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Top Six Lessons in Leadership Adam Steltzner learned at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory: Lesson #1

This year, 2016, I will have been at JPL for 25 years.  In that quarter decade, I have learned a great deal about working on challenging aerospace projects within teams of very talented and driven engineers and scientists.  In this set of posts, I will explore lessons in teamwork and leadership that I have gleaned from the culture of JPL and the teams in which I have worked.  These lessons are a distillation of topics that I treat in my new book, The Right Kind of Crazy, A True Story of Teamwork, Leadership and High-Stakes Innovation, coming out January 12th!

At JPL we build nearly one-off efforts, rarely treading on a path that has been trodden before.  In that way, our projects have a similarity to any start-up effort, where innovation is required and the stakes are high.  I believe that these lessons are transferable to a variety of fields and endeavors – anywhere where highly effective teamwork will pay-off.

Lesson #1:  Separate the people from the ideas that the people hold.

Frequently, personal ownership of an idea can get in the way of it being critically evaluated by the team.  Sometimes there can be a sense that criticism of the idea is criticism of the person who brought the idea into play within the team. Further, “bad” ideas, ideas that are not the direct source of a final solution are frequently as important, if not more, than the ideas whose DNA is visible in the final solution.  Dead ends and dry holes create the map of what does work!  They are an integral part of the innovation process.

We need ideas to compete amongst themselves in a brutal combat in which only the strong survive.  For this to happen, the people who are the source of the ideas, the team members who have brought the ideas into play, must let them go.  The people cannot personalize the idea, or they will personalize the combat and that doesn’t work.

At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, we have a long and well established tradition of brutal combat between ideas.  When external folks from other institutions witness our aggressive internal dialog, they are frequently aghast.  Such a tradition only survives because of the personal respect and love that we give each other and the understanding that the attack on an idea is not attack on a person.

When ideas and the people who author them are held separately, two cultures precipitate: a culture of collaboration and a culture of innovation.  The culture of collaboration derives from the care and mutual respect for each other within the organization and it creates a trust and a willingness to go out on a limb to reach for success in the mutual effort.  The culture of innovation arises from the brutal combat to which ideas are subjected.  Such a true intellectual meritocracy brings the best ideas forward, even when they look crazy! I strongly believe that if you want your organization, your team, to operate at the edge of what is possible you should strive to create these cultures and hold the people separate from the ideas which they create.

Source : Here 

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