Current physician and former NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski knows a thing or two about out-of-this-world success. He knows that, most of all, that working with people that differ from you can open you up to new ideas. And new paths forward. Scott’s latest book is The Sky Below: A True Story of Summits, Space, and Speed, and he is brought to you today by Amway. Amway believes that diversity and inclusion are essential to the growth and prosperity of today’s companies. When woven into every aspect of the talent life cycle, companies committed to diversity and inclusion are the best equipped to innovate, improve brand image and drive performance.
Scott Parazynski: I guess the best advice that I could give to creating really successful teams is to constitute them with people that don’t think like you, don’t look like you, don’t come from the same place as you, have different educational backgrounds, different cultures.
The more diversity we can create in a team the better, because you don’t really know where your blind spots are.
So that’s one of the most successful strategies that I’ve used and I would recommend to you.
Situationally appropriate leadership is kind of the mainstay of the success that I’ve seen on all of my space shuttle missions. It’s not always the person that has the title that has the knowledge or the situational awareness to make the critical decision.
Many times in a normal flow of activities you can work by consensus, but there are times when a leader has to lead, and it may not be the person who is designated the commander. It may be the person who has the deepest systems knowledge, it may be the rookie astronaut who has the knowledge or the insight or even just an orthogonal view that everybody else—because they have tunnel vision from their years of experience—that they could not see.
We don’t know what we don’t know, and so I’ve often asked, after working with a team for a while, “How is it going? Am I saying too much, too little? Is the creative spirit of the team working?” And I’ve gotten actually really good feedback in the past, and early on in my career actually I was told, “You really need to talk less.” And actually I paraphrased it—and I discussed in my book—“You need to shut up more,” and that’s a hard thing to hear. But as someone who wants to get the best out of his or her team you really need to listen to everybody around the table, and even if you have “the right answer” immediately sometimes it’s good to sit back and let the junior people speak and really take turns.
Another thing that we’re now spending more time thinking about is the cross-cultural issues. The space program is no longer a U.S.- or a Russian-only domain, but it’s mixing in many cultures, European, Japanese—you have Canadian astronauts and of course Russian cosmonauts flying with us, and there will be other nations flying aboard the International Space Station in the future as well.
So really having a sensitivity, an understanding of those intercultural kinds of issues is really important.
I’ve seen this in other aspects of my life as well. I actually worked as a Chief Technology Officer at a major medical research institute and I created these innovation teams that were comprised of not just physicians and traditional engineers but nurses and respiratory technologists and physical therapists and even lawyers and business people, people that don’t necessarily think alike, but it was really fascinating to see the people that came up with these really wonderful ideas.
Oftentimes it was the nurses who came up with the best ideas. They’re on the front lines of medicine and they see the things that are going well in healthcare and the things that aren’t. They come up with these jerry-rigged innovations that turn out to be really, really useful in patient care. I always place great value in creating multidisciplinary teams and really try and focus on empowering situationally appropriate leadership.