The Counterintuitive CEO

Lessons From Mars

January 4, 2017

One of my kids gave me the book The Martian for Christmas. He knew that I had loved the movie and thought that I might enjoy a deeper dive. Check. I highly recommend this book, even if you have seen the film. Beautifully outlined and beautifully written, the book lets you bathe in astronaut Mark Watney's perils and ingenuity as he tries to stay alive on Mars alone after having been left for dead. Plus, the tech is very, very cool, and according to NASA and the physics community, it's generally accurate. 

And there are some bigger lessons that all of us can use here on Earth:

1) Anything can be fixed. When your strategy isn't performing, your product is fading, or your market is changing, diagnose and repair. There is always a way.

2) Fix, then monitor. Watney would repair, but he was always running diagnostics — he never trusted that things would operate dependably. He was always checking back in to verify.

3) Solve the first problem, then go on to the next, and on to the next. When a company is transforming to be digital and customer-obsessed, Forrester has found that leadership often doesn't know where to begin. The Martian's lesson is to just start. Resolving many small issues and maintaining forward velocity will lead to big results.

4) Always keep duct tape on hand. Watney saves himself and his equipment a bunch of times with gray tape. The duct tape of digital transformation is MVP — minimum viable product — building something basic and then improving the hell out of it. It's a hack, like tape, but it keeps you in the game.

We all study how to lead others. But Watney teaches the other side of that coin — how to lead yourself. Through his curiosity, humor, and will to live he keeps himself moving forward against high odds and imminent demise. The Martian is ultimately a lesson in the power of attitude.

Let me know if you've got a book to recommend.

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