Opportunities are there for the taking. So do it!

Listen, engage, show up -- you just might learn somethin'

Astronaut Mike Massimino had to remove exactly 111 very tiny screws to begin the repair on the Hubble Telescope. The Hubble was failing and needed repair to give it five to 10 more years of life. The repair and upgrade would allow scientists to observe the evolution of galaxies and see further back in time than ever before. A successful mission would provide an opportunity to study the ways in which planets, stars and galaxies are formed.

Massimino tells the story of his life’s dream to become an astronaut in the book Spaceman. In his final mission, he was sent to repair the Hubble Telescope, which was never built with repair in mind. A battery failed that was never meant to fail. Without a repair, the future of Hubble was over.

The story of Massimino’s final mission goes back to his childhood. Young Mike was throwing a ball against the front steps of his house when his dad came outside and said to him, “Stop throwing that ball. Come across the street and maybe you’ll learn somethin’.”

Mike and his dad went to help Uncle Frank remove a stuck oil filter from his 1971 Ford Gran Torino. Mike’s dad and uncle approached the stripped bolt on the filter as a physics problem and determined that a larger screwdriver was necessary to secure the right amount of torque. With some grunting and cursing, the filter broke torque and popped out.

That fatherly phrase ― maybe you’ll learn somethin’ ― should serve as a personal and professional mantra for all of us. How many times have you thought: I think I will sit out that conference session, it’s not relevant to me. I don’t need to read this article; I know plenty on the topic. I’m not attending tomorrow’s seminar, the subject does not sound interesting. I’m going to tune out and read my email rather than listen to this speaker — I did not even want to be at this meeting.

The individual who sees learning opportunities everywhere attends the conference, and by the very act of being present, gathers intel on a company seeking a buyer. Two days later, this information is shared in conversation at a social function, and the next day a call is received seeking counsel on the transaction.

You got the call because you were seen as someone who is connected and close to the action. The article that is read provided an update on what is trending in your client’s industry. You shared this with your client and they asked you to write a new strategy that incorporates that trend.

The seminar attended presented a bold quote from a competitor of one of your clients. You texted that quote to your client who thanked you profusely and vowed to turn to you more often as a trusted advisor. The speaker that you listened to utilized a technique that effectively captured the heart of the audience. You applied that same technique in your next presentation and received high praise for how you moved your audience to take action.

Mike Massimino is floating 350 miles in space with only one chance to repair the Hubble. In order to get to the 111 very tiny screws needed to remove the failed battery, he had to remove four bolts. But the last one was stripped and stuck, just like the oil filter in the Gran Torino.

 This time Mike was an astronaut, working on a $100 million instrument inside a $1 billion telescope. Mike pulled up in his mind’s eye the image of Uncle Frank under the hood of his car. As he prepared to use just the right torque necessary to get to the panel of 111 very tiny screws he said, “This one’s for you, Uncle Frank.”

What almost became the worst moment of Massimino’s life revived a childhood memory ― and became a successful mission.

Over the years, I have heard every reason imaginable as to why someone decides not to listen, read, attend or be fully present. Opportunities are lost – or gained, every day. You choose. You might just learn ‘somethin’.

Categories: Management & Leadership, Web Exclusives