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Hasten Slowly

By November 16, 2014 No Comments

“Hasten Slowly.”

Early in my life someone told me this, and I wish I could remember who — I’ve always been naturally impatient. When we teach people who want to mountain bike fast we give them a  similar paradox: “Slow down, slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. You get faster by first learning to go slow.

This week the Luna HQ has been rather enraptured by the ESA Rosetta mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Seeing live images (well only delayed by 28 mins; speed of light reality) of Philae detaching and then eventually landing with a couple of bounces on a comet 500,000,000km away from Earth is genuinely remarkable. Sending back images, taking samples and drilling on a comet! It was hard not to feel some emotion when the little guy’s batteries ran out last night.

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A few glorious days of science experiments which took over 20 years to prepare for. The mission had been discussed since the late 70s and was formally kicked off in 1993; 11 years later it launched in 2004. One of the great joys for me watching the footage was seeing a number of old men sitting the background at the ESA watching the separation and landing live just like us. I like to think they made or designed parts perhaps some 20 years earlier and were finally seeing the fruits of their labour. Many great and hard problems are like this — contributions from many people, often world class in their own particular field, building up to remarkable achievements as a whole.

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Big problems, worthwhile problems, take teams, and they take time. Perhaps one person can climb Mt Everest alone, but I know that one person can’t get to the moon alone. How does this fit into our contemporary world driven by instant gratification, tweets, likes and ever shorter product lifecycles? The irony is not lost on me that I was able to follow a range of real time comentary from the ESA, NASA, Rosetta and Philae directly via Twitter, an application only created in 2006 – a few years after the mission had launched.

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In our Agile and Lean environments we are obsessed about shorter and shorter iterations. How can we deliver customer value sooner? When will we see business value? … Sometimes I fear that in our efforts to build customer-centric and responsive orgnisations we limit our horizons and constrain our thinking to problems we can imagine solving in a few short iterations. Yes Rosetta was based on all the things we have learned from other missions, it reused a standard launch platform and so on, and yet it’s still a 20 year bet to see if it worked or not.

Sidney_Hall_-_Urania's_Mirror_-_Lacerta,_Cygnus,_Lyra,_Vulpecula_and_Anser In 1610, in a letter to Galileo, Johannes Kepler said:

“Let us create vessels and sails adjusted to the heavenly ether, and there will be plenty of people unafraid of the empty wastes. In the meantime, we shall prepare, for the brave sky-travellers, maps of the celestial bodies – I shall do it for the moon, you, Galileo, for Jupiter.”

Sometimes the most important work we can do is to be like Kepler and Galileo, preparing for future adventurers, creating maps and signposts. Building the right environment, systems and leadership to allow other greatness in the future.

Even in Luna Tractor’s short 4-year life we are already seeing this pattern emerge. Often we work with organisations right at the start of change and it can feel pretty hard. Always slower than we’d like… and yet we look back at these same places years on and marvel at how far and how fast they have traveled.

Hasten Slowly.

(images via ESA and Randal (xkcd))

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