To boldly go…

There’s inspiration in the stars for leaders learning to love the don’t know.

Let me tell you about Lunik 2.

These days it’s a footnote in the history of the space race, overtaken in everyone’s memory by the first space walk, the first man on the Moon, the first vehicles sent rolling across the dusty Martian surface.

But among all those remarkable accomplishments, Lunik 2 was the very first. The very first ‘spaceship’ to land on the moon. In fact the very first man made object ever to reach another celestial body. Even though it now rarely gets a mention, in terms of venturing into the unknown of space it has almost no equal. It voyaged into truly uncharted territory.

Lunik 2 was Russian, and on September 13th, 1959, it impacted the region known as Mare Imbrium. Every other lunar shot afterwards, whether Russian or American, manned or unmanned, knew a little more about where it was going and how it was going to get there because of Lunik 2. It made the unknown a little less…well, unknown.

So what does that have to do with leadership?



Getting it wrong is sometimes the only way of doing it right

Well the point is, the planners and Russian scientists behind Lunik 2 got several things ‘wrong’ according to the perceived wisdom of the time (including NASA’s), and in comparison to the techniques that would follow it within space exploration.

For example, it took a direct path to the Moon rather than the looping, complex orbits later employed by the Apollo missions. It deliberately crash landed — a concept largely shunned by American rocketeers who were more precious about their satellites. Even Lunik 2’s method of being spotted in space was unconventional compared to the high-tech solutions being developed in the west. It simply released a cloud of gas so it could be seen through a telescope.

Yet even though its ideas were ‘wrong’ according to the contemporaneous thinking, it achieved its goal. It bent rules, it thought differently, it got the job done. And while it may have been forgotten, it certainly got copied. (NASA recognised the brutal logic of its crash landing solution and went on to adopt it for their own Rangers mission.)

Let history write its own story

So when you embrace the unknown don’t be afraid if your solutions appear to go against current thinking. Don’t worry that history might look back on your efforts and think ‘well that was a weird way of doing things.’ Don’t panic if your routes are unproven. Be confident; give serendipity a chance.

We have an opportunity and, I think, a responsibility to see beyond limitations, to change the narrative and try another way. The style of dynamic leadership needed to do this is driven by a deep sense of purpose, humility, and without doubt, a dose of passion. When faced with the pressure to achieve and compete — just as those Russian scientists were in 1959 — it’s time to find a different mindset. And the Leadership Trust believes it’s a mindset that can be taught, honed and perfected. It is all about how we learn to respond to the unknown, and love it in the process.


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Emma Higginson-Smith


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