Lessons from Rosetta

The world watched with fascination last month, as a robot launched 10 years ago landed on a comet travelling at nearly 43,000 miles per hour. Although there were difficulties with the landing, and some apparent failure of harpoons and thrusters, the feat is none the less spectacular.

Along with the lessons and insight available for space enthusiasts and scientists, there also are tremendous leadership lessons to be harvested from the launch and landing of the Rosetta mission on comet 67P!Lessons from Rosetta

  1. Leadership success often looks easy

Ten years of preparation and ten years in flight and a robot is landed on an asteroid – looks easy. Imagine all of the work and expertise not to mention planning that went into this astronomic feat. The same is true from a leadership perspective. A leader takes on a new challenge bringing with him or her experience and past failures along with the ability to plan, mitigate risk and motivate. The challenge is met head on and culminates in success. It looked easy, but in the background were hours of work to plan, and evaluate options, and then to execute based on experience. Do not under estimate the effort and persistence that goes into seemingly overnight successes!

  1. Leadership patience is a virtue

What is good leadership – What we witnessed achieved took far more patience than I could ever imagine having. Most of the scientists contributing to this mission had spent the vast majority, if not all, of their careers working on this single project. Years of design and calculations – Prototypes and evaluations, all coupled with the ten year wait to rendezvous with the comet.

  1. Balance Ambition and Risk – that is leadership

What does ambition mean? – If I have one overarching take away from my reading of the Rosetta project it is “Think Big!” I can only imagine the initial conversations over 20 years ago when someone suggested they land a probe on a speeding comet. That being said, we need, as leaders, to think big. To balance ambition with risk, and use our expertise to accomplish what seemed impossible. There are always sentinel moments in our careers where we as leaders can have “Rosetta” moments.

  1. Learn from the small mistakes

We need the ability to learn from mistakes – I listened to an incredible interview with one of the project leads who recounted the lessons learned from the Shuttle program. You may recall that a small piece of insulation fell off the space shuttle Atlantis and damaged one of the rockets. The shuttle returned safely from its mission, so the problem was filed away as not being serious. In the next flight, Discovery had a similar piece of insulation dislodge and damage the heat shields resulting in the catastrophic explosion of Discovery on re-entry. What was the lesson he took away? If attention is paid to the small failures, what we learn can mitigate catastrophic failures. Inherent in that thought is a lesson for leaders. May we be those who learn from all our mistakes, and not just the big ones?

Let’s be leaders who have ambition in life, who exhibit key leadership skills, and who learn from the Rosetta success as we land our teams on our own versions of 67P