Over the last month or two I have been paying a little attention to a newly formed group called No Labels. Simply put, they aren’t Democrat, Republican, Liberal or Conservative. The group touts itself as a group of Americans who are interested in putting America first over partisan politics and figure out how to compromise.
Interesting thought. I am going to continue to follow them for a while and see if they can get meaningful traction. I like the idea, but it flies in the face of today’s Washington culture which continues to promote extremism and division. I applaud the efforts of No Labels and hope they can change the tone in Washington and across the nation.
This week, I had the privilege of attending a conference at which Ted Turner (yes, THE Ted Turner) did a keynote session, which was conducted in an interview format. The moderator asked a series of questions and Mr. Turner provided his insights on a variety of topics that were relevant to the conference.
Without going into the details of the discussion, he did share one nugget that stuck with me:
“Early to bed, early to rise, work hard, and ADVERTISE!”
I think this is going to be my motto as I go into 2011. What struck me is that in order to move forward, whether it be my career, or my cause, it’s not enough just to work hard. You have to be able to tell others what you’re doing and why it matters.
It may be the core essence of The Big Play. Next, I am going to come up with some strategies to put this idea into motion. Stay tuned for 2011. My team and I are going to take our message to the streets.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I got tapped by my boss at the last minute to attend the annual Science and Technology banquet at a hotel in Minneapolis. It was a rainy April night — I mean REALLY rainy. The traffic from 3M to downtown Minneapolis was downright hideous. You get the idea.
After presentations by faculty and introduction of scholarship winners, the keynote speaker was introduced: Dean Kamen. His talk fundamentally changed me. He spoke of our problems as to why we are falling back in our science and math rankings worldwide. His proposed solution was to energize science and technology activities in our schools rather than to demonize sports and entertainment pursuits. In other words, he’s taken a play from their playbook in the creation of FIRST organization that spawned Lego League at the national level.
After hearing the talk that night, I started my mission to do my part to inspire science and technology activities with my kids and our school. I approached Mr. Guthrie shortly after, and it was a pretty easy sell to create the partnership to start our Lego League at Shannon Park.
Given that our topic this season is about biomedical engineering (Body Forward), I am including Dr. Kamen’s recent TED talk. It will give you a sense of the experience I felt that night with a keen focus on his current activities around engineering solutions for our veterans who are coming home from war in really bad shape. Our battlefield medicine has become so effective that soldiers are now surviving wounds from war more frequently than in years past. It’s both a sad and exhilirating story. I hope you find it as meaningful as I did, and provide you inspiration to energize our kids through Lego League. If we can inspire a young scientist, maybe they can contribute in efforts unimaginable to us today.
In the experience of starting the brand new Lego League program at my kids’ school, I learned an important lesson about leadership when starting something brand new. This lesson I call “Getting to the End.”
When you are starting something new, it’s not a big shock that there are more questions than answers, colleagues that will create roadblocks to success (either subtlety or not so much), challenges that emerge that were not planned or self-doubt about your ability to lead the team through the process. As a leader, it’s important to the team following you that you do not allow these obstacles to become a distraction to the larger goal. In my case, the goal was to complete the first season of Lego League and to have a showcase event to wrap up the season.
I noticed a few key elements about what happened to me as a leader through the process. The first was passion around the objective. I had a pretty clear picture that I had of the end state, and I was determined to see it through. I repeated this vision often to my team of volunteers. The vision became contagious, and the team definitely pulled together to deliver a great event!
The second was effectively delegating responsibility and trusting those delegates to deliver. As a control freak, this was hard for me. With this size of an effort, I found out that delegation was an absolute necessity. Plus, people are more than willing to help if they know what you want done. Once you do that delegation, you have to let go and let them be accountable for the result. In my case, I had a great group of volunteers and they convinced me early on to back off and let them handle the small details. The net result was a fantastic event and a group of volunteers who felt really good about the outcome. I remember how great I felt after it was all over.
So, getting to the end is probably the most important thing when starting a new venture. The learnings and insights gained during the journey will make the second iteration go so much better if you can avoid the distractions and keeping the eye on the prize.