It takes a movement

In my previous posts I have thanked Toronto Public Library for introducing me to books through their Discover shelf and then sending me down a rabbit hole of more books that were referred in those books. This post is a nod of thanks to my local Milton Public Library where on the Discover shelf I found “Chasing New Horizons: Inside the First Mission to Pluto” by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon.

The book is about a group of scientists and engineers at NASA who spent “decades of their lives, dreaming, scheming, planning, building and flying the one and only spacecraft to Pluto“.  It can be classified  as a popular science book yet the book contains many a lessons for people working in corporate world. It may never make the “best business books” long list much less a short list as it is not about running a profit making enterprising led by a mercurial CEO. However, the book is chock full of case studies in career management.

This post will be the first of a new series of posts that I intend to write on lessons (mainly as applicable to corporate world) that I derive from books. Initially I intended to write a post similar to found on the blog but then I realized if I waited to collect my thoughts about all the lessons I learnt from the book, it will take me forever to write one post. As such, I decided to make it a series with each post dedicated to one or two lessons. This will also make me a prolific blogger 🙂 .

Alan saw Pluto as the obvious next place to explore, and he sensed that it was a good time to see if he could drum up support for that exploration among planetary scientists.

He wasn’t quite sure how to do it, but Alan thought that a good first step would be to gather Pluto scientists together in a highly visible scientific forum. At the time, there were only about one thousand active planetary scientists, and most attended the annual spring and winter meetings of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), where scientists congregate for a week to attend “sessions” of talks organized around different topics. Alan and a few colleagues decided that they would organize a technical session about new discoveries and insights into Pluto, and would propose this to the committee arranging the upcoming spring AGU meeting, in Baltimore in May of 1989.

Then they put the word out to the community of scientists doing research on Pluto to “vote with their feet” by submitting research talks and attending the session to show interest in a possible mission to explore Pluto.

It is all good and well to come up with a new idea but as in new ideas in national politics, you cannot do it all alone in a large bureaucratic corporate organization. You have to drum up support not only from your colleagues but also have to get other stake holders excited about the new initiative. You need to start a movement by getting action oriented individuals across the organizations to buy in to your idea. Once you have gathered sufficient people who have bought in the idea, use every platform available within and outside the organization to take it to stake holders and decision makers.

How could they rally the planetary scientific community to show NASA that a Pluto mission had broad support? They brainstormed ideas and formed a plan to build cred and buy-in. They scribbled action items on napkins. One was to publish a special issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research showcasing the research results from that day’s AGU Pluto session. Another was to work to excite the people they knew at NASA Headquarters, to follow up on the idea of sponsoring a mission study. They would also start to recommend Pluto mission supporters for the various committees that advise NASA about planetary mission priorities. And they would organize a letter-writing campaign to cajole colleagues to contact NASA and express support for a mission.

Nowadays companies are very conscious of their public image and follow closely trends social media. One can also push the organization to accept new ideas (well they arent exactly new but if the organization isn’t implementing them they are new of the organization) such as sustainability, diveristy, social responsibility etc by raising the issue on Twitter or Facebook pages. Needless to mention, as in NASA, one should work within the rules and parameters of working in the organization and should not run afoul of corporate policies or employment contract.

As the aforementioned quotes show, the plutophiles used every forum, platform and resource available to them and bring about a change in the bureaucratic giant that is NASA. Based on the success of the campaign,  NASA gave a go ahead for carrying out a study for Pluto exploration.