Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Colonel Chris Hadfield - Lessons Learned from Collaborating in Space

It's not everyday you get to see an astronaut and bona fide space hero, but this was a pretty good way to start the week. I was invited to attend a talk last night sponsored by Cisco Canada and Allstream, and we were graced by the presence of Col. Chris Hadfield, who gave a really inspiring talk about his time in the space program. When it comes to local-boy-makes-good, he's as good as it gets for being a homegrown hero, and a world-class example of the kind of leadership Canada is capable of producing.

The event was fittingly held at the MaRS facility in downtown Toronto. While the acronym has nothing to do with the planet, it actually is home to one of Canada's leading edge innovation incubators, especially in the life sciences.

You may be wondering what this has to do with tech, but the event title provides a good clue:

The inspirational message is that there are always ways to go higher, further, faster, etc. Being out in space is the ultimate challenge for pushing the envelope, and I doubt anybody on the planet has lived this out more than Chris Hadfield.

He gave a fascinating recap of his career, and with so much of it being on the Space Station, his perspectives on team work and collaboration were great. Nations tend to be very competitive and political when it comes to space exploration, but he made some great points about how well everyone gets along out in space when you're together on a common mission. When you have to work in very tight quarters with so little margin for error, those cultural and language differences go away in a hurry.

On a larger scale, he contrasted how differently the world behaves depending on the circumstances. He showed a map of the world during WW II, identifying the Allied countries, the Axis countries and the neutral countries. It was a pretty stark reminder of what the term World War means - in real life, not some stupid video game - when nations are solely focused on defeating and/or destroying their rivals.

Fast forward two generations later, and it's amazing to see how these very same nations are united with a common purpose in space exploration. He pointed out all the various centers across the globe that share in the Space Station initiative for our collective benefit and understanding of the universe.

His main point is that in the space of living memory, this is proof that we can change behaviors on a large scale, and when we work together, humanity can accomplish amazing things.

By association, of course, both Cisco and Allstream are hoping that message sinks in with their customers. Once that link has been established, the next step is to start the Unified Communications conversation - but in this context it's on a very strategic level.

We may not have to collaborate at work as intensely as Chris and his colleagues do out in space, but the message is a strong one. Like anything else, if you have the right tools, it's much easier to achieve a common goal. Collaboration is a big driver of behavior in business today, and when UC's value proposition can be presented - and understood - as an enabling solution for this desired outcome, then I like UC's chances of success.

Time will tell, but Chris's messages were as good as it gets, and I hope Cisco and Allstream succeed in driving them into the marketplace. Cisco has been focused on this message for a long time, and last night made me think of their 2011 C-Scape event, which I attended. John Chambers gave a strong presentation on the power of collaboration, and in my post, I tied his messaging to football and deaf culture. If you have an affinity to either of these references, I think you'll find the connections I made to collaboration thought provoking, and as a small tie-in, it just so happens the deaf person I wrote about works for NASA. Again, with the right tools and frame of mind - anything is possible.

Chris Hadfield - so, a Canadian, an American and a Russian astronaut walk into a bar.... :-)

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