The Power of a Handshake

primeinc Growth, Leadership, Productivity

When I was much, much younger—early teens, I believe—my father taught me what he considered the proper way to shake hands.

Key to his technique was to grip my contact’s hand firmly, to look that person directly in the eye, and to say—with great confidence and enthusiasm—something pithy, like, “Nice to meet you!”

I took that advice to heart, and it has served me well throughout the ensuing years. Further, I was able to back up that self-introductory confidence with the rest of my behavior to significant personal and professional effect, but it’s the handshake that opens the conversation.

It was, therefore, of some interest to me to find this item, which provided some scientific basis for the success of this technique.

I didn’t need this verification, but it was fascinating to find that there were measurable consequences to this simple act.

Questions: Have you ever taken stock of how you not only shake hands, but introduce yourself, generally? What (if anything) are you trying to convey with this social ritual? What do you think your contact concludes as a result of your actions? Can you generalize this action and its consequences to other situations?

Another “Giant Leap…”

primeinc Growth, Innovation, Leadership, Productivity

Felix Baumgartner’s October 14, 2012 leap of faith from 128,000 feet above the Earth is already history, but I’m moved to comment on it from several perspectives.

I had followed his odyssey from its inception, when I originally thought that it was simply a stunt to advertise the sponsoring organization, Red Bull. OK, it was an advertising stunt, but as time wore on and I became increasingly aware of the preparation required to accomplish this feat, I realized that there was a great deal of activity going on behind the scenes.

The resources required were immense, and there was significant R&D work behind the technologies. Said technologies were not just support for the top-level requirements, like designing and building a capsule to get him Up There, but also for his protective suit and the communications gear necessary to provide real-time video from several perspectives, and to monitor and report on his physical condition throughout. There was also the fact that Baumgartner found that he suffered from claustrophobia, discovered once he donned full suit and helmet.

Yet, he worked through it all.

Others have asked if there were any real scientific benefits from this activity. There were. Among them, understanding that an essentially unprotected human could indeed survive the transition from subsonic to supersonic speed (he made it to Mach 1.24, just over 830 mph at altitude). There was also the potential to affect the design of spacesuits for astronauts for better flexibility and protection in case of launch failure of crewed spacecraft. I’m sure there will be more, but such things have a way of taking some time to develop.

The main perspective for me, however, is simply that someone (or, better, several people) were able to conceive of and execute such a “stunt” with such grace and dignity. It was well-thought-out and -implemented. Sure, there were several (you’ll pardon the expression) “over-the-top” aspects, but such are necessary with a private venture such as this. Yet the bottom line is that one human put his life on the line, and did what he said he would do.

I’d like to think that anyone and everyone would be so responsible.

Questions: Do you follow through with commitments you make? How do you assess risks to such follow-through? Or, to the commitments in the first place? What does it cost you to follow through--or not?

Overdesigning

primeinc Growth, Innovation, Leadership, Productivity

SpaceX has done it again, albeit with a bit of difficulty.

They launched a Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon module to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). The launch itself was perfect off the pad, but just about 90 seconds into the flight, one of the vehicle’s nine engines malfunctioned. The Dragon docked successfully with the ISS today, but a piggyback launch of a communications satellite was drastically affected by the malfunction.

That the primary part of the mission was accomplished—achieving rendezvous with the ISS—is testimony to the design of the Falcon 9: Even with one engine out, the remaining eight were able to power up enough to bring Dragon to orbit. Yes, the comms satellite part of the mission did not achieve its designed orbit, but such things must be expected in the very exacting art and science of rocketry. This design consideration is much to the credit of the SpaceX team. Work remains to be done to come even closer to perfection, but their success rate is auspicious.

UPDATE: The communications satellite was a prototype, so the overall loss isn’t as great as it otherwise might have been. See here for details of this aspect of the story.

Questions: Do you “overdesign” in any aspect of your professional activities? If so, how do you decide what contingencies to allow for? Is such overdesign cost-effective? What criteria could/would you use to decide to even implement such contingency planning? What does it cost you to not plan in this manner?

Memories and (In)Accuracy

primeinc Growth, Leadership, Productivity

About four or five years ago, I found myself issuing caveats to others when describing something I remembered—or thought I did. The caveat was usually along the lines of, “I think I remember”, or “I’m not sure if I remember this or just think I remember this.” Call it the onset of entropic consciousness, or just aging, but there it is.

It turns out I’m not alone, and not just because of entropy (or age, if you prefer). A recent study found that memories change over time, and particularly owing to the circumstances around each retelling.

I must admit that I found this more than a bit disturbing. I have long been very pleased with my ability to recall things generally, and particularly things that (I thought) had happened, long ago. I know I’m good at recalling facts and figures—such ability helps me in my technical and coaching work. What I can’t figure out is what makes the difference when it comes to other things.

Questions: Can you trust your memory of events? How can you tell if what you’re relating is accurate? Does it matter? Would you subsequently make it known if you found that a memory as related to someone was inaccurate?

Communications(?)

primeinc Growth, Innovation, Leadership, Productivity

At times unfortunately for those with whom I communicate by any of several channels, I tend to be something of a purist in things grammatical, punctuational, and just about every other kind of -al that might apply. I acknowledge that English (and particularly American English) is a living language, but I still insist (quixotically, at times) that there must be some solid basis for communication if messages are to get through—intact and effectively. Making up abbreviations or whole words (such as now commonly found in texting)  just doesn’t cut it, unless or until everyone involved signs on to their use and agrees to their meaning.

In this light, this article from last June in the Wall Street Journal resonated with me: It seems that I’m not alone, a “voice crying in the wilderness”.

It seems to me that—particularly in formal settings—every efforts must be made to ensure clear, clean communications. This is especially valid in the technical realms in which I usually dwell, and filters down right to the level of coding software, where a misplaced or wrong anything can have results that can be (at the extreme) diastrous. It is not much of a stretch to consider how such inaccuracies and infidelities could have similarly dire consequences for activities in just about any endeavor.

Questions: How good are you at communicating exactly what you wish to convey? How do you ensure that your message gets across? Do you do any “error checking”?

Do It Differently

primeinc Growth, Innovation, Leadership, Productivity

I came across this interesting item last week, which describes how a person’s world view was changed by way of technology. It got me thinking about how wedded many of us are to doing things the way we have always done them, or how others have always done them, or, in some cases, not doing something at all because to do so would require stepping far outside our own comfort zone, whether behaviorally, technologically, from a values perspective, or for a host of individually specific reasons.

Questions: Do you allow yourself to be stopped by perceived barriers to implementation or just ideation? Have you ever taken the time to explore your motivations when faced with such a barrier? What do you lose or gain by allowing such a stoppage? What can you do to stop the stoppage?

Sci-fi? No; reality!

primeinc Growth, Innovation, Leadership, Productivity

This video/animation of the launch-through-landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), aka Curiosity, was initially produced in 2011, long before the successful landing of Curiosity on Mars. Except for the juvenile need to include sounds where no sound could carry (i.e., outside the two planets’ atmosphers), this is exceedingly well done, and worth about five minutes of your time. The end bogs down, but up until the landing, it’s spot on.

Consider: Humans landed a one-ton machine the size of a small car on a planet millions of miles away after a nine-month journey through space, coming within about a mile of its planned dead-on target site, using a series of contraptions that had to (and did!) work right the first time. Not only that, but the vision in this video was realized, almost to perfection.

What genius! What teamwork!

Who needs science fiction, when reality is so exciting?

Questions: Do you work in a team? Is it as successful as this one? Do you know why or why not? What could you do to optimize teamwork? If you’re not doing anything, why not?

Can’t Do A Thing About It

primeinc Growth, Leadership, Productivity

Living as I do within 100 miles or so of Yellowstone National Park, its geological instability is very present to me.

Loosely speaking, the volcano upon which Yellowstone sits erupts—on average—every 640,000 years. The last such megaexplosion was…just about 640,000 years ago. Statistically, we can expect another such megaexplosion any time now.

Geologically speaking, “any time now” covers a lot of temporal territory in human terms. Nonetheless, many scientists are spending a lot of time trying to understand the dynamics of the region, noting (with significant understatement) that the floor of Yellowstone Lake “breathes” significantly, and over the past few years has risen several millimeters per year.

Image Courtesy: NASA

When it does blow, there’s nothing (so far) that humans can do to stop it. I remember seeing an interview with a couple of residents of West Yellowstone—a small town right outside the boundaries of the park—saying, basically, it’s a beautiful place to live, and when the place does blow, they probably won’t ever know it, so why not just continue living in the beautiful area, and continue their lives as usual until then?

In the press of day-to-day events and too-frequent attendant stresses, it may be difficult to take such an attitude. But it does have more than a bit of appeal.

Questions: How do you deal with circumstances over which you have no control? How do you determine what in your life really is beyond your control, and over which ones you may have control? Why kind of control can you exert, in the latter case?

Crossing Boundaries

primeinc Growth, Innovation, Leadership, Productivity

Have you ever been in a situation where—despite all your best efforts—some circumstance completely beyond your control crept into your carefully constructed reality, changing things for the worse, or even just forcing you to take some action that hadn’t anticipated?

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Jeff Schmaltz

I got to thinking about this as a general phenomenon this morning upon seeing this item that shows that half  of the aerosols—particulate matter in the air—over the U.S. comes from…other countries! There are many contributors to the general class of aerosols, including soot from biomass burning, sulfuric acid, and more; over 87% of those in question in this report are simply dust.

For the purposes of this discussion, that doesn’t matter: The fact is that whatever is contributing to the aerosol load over the U.S. doesn’t come from here, and there’s not a thing we can do about it. Yet, it is still encumbent upon us to deal with it.

I think it safe to assume that we’ve all been affected by this general phenomenon.

Questions:  What kinds of impacts have you, your actions, and/or your plans felt from circumstances beyond your control? Can you prepare yourself for unforeseen circumstances? How do (or can) you prepare for “unknown unknowns”?

No Lunch Break?

primeinc Growth, Leadership, Productivity

It seems that the injunction—real or perceived—to do more with less is having an impact on the lunch break.

According to this item from LiveScience, fewer people than before are taking their lunch breaks, with a concomitant effect on their performance.

I acknowledge that I haven’t worked in a formal organizational setting for a very long time, but even when I did so for several aerospace contractors supporting NASA, lunchtime was my own. I could eat or not; read, nap, just zone out—it didn’t matter. It was my time, and everyone knew it. Similarly, most of my colleagues also looked upon their lunch break as just that—a break.

Given the now long-term expectation of 24/7 connectedness, I’m not at all surprised to see this as an increasing trend. But is it a good thing?

Questions: Do you take a bona fide lunch break? Are you expected to be at your desk (or, for that matter, available) at all times? If so, and you don’t like it, what do you do to assert yourself? How about asserting yourself under other circumstances or in other environments? What is the cost, whether you do or you don’t?