When Webb Met Follett: Negotiation Theory and the Race to the Moon


  • Albie M. Davis

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    • Albie M. Davis served as a director of mediation for the Massachusetts District Courts from 1981 to 1999. She has published several articles on Mary Parker Follett and occasionally portrays Follett, giving lectures and taking questions in character. Her e-mail address is albiedavis@aol.com.


In this article, I examine the connection between pioneering management theorist Mary Parker Follett and James E. Webb, who led the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the 1960s as the United States geared up to put an astronaut on the moon. Follett, who died in 1933, has had a significant impact on the development of negotiation and conflict resolution theory over the last fifty years. Since the advent of the Internet, her work has attracted a growing international audience. The stimulus for this article was the rediscovery of two documents, a letter and a lecture transcript, that indicated that Follett had “a profound influence” on all that Webb did at NASA. In the article, I describe Follett's theories and the evidence of her influence on Webb. I also explare the impact of her ideas on how he managed NASA, and, in particular, on his working relationship with President John F. Kennedy.