Want stratospheric success? Look beyond your own worldview

Current physician and former NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski knows a thing or two about out-of-this-world success.

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.

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.

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

Harvard study finds perfect blend of fruits and vegetables to lower risk of death

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Credit: Pixabay
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The common cuttlefish

Credit: Hans Hillewaert via Wikicommons
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