Changes Ahead

“These strike me as universal ideas: about fostering risk taking and creativity, about building a culture of trust, about fueling a deep and abiding curiosity in oneself, and inspiring that in the people around you, about embracing change rather than living in denial of it, and about operating always with integrity and honesty in the world even when that means facing things that are difficult to face.”  – Bob Iger

A friend of mine tells a story of his Grandmother who immigrated to the United States.  She had purchased her tickets from Southampton, England to New York City.  Upon arrival to board the ship in 1912, she was shocked to discover that her papers were not in order.  The immigration clerk who manually processed hundreds of papers that day had inadvertently missed stamping some of her documents.  Disappointed that her plans were thwarted, she made her way over to the White Star Line offices to get a refund and book a trip at a later day.  She had been looking forward to boarding the shiny new Olympic class British luxury liner for the 6-day journey to New York.  Instead, she was issued passage on another liner on a different day.  My friend comments that if that clerk had not made the mistake, he may not be here today.  That beautiful new ship that she would not be taking was the RMS Titanic.

I love setting goals and hitting them. I will sometimes ask myself or others to define the desired outcome when I’m unclear of the purpose or intent of the meeting, project or plan.  Once the target is painted, there is a restless emotional drive in me that wants to map out the plan and see it completed.  But change is inevitable.  Doors close and icebergs appear.  When you want to follow your plan, these impediments are frustrating, infuriating and stressful.  Do we keep the course despite all evidence to turn?  To some degree, ignoring the need to change is like continuing to arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic while it is sinking.  We should expect and embrace change in all of our plans.  The very core of the agile methodology says that the journey ahead is full of twists and turns.  Life is a series of sprints, turns and pivots, not a contiguous marathon. 

I confess, I struggle at times with the constant change.  I want to set “full steam ahead” but I’m learning every day to embrace the course corrections and trim settings.  Coronavirus has taught us that plans can change quickly.  Families, businesses, schools, and vacations all have plans and courses to follow, but as we have seen, they can quickly be disrupted and require us to adjust.  Are you facing those troubled and always changing seas right now?  Are you finding yourself unusually restless and frustrated, struggling to adapt?  You are not alone.

These are difficult and challenging times, but life is full of those.  When life places a stop sign, a closed door or an impassable gate before us, plans must change.  Yes, it means change.  But take heart.  It may well be that we have providentially avoided a luxurious journey on a fateful Titanic.  Embrace the turn.  Breathe in the wind of change.  Set a new course and proceed with renewed passion and energy toward the final destination.  Oh, and to be clear, if the past is a forecast for tomorrow, we can predict more changes ahead.  Let’s be ready.

An Ocean of Science

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” – Admiral Jim Stockdale

It was hot in our valley this past week!  I built a simple outdoor weather station that displays current temperature, pressure and humidity.  This is the first time I saw it go above 114°F (45°C).  I was never so glad that I had planned time off and we had arranged for home healthcare to stay with my mother-in-law so that my wife, daughters and I could get away for a day.  Our big vacation was a trip down the 126 freeway to Ventura. 

Sometimes the simple things are best.  We parked at the beach, rolled down the windows and enjoyed the cool breeze.  We ate lunch in our van and watched the surf perform its dance across the shore.  It was like each wave was an ocean exhale reminding us that time keeps moving forward.  Its cool breath swept up the beach and gently across our faces.  It was serene and relaxing. 

As you can imagine, we were not the only ones to have this brilliant idea.  The streets and beaches were full of cars and people.  Sadly, most were not wearing masks or even attempting to social distance as they wandered about between the parking lots and beaches.  It struck me how difficult it has been for us to maintain vigilance in this area as we enter our 6th month of this pandemic.  I understand the frustration and know the desire to get back to normal, without face masks, distancing or shields.  There is a temptation to dismiss the science, minimize the seriousness or even justify rebellion against these safety measures.  Some of us figure that if we ignore it, it will just go away.  Unfortunately, that can only prolong and increase the impact.

We must never lose hope.  As the ocean reminds us that time marches on, so must we.  But that faithful determination must be coupled with discipline to confront reality.  As engineers, science is the illumination and tool of our profession.  We practice the scientific method to systematically experiment, learn and devise solutions.  Uncertainty, mystery and fear are chasms that we can bridge with methodical, step by step discovery and progress.  We can tunnel through difficult realities with cunning application of knowledge and persistence. The same can apply to this coronavirus pandemic and to the challenges in our businesses.  We can use our skills and expertise to help chart a solution forward.

Are we or others assuming or inventing a reality inconsistent with our scientific training?  Are there problems in front of us that could use a methodical approach to fully uncover and fix?  Do we set the example for others of being helpful, but logical, optimistic but scientific in our approach?  While 2020 has been an extremely challenging year, it is also a reminder that we have come a long way as a human family.  Behind us is an ocean of knowledge, discovery and tools that can amplify our ability to help those before us.  This week, I challenge you to tap that reservoir and heroically apply your talents to the problems at hand.  Strengthen your mind with hope and logic and let the winds of knowledge propel us forward.  And please, like other super heroes, wear a mask.  Stay scientific (and safe) out there!

Each Moment

“He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances. He had an odd autobiographical habit which led him to compose in his mind from time to time a short sentence about himself containing a subject in the third person and a verb in the past tense.” – James Joyce

As is our custom, the day before anyone celebrates a birthday, we send them off to bed and go to work transforming our kitchen and living room into a birthday paradise, complete with colorful streamers, banners, balloons and presents.   The birthday celebrity is greeted with this birthdayland and a day full of “your choice” picks for food, games and entertainment.  This past weekend, my wife and youngest daughter celebrated their birthday together.  Yes, that’s right, our youngest was a birthday surprise for my wife, now thirteen years ago.  It shocked us this weekend to realize we no longer have any pre-teens in our house.

Time flies so fast.  It seemed only moments ago we were holding our newborn, waking up at all hours of the night and facing what seemed like an unrelenting storm of diapers, changing tables, sweet coos, burping, snuggling and crying. I know many of you are enjoying those episodes right now.  But as some of you know, what seems like will last forever is gone in an instant.  We were given some advice early on as new parents:  Remember, babies don’t keep.  It is hard work, but enjoy that precious time.  Savor each moment and don’t rush it.  It will be gone before you know it.

That advice doesn’t just apply to babies or even those of us who are parents.  We are all on a meteoric journey through life.  Delightful moments flash like sparks across the sky.  If we are not careful, we will be watching our lives in the third person as a movie playing out in the past tense.  I often have to remind myself, don’t miss it, drink in every minute.  Every sunrise and every sunset is a gift.  Each heartbeat beckons us to listen, record and embrace the time we have.  Each chapter, each act that we perform spills from our hands into the ocean of time.  Grab hold of each moment, peer into the now and appreciate how it glistens and glows, for that moment.  The final act is coming and the curtain call will be here before we know it.  Cherish what we have now, each minute, each day.

During this pandemic, it seems like the days and weeks tend to fly by at a record clip.  I realized last week how I was letting so much slip by without a thought.  It is easy to fall into an automatic routine and not appreciate the sequence of moments that shape each day.  They tend to look the same. This week, I encourage you all to take time to focus on the moment we are in right now.  As you read this, dream into the present and let it wash over you like a soft warm blanket.  Look around you, what are you missing?  Don’t.  Take it all in and celebrate it.  Live in the first person, present tense.  We pass this way but once, don’t waste it, enjoy it!

Perseverance Launched

Mars 2020 Perseverance

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.” – Marie Curie

Back in January, my daughter and I had the amazing opportunity to visit JPL with Gene Kim and his son, to see the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover before it was crated up and shipped to Florida for launch.  We met with the software systems architect, Vu Nguyen, who talked to us about redundancy and reliability design and the incredible levels of testing required to ensure their many years of work would be successful.  I talked about our launch readiness work for SRE, but as you can imagine, JPL takes it to a whole new level.  This past week, we watched with delight as the Rover was launched from Cape Canaveral beginning its 7-month journey to the Red Planet.

Since the start of the pandemic safer-at-home initiative, it often seems like things are put on pause.  Rightly so.  Projects and plans have indeed paused, but it seems like there is even a greater sense of stasis that has set in.  It can be debilitating and anxiety provoking.  There is a sense that we are waiting to un-pause.  The recent launch of the Perseverance rover and the SpaceX Crew Dragon astronauts return to Earth this weekend reminds us that things are still happening and we are still moving forward.  They may be going forward differently than before, but life and progress are still happening. 

Last week when I spoke with my staff, I posed the question:  If you knew we were not going back into the office until this time next year, what would you do different?  What changes would you make?  It turns out that many of us have been in that “pause” mode and realized if we were thinking that way, we would make some adjustments.  Specifically, many mentioned updating their home office to better accommodate work, adjust their work calendar to ensure they have time for lunch or better manage their work/life balance.  We talked about creating new ways for the teams to interact and collaborate in the virtual world.  I don’t know if or when we will return to the office, but I encourage you to think the same way.  What would you un-pause if you knew this was the new normal?  Let’s not wait for “back to normal,” let’s take proactive steps to make the “now” normal, sustainable and productive.

Our work still has a positive impact on our human family, especially during this time.  We have a role to play in delivering our magic and helping our companies continue to survive and thrive. 

This week I encourage you to keep launching your creativity, innovation, and tenacity. Like the rover’s name and the reminder from Marie Curie, keep persevering!