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The Right Kind of Crazy - Notes

Story of the Mars Science Laboratory. 10 year project culminating in landing a rover vehicle on the surface of Mars. A huge team effort for hundreds of engineers in a project that relies on thousands of components and systems working properly. The failure of any one of which will end up with a smoking crater on the martian surface.

The authors goal for the book is to ‘provide a fresh perspective on how leaders successfully engage smart people to build challenging,

high-stakes innovative projects’.

Shoshin – Zen Buddhist phrase meaning ‘beginners mind’ Youthful enthusiasm / a new employee can bring fresh perspective unencumbered by the assumptions they don’t know. Institutions need to have the wisdom to listen for these contributions but patience is also required.

Hang onto the doubt. Learn to be comfortable with not knowing and with ambiguity. Sometimes this is about learning to let your conscious and unconscious mind work in tandem. Have to give space and time to get out of your way. Anxiety clouds and rushes judgement. Rarely a linear process. Learnt to feel comfortable sitting along side doubt and as a leader got better at helping the team be happy with that doubt too.

‘That great work requires many people coming together is one of the great prizes that life has to offer.’

Learned as a leader to step back and review the entire project not just the constituent parts. Perspective and context very critical.

‘You have to rise to the performance level of the job you want to have.’

‘if you offer your direction to the group for their endorsement, you are not imposing your will. You are simply gifting your thinking of how the group should attack the problem.’

‘Brawling for the truth around the campfire’ – passionate argument at the root of better decision making and innovation.

Facts can sometimes be allowed to substitute for understanding. The opposite also happens where people suggest understanding without data. A model with no data.

‘Landing a spacecraft on Mars was going to require a lot of technology that was tantamount to magic. But it was also going to require a lot of human beings with the kind of trust and commitment to one another that might be even harder to come by.’

Building spacecraft like most other complex endeavours depends on the human factors. The quality of interactions and communications at least as much as the technology.

Handling pressure: ‘Whenever I felt I was being swept up in the storm, I visualized being in a warm coat on a snowy slope with a blizzard whirling around me. I would focus on the warmth and calm inside my coat and the beauty of the storm outside.

A lot of leaders have some level of insecurity about their authority, his response was to try to understand all my teammates jobs as well as they did. Encouraged everyone in the team to think about each others problems and solutions for them. ‘People succeeded through a ‘constructive interference of personality disorders.’

Tried to make a safe space for peoples collective curiosity. Needed to hold the curiosity and keep the fear at bay.

Tried to find at least 1 thing that I could love about everyone.

A leader has to strike the cultural chord of the team. Early on I only had one tune and played it very loudly. Definitely made some people less productive and engaged.

Easy to worry too much about being wrong. ‘The crazy part is being willing to be wrong in search of the right and not to worry about looking foolish.’

Need to let ideas win not people. Need to hold passionately to your beliefs whilst being detached and flexible enough to take on board other points of view and additional information. Not to let ego get in the way.

Academic training for engineers is not so much about problem solving as problem definition.

Importance of intuition as a way of tapping into the power of the subconscious.

Bring your whole self to the task, letting your freak flag fly.

Organizing humans together is an art. ‘creative, fuzzy and emotive’

‘Finding out how to help each of us as individuals, subteams, and /or institutions play to our strengths, grow towards our desires and maximally contribute to the effort of the whole is the essence of leadership.’