Design for success – lessons from history


My previous three posts have referred to human endeavour at the limits of our horizon. It is often said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Perhaps then we might look to the following to form the basis for a guide as to what to consider:
Mastery of the technology of the day – The boys with The Right Stuff had this in spades and Scott’s men had the very latest scientific equipment and the skills to work with it. Herbert Ponting’s iconic photography from the 1910-13 expedition is just one testament to this.
Anticipation of nascent technology – Allied with risk. Scott took motor sledges to the Antarctic. They proved unsuccessful but Scott was prescient enough to anticipate the benefits they might bring and the land based transport used in the Polar regions today are recognisably descendent from the early prototypes.
Skill sets – diverse, specialised and generalist, the right tool in the right place at the right time. Both Scott’s men and the men of the space program were of necessity flexible in the application of a wide range of skills. Almost without exception, individuals were multi-disciplined. Aspiring work/place consultants, both internal and external, should consider what broad range of skills will need to be deployed at any point in time to achieve a successful outcome. CBRE’s Chris Hood wrote with typical incisiveness recently in their preOccupied blog post.
Structure and flexibility hand in glove – Successful leadership of remote workers requires a clear definition and communication of objectives and then demonstration of trust in the team or individual to deliver against those objectives. Lack of technology, distance and environmental issues forced this on Scott’s men and threatened all of the space programs but the drive to behave in this way was built into the strategy and it paid off.
Devolved leadership – with middle management communicating a cohesive vision, objectives can be disseminated throughout the organisation but allowing for the evolution of a discrete culture, tolerant of personalisation and flexibility and prepared to take on the leadership in support of their teams.
Agile teams – remote from centralised control, given clear overarching objectives but allowed self-determination in the route to those objectives.
Risk taking – a prerequisite for both polar exploration and the space program but mitigated by all of the above and built around a clearly defined set of objectives.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: