what even they thought possible, to put America on the Moon. Fifty years after the first lunar landing, Fishman shows audiences what we can learn from those men and women about creativity, innovative thinking, leadership and the importance of NASA’s wholly original management approach. Fishman’s talks will help you and your team perform at peak—refining collaboration, problem-solving, and that thing we all seem to struggle with: timeliness. Why does it take so long to get everything done today—when we can actually do everything so much faster? 


Fishman—a three-time winner of the prestigious Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism—is a renowned investigative and explanatory journalist, and no stranger to NASA. He spent six months covering the Challenger space shuttle disaster as a national reporter for The Washington Post, and has reported on space ever since, for The Atlantic, Fast Company, and Smithsonian. Fishman is also the author of The Wal-Mart Effect, the New York Times bestseller that was the first book to get inside Wal-Mart and explain how the world’s largest company really works. He is also the author of The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water, the bestselling book about water in a generation. Fishman is a contributor to The Atlantic, Fast Company, and Smithsonian, and is also the co-author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, A Curious Mind, about the power of curiosity, with Hollywood producer Brian Grazer.

Speech Topics

Team Building
“If We Can Put A Man On the Moon” The Art of the Impossible
When JFK unleashed NASA and America in a race to the Moon in 1961, even the scientists and engineers inside the space agency had no idea how to do what Kennedy had charged them with. The U.S. at that moment had 5 minutes of spaceflight experience, and there were 10,000 problems that needed to be solved to get to the Moon—and Kennedy said it had to be done in just 8 years. In this talk, Fishman explains what innovation-under-pressure looks like, and how to manage a project that never lost focus or momentum.
As Fishman explains, for every hour of spaceflight during Apollo, 1 million hours of work had to be done on Earth. The phrase “if we can put a man on the Moon” captures exactly the power of those Moon landings: what does it take to accomplish nearly impossible goals, under pressure, and on deadline? The race to the Moon is as much a tribute to the people working in research labs at MIT and factories in California as to the 27 astronauts who flew to the Moon. And the lessons, long buried, are as relevant and valuable as ever. It’s a story with relevance for our lives at work, and also for our lives as citizens, as we ask how to tackle some of the biggest problems the world has ever faced, like climate change. As Apollo (and Fishman) so vividly remind us, we can tackle and solve those problems.
The Secret Story of the Race to the Moon
To get to the Moon, researchers at MIT had to develop what was in the 1960s the fastest, smallest, most reliable and most innovative computer ever invented—the computer that actually flew the spaceships. It was the first computer in the world ever entrusted with human lives. But it had less power than your dishwasher has today, says Charles Fishman. How did they get such a basic device to do the work necessary to fly to the Moon? The Moon-landing spacesuits were designed by the same company that brought the world the “cross-your-heart bra” — Playtex. The electric car that zoomed across the surface of the Moon was designed by America’s leading industrial company—General Motors. But a GM engineer had to make a toy version to persuade NASA how important taking a car to the Moon would be. In the middle of it all were three people—unknown to most Americans—who stepped up at critical moments and rescued Apollo from failure with innovative thinking and a renegade spirit that getting to the Moon required. Fishman has done years of original research, and brings the race to the Moon, and the turbulent culture of the 1960s, back to life in a way that is both riveting and inspiring. Although the popular image of NASA’s engineers in the 1960s was as the original crowd of buttoned-down geeks, they were as radical in spirit and performance as the rest of the 1960s.


The Big Thirst The Future of Water Is Our Own Future
Water is going to turn out to be the most important and the most contentious resource issue for almost every country in the world in the next 50 years, even places like the United States where water has typically been abundant, safe, and inexpensive. Climate change, economic growth, and the growing middle class around the world will put pressure on water supplies like never before. People will live or die, and countries will succeed or fail, based on their ability to re-imagine how to use water in the new era of scarcity and climate change. Charles Fishman, author of the most influential water book in a generation, The Big Thirst, has become one of the most provocative and inspiring voices on water issues in the last few years. He takes audiences on a lap of the world to show what water problems look like, how they happen, and most important, what the most innovation solutions to those problems look like.