All posts by Keith Haviland

Technology and business leader. Former Accenture Senior Managing Director and creator of their Global Delivery Network. Space historian, film producer, writer.

A New View of Apollo 8, NASA’s Perfect Mission

Apollo 8 in 1968 was NASA’s perfect Christmas Mission that at the time awed and moved the whole world. Our forthcoming movie “Mission Control: the Unsung Heroes of Apollo” gives a new perspective on the flight from the consoles in Houston, and shows that Apollo 8 was also an extraordinary example of bold and strong leadership and remarkable teamwork.

A New Movie

In the last two years I have had the privilege to be a producer on the upcoming new Haviland Digital movie Mission Control: the Unsung Heroes of Apollo, working with director David Fairhead and producer Gareth Dodds. We were inspired by Rick Houston, an expert in space history and the author of “Go Flight: The Unsung Heroes of Mission Control”. The film should be released around the spring of 2017.

The film is about a remarkable decade of achievement by the people who worked at consoles in Mission Control in Houston. The team members were born against a backdrop of economic turmoil and global conflict. Some came from a rural lifestyle little changed from the 19th century. Others grew up in a gritty, blue-collar America of mines and smoke stacks. They ranged from kids straight out of college to those toughened by military service. But from such ordinary beginnings, an extraordinary team was born.

They were setting out on what JFK called:

“The most hazardous, dangerous, and greatest adventure upon which mankind has ever embarked”.

Through their testimony – and the supporting voices of Apollo astronauts and modern NASA flight directors – the film takes us from the faltering start of the program through the Mercury and Gemini missions, the tragedy of the Apollo 1 fire to the glories of the Moon landings.

In making the film, we had the immense privilege of spending time with these men, who had taken part in some of the greatest events of the twentieth century.

And for many, it will be a new viewpoint – a viewpoint of the space program from the ground, not the capsule.

Most of us, when thinking about that era, will come first to Apollo 11 – when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first humans to walk on the lunar service. But almost universally, for those in Mission Control, their favourite mission was not the moon landing – extraordinary as that was – but the first journey to orbit the moon: Apollo 8.

1968 – A Year of Challenges

1968 was a difficult year. In the world at large, it had started with the North Vietnamese launching the Tet offensive. It was also to be the year of the My Lai massacre. In April, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. There were riots in Paris and Chicago, and a sense of revolution hung coldly in the air. In June, Sirhan Sirhan shot Robert Kennedy, and in the autumn, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.

It had also been a challenging period for NASA. In January of 1967, a fire had swept through the first Apollo capsule intended for space during a ground test. The fire was caused by a mix of bad wiring and a pure oxygen atmosphere. And because the escape hatch mechanism was clumsy, three astronauts lost their lives in horrible circumstances.

The pain of that event is still felt fifty years later. It was an avoidable and unexpected body blow for the Apollo program – one that could have easily proven fatal.

Flight Director Gene Kranz – famous for his core role in saving the Apollo 13 crew – had taken his team aside at that point and asked them to take and feel their own accountability, and then write on their blackboards the words tough and competent– a vow to do their best and strive for excellence, but also be willing to raise their hands when schedule and other pressures threatened a mission and its crew.

So, 1968 for NASA was a year of recovery and regrouping. And many – including Dr Chris Kraft, the creator of Mission Control – came to think that period of recovery proved to be necessary and essential. With the tragedy and without the cold and clear response from NASA in improving things, the moon landings may not have happened.

The main spacecraft was redesigned to a higher “Block II” standard. Flammable materials were eliminated from its interior. The hatch was made easy to open. The NASA leadership of the era passed the main test of real leadership: can you handle the bad times?

The first success of this new phase was Apollo 7, where a three-person crew tested the main spacecraft – the CSM or Command and Service Module. This flew without a real hitch in Earth orbit in October 1968.

It still wasn’t plain sailing. Apollo 6 – an uncrewed mission – had tested the mighty Saturn V rocket and it had turned out to be quite a ride. The launch was so violent that the rocket had “pogo-ed” , and any crew would have been injured or killed. The design was later changed so that helium gas was pumped into voids in the ducts leading to the F-1 engines to change the overall resonance characteristics of the vehicle. There were also issues that caused the premature shut-off of engines in the second stage, requiring another set of fixes.

And then the lunar module – the spidery and fragile craft that was meant to land on the Moon – was proving to be “a horrible piece of hardware.” It was not ready. There were too many defects to meet the schedule. It would take many weeks to fix.

And Apollo 8 was meant to test the lunar module in Earth orbit.

A Moment of Agility

The word agility is used a lot in modern business to describe approaches that can deliver results fast and handle change well. It’s a word that belongs to the 21st century.

But NASA in the 1960s remains an example of agility that still startles.

In the summer of 1968 and in a decision that would be remembered as an act of extraordinary vision and boldness, George Low, the Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, proposed that Apollo 8 be instead sent to orbit the moon without its Lunar Module.

The risks were extraordinary.

  • This would be the first manned flight using the mighty Saturn V – a rocket that had just had its severe issues with “pogo-ing” fixed but not tested. It was a bold step indeed to use its first crewed flight to travel almost a quarter million miles to the Moon.
  • Any trip to the Moon also required intense planning and training , and the discussions had started just a few weeks before the earth orbit Apollo 7 was scheduled to fly. It was a tough schedule to meet. Would it be even possible?

Glynn Lunney, a Flight Director and one of the most important figures in NASA Mission Control during the Apollo years summarized the thought process that would typify the response of NASA senior management:

  “I went in minutes from ‘crazy’ to ‘brilliant breakthrough’, and ‘why didn’t I think of that’?”

So, the mission imagined on almost the spur of the moment rapidly gained the support of almost all NASA’s senior managers. They understood the immense morale boost it would create, and they had confidence in their vehicles. Above all, the team that had formed out of Mercury, Gemini and the early days of the Apollo program had gained immense confidence in itself. This great challenge could be met. This mission was possible. It was a Go!

Training was started in September. No public announcement was made about the real intent of the mission until November 12, less than 40 days before launch. The news of the real goal of Apollo 8 stunned and exhilarated the public. American astronauts were going to the Moon … and at Christmas.

Even those in Mission Control were shocked. John Aaron – a key figure in many flights including Apollo 13 – would think:

You’re going to do what?”

Launch

On the morning of December 21, the Apollo 8 crew – Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders – was awakened in the small hours, and given a traditional breakfast of steak and eggs.

As for Mission Control, it would operate 24×7 in three shifts, led by Flight Directors Charles Charlesworth, Glynn Lunney and Milton Windler. The atmosphere in Mission Control was intense. As Jerry Bostick remarks in the film, every thing was checked and rechecked.

“This no simulation … was for real”.

The countdown proceeded smoothly and at 7:51 AM, the four hold-down arms were released and the Saturn V moved slowly into the air, driven by many millions of pounds of thrust. It did not shake as violently as Apollo 6 and the crew were safe.

Astronaut Michael Collins was the CAPCOM (Capsule Communications) on duty on the ground and at 2 hours, 27 minutes and 22 seconds in the mission radioed,

“Apollo 8. You are Go for TLI.”

TLI stands for “Trans-lunar Injection”. It gave permission to the spacecraft to leave low-Earth orbit. The engine on the third and final stage of the Saturn V fired again.

Apollo 8 was now the first manned interplanetary spacecraft. And the crew would find time to take the first pictures made by humans rather than robots of the whole planet Earth.

Reaching the Moon

As they approached the moon, the crew began to prepare for Lunar Orbit Insertion or LOI. This was a particularly tense moment. It depended on a burn of the service module engine on the far side of the Moon, when the spacecraft was alone and out of contact with Earth.

After the key members of Mission Control were polled for a “go” or “no go” decision, the crew was told that they were “go” and “riding the best bird we can find.”

Mission Control had set up two countdown clocks. If Apollo 8 regained contact at the first timing point, then no burn had happened and LOI had failed. If it regained contact at the second timing point, the burn had worked perfectly. Anything else was real trouble. The craft could be heading into solar orbit or towards impact on the lunar surface.

It was at this point that Lunney – who was the flight director on duty, said:

“Okay, all flight controllers, this is a good time to take a break.

It amazed the members of Mission Control at first, but on reflection there was nothing to be done for around 20 minutes. Some of them took advantage. Eventually, the first countdown clock expired. There was no signal. Tension in Mission Control increased. Then the second clock expired. Apollo 8 radioed at that exact point

“Houston, this is Apollo 8. Burn complete.”

The engine had performed as it should. Apollo 8 was in orbit around the moon.

In Orbit

It was then that the crew could start observing another world – one of the prime purposes of the mission, and essential preparation for future landings. They would take many hundreds of photos. Jim Lovell would characterize the surface as:

“The Moon is essentially grey, no colour; looks like plaster of Paris or sort of a greyish beach sand. “

Bill Anders would add:

“Looks like a sand pile my kids have been playing in for a long time—it’s all beat up—no definition—just a lot of bumps and holes.”

These were the words of pilots and engineers. Plain, without romance. But poetry was coming.

The Genesis Reading

As Apollo 8, rounded Moon for the ninth time, they began another TV transmission. They first described the lunar surface for the people on Earth, Borman characterizing it as a “a vast, lonely, forbidding expanse of nothing.”

Then Anders said crew had a message for all on Earth. It was at that moment that each of the astronauts read a section from Genesis, about the creation of the Heaven and the Earth. It had been selected as a part of the bible with resonance across multiple religions.

“In the Beginning god created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form and void. And darkness was upon the face of the Deep. . . . And God saw that it was Good. . . . “

Borman ended the broadcast with:

“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”

This was a hugely moving and unexpected experience for those in Mission Control. Flight controller Jerry Bostick later wrote:

“I was totally overwhelmed, and tears came to my eyes. [What could be] more appropriate than a Bible reading about creation, coming from the first people to ever leave the influence of Earth, on Christmas Eve?”

Returning Home

The next critical moment was Trans-Earth Injection, or TEI. The service module engine needed to be restarted a second time, and perform another perfect burn. Again, that would be done behind the moon.

It worked, and Lovell reported:

  “Houston … please be informed, there is a Santa Claus.”

After the long coast back to Earth, the Apollo 8 Command module re-entered the atmosphere with the fire and dreadful violence that comes from interplanetary velocities. The deceleration peaked at around 6g, as the spacecraft met the resistance of Earth’s atmosphere.

Anders would say:

“You could see the flames and the outer skin of the spacecraft glowing; and burning, baseball-size chunks flying off behind us. It was an eerie feeling, like being a gnat inside a blowtorch flame.”

At around 10,000 feet the three main parachutes slowed the Command Module, and it splashed down south of Hawaii.

Apollo 8 – In Retrospect

In the end, Apollo 8 was a genuine and complete success. It was indeed a perfect mission. Jerry Bostick would say: “It was bold, it was exciting, and it was successful.”

 Chris Kraft – who created the very notion of Mission Control – notes in his autobiography how many historic firsts it scored. It was the:

  • First manned flight of a Saturn V
  • First manned vehicle to leave earth’s gravitation field
  • First use of a computer to provide total “onboard autonomy” in navigation
  • First manned vehicle in lunar orbit
  • First close-up view of another planet
  • First exposure to solar radiation beyond the earth’s magnetic field
  • First vehicle to rocket out of lunar orbit
  • First manned vehicle to re-enter from another planet

Perhaps the impact of the Mission is best summarized by a telegram sent to Borman by an unknown citizen that stated:

“Thank you Apollo 8. You saved 1968.”

Apollo 8 as an Example of Leadership

Apollo 8 of course is also extraordinary example of bold and strong leadership and remarkable teamwork.

Coming less than two years after the Apollo 1 fire which could have halted the program, it represents true both organisational resilience and the genuine acceptance of accountability. NASA were truly “tough and competent”.

It demonstrates adaptability, creativity and agility. Apollo 8 was meant to be an Earth orbit mission. The bold and courageous mission that replaced that original intent probably shortened the path to the Moon. It was a decision made quickly and decisively.

It demonstrates the high performing team at the heart of NASA and Mission Control – who were able to create a new and complex mission plan for humanity’s first mission to another world in a matter of weeks.

Apollo 8 was also a remarkable moment in communications, in PR and marketing. At the end of a deeply troubled year, its success bound together humanity for a moment.

In summary, Apollo 8 is a perfect example of the power of vision and imagination, followed by perfect execution.

And it happened at Christmas.

Keith Haviland

This article is an extended version of an article first published in 2014. Many thanks for David Woods for insight into the Apollo 6 launch.

Keith Haviland is a Former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network. He is also a film producer and CEO of Haviland Digital – dedicated to intelligent film, TV and Digital Media.

The Panama Papers – a Symbol of True Digital Disruption

The word disruption is used so very often it has almost lost its power. But there are times the world is genuinely disrupted, and on a global scale.

The current Panama Papers’ scandal is a symptom of one such disruption. It is extraordinary in its scale and global reach. It demonstrates the insecurities of our digital society, the almost-death of privacy, and indeed issues with the way our connected world is governed.

A Prime Minister Resigns

At the time of writing, the scandal has claimed its first major victim with the resignation of Iceland’s embattled prime minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson. The UK Guardian said:

“A mass protest planned in Reykjavik later … turned to celebration as Icelanders vented their anger at the outgoing prime minister following revelations that he had once owned – and his wife still owns – a secret offshore investment company with multimillion-pound claims on Iceland’s failed banks.”  

This is an event likely to lead to new elections that may change the face of Icelandic politics.

Reykjavík
Reykjavík

Global Impact

Other threads of the emerging story link the papers to Chinese and Russian leadership, FIFA’s new president Gianni Infantino, and the father of the British Prime Minister David Cameron. Another connects billions of dollars of foreign funds to London property, exacerbating concerns about affordability for the young.  There are implications and investigations across Africa, Austria, France, Italy, Australia and New Zealand. 

 President Obama made the following observation, highlighting some of the systemic issues the scandal illuminates:  

“We’ve had another reminder in this big dump of data coming out of Panama that tax avoidance is a big, global problem. It’s not unique to other countries because, frankly, there are folks here in America who are taking advantage of the same stuff. A lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem. It’s not that they’re breaking the laws, it’s that the laws are so poorly designed that they allow people, if they’ve got enough lawyers and enough accountants, to wiggle out of responsibilities that ordinary citizens are having to abide by.”

The Source 

The Panama Papers consist of 11.5m documents created across a period of four decades that describe the details of 214,000 entities. These were leaked from a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca, passed to German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung and then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The analysis has been undertaken by journalists from 107 media organizations in 76 countries – connecting the BBC, the Guardian, the Washington Post, El Pais and many more giants of media. The scale of the leak is breathtakingly gigantic, consisting of 2,600 Gb of data compared with around 1.7 Gb for the 2010 Wikileaks event.

 Observations

How this particular saga will play out is unpredictable. The sheer scale of the data released means we are in for turbulence in certain parts of the world, and privileged parts at that. It is a journalist’s dream. But there are some intriguing general themes here that are already visible, and of relevance to many enterprises.

Digital Insecurity, Digital Trust

Trust_(466709245)Digital tech has made the world insecure in an utterly fundamental sense. In the case of the Panama Papers, a very bright light has been shone into dark places. But of course, data leaks are not always for noble purpose.

Data for every member of a country’s population can be easily held on a small single device. Another recent event was the apparent illegal release of data for a huge section of the Turkish population. Information including names, birth dates, national id numbers, addresses, and parent names were posted online in a downloadable 6.6 Gb file. This looks like one of the biggest public leaks of personal data ever and one that puts maybe the majority of the country’s population at risk of identity theft. 

 Another example: a group of cyber-fraudsters researched the the internal processes of Bangladesh’s central bank, then – using that information – posed as officials to request a series of transfers to illicit accounts which approached $1 billion in value. The scale of the transactions, coupled with a spelling mistake in a name noticed by Deutsche Bank, halted the fraud but not before around $80m was lost – essentially one of the biggest known bank robberies in history

 Technology is the friend and enabler of the committed politically-driven leaker or equally committed cyber-criminal. For better or for worse, it is possible for an individual or small group to shake the foundations of a business, of a nation and of a global system. 

 The implication of this for enterprises and individuals is profound in the long-term. It will be better to start in the right place, and operate with public values and transparency as far as humanly possible. Where security and privacy do matter – few would want to be transparent about their credit card numbers for example – then the creation of true digital trust, using technologies like block-chain, becomes one of the key challenges of future business. And every organization will need to treat transparency, values and security as connected C-level issues.

Digital trust will be as important to modern capitalism as the invention of double-entry book-keeping was at its birth. 

 The High Velocity of Crisis

The velocity of the news cycle becomes ever more gruelling. The Icelandic and UK governments are facing major crises within hours and days of disclosures of overwhelming volume. In the specific case of the Panama Papers, corporates like HSBC are also caught in the global tsunami. Other data leaks have caused high profile issues for a long-list of other companies: Sony, Target, JP Morgan Chase, T-Mobile, Talk-Talk and many more.

In the end, responses need to fast, clear and rooted in truth, solid values, strong technical action and PR expertise to be seen as credible. Leadership everywhere will need to combine integrity, rigour and agility in the way they prepare for and deal with issues. 

The Issues of Governance in a Part-Globalised World

There are real tensions in our systems of business and political governance. The global elite and global businesses are ever more connected. Conversely, Tax systems are balanced between complex global treaties and the historic centres of gravity in national tax regimes.  Some will seek to hide their wealth through the complex system this creates. On the other hand, many expat workers will grind their teeth at the frustrating processes required to avoid double taxation. Within major corporates, tax is seen as a global issue where networks are designed – generally perfectly legally – to optimize profit. To do otherwise would be less than competitive.

But most politics is still national. In the West, there is growing democratic frustration at globalization on both left and right. (Although ironically the Panama Papers are being analyzed by a global consortium of journalists.) There is a long road ahead to balance the powers of global political and commercial networks against the needs of citizens and democratic consensus. Some would say one of our most urgent tasks is balancing the perceived privileges of the elite against a growing desire for fairness.

Globalization has driven huge benefits, and the position of the average human has improved mightily in the last half-century. We talk about this less often than we should. But there remains a lot to be done, and the leaders of any modern global enterprise need to be deeply aware of the local demands and sensitivities of their customers and stakeholders. Above, political leaders have a field of nettles to grasp to ensure a more efficient and equitable global trading system. 

Conclusion

What we are seeing are the growing pains of what has been called “The Second Machine” age. Digital Technology has become powerful, bringing huge benefits to consumers and producers in both the developed and developing worlds. It also brings people together in new and intensely creative ways.

Simultaneously, it creates wholly new challenges around trust, security and the why the world operates. It enables light to be shone in places long used to the dark. In the end, enterprises and leaders that focus on values, integrity, organizational resilience and rigour will thrive.

Keith Haviland is a business and technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services. He is a former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network. Published author and active film producer, including being Co-Executive Producer on “The Last Man on the Moon”.  Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups. 

Last Man on the Moon is now released!

“I went to the Moon. What can’t you do?” – Gene Cernan

Our film “The Last Man on the Moon”, from Mark Stewart Productions,  is now officially released. It is showing in selected cinemas in North America, is available on iTunes, and US Blu-rays and DVDs can be pre-ordered. Initial reviews have been excellent.

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From left to right: Mark Craig Director; Keith Haviland Co-Executive Producer; Eugene Cernan; Gareth Dodds, Producer and Mark Stewart, Executive Producer.

The film is a feature-length biography of Eugene Cernan, astronaut, aviator, friend and family man. The core team consists of Mark Craig, Director; Gareth Dodds. Producer; Mark Stewart, Executive Producer and – of course – Commander Cernan himself. It has been a great personal pleasure and privilege to have supported this project.

Like all good films. it works at many levels. It looks and sounds beautiful. It is intensely human and at times very funny or intensely moving. The movie appeals to a wide audience, and people with little interest in spaceflight still become engrossed in its gripping story about a man, his family and his friends. The section about the Apollo 1 fire is deeply sad. Sections on Gemini 9 and  Apollo 10 recreate the drama of manned spaceflight. The treatment of Apollo 17 (the last Apollo mission to the Moon) is celebratory, and sometimes approaches the spiritual.

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Gene Cernan being interviewed at the Houston premiere of “The Last Man on the Moon”.

At the heart of the story is Captain Cernan’s remarkable personal journey. From humble beginnings, he became a skilled Navy aviator. He was next accepted as an astronaut, and the film allows you to share his raw joy at that moment. During his NASA career, he faced some difficult missions, dealt with genuine tragedy, and makes his own mistakes – including a poorly timed and avoidable helicopter trash. But he retained his passion, his ambition and an absolute focus on the program. He became remarkable leader, and to this day can still light a room and inspire people with his presence.  The film expands to cover his family life, and his deepest friendships, and also manages to be one of the best histories of the golden age of the Apollo era.

The film will appear in other regions soon. To keep up with the film’s progress visit the film’s Facebook Page or its dedicated website.

Enjoy!

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Keith Haviland is a business and technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services.
 He is a former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network.
 Published author and active film producer, including being Co-Executive Producer on “The Last Man on the Moon”. Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups.

Thoughts for 2016: Recognising Human Progress and Innovation

Another Western New Year is upon us. This is a time for reflecting on the past twelve months, and for setting new goals. It’s an increasingly interesting process since we live, as the ancient curse has it, in the most interesting of  times.

There is no doubt that there were many difficulties in 2015. The complexities of the Middle East seem to grow ever more complex each week, and have triggered a refugee crisis that stretches and challenges the whole of Europe morally and practically. The Chinese are building new land to stake their claims in Asian seas, signalling new sources of potential future conflict. The World economy is still sailing  in uncertain waters and many are concerned with increases in asset prices relative to true underlying economic growth, or the continuing inertia in Europe after the Greek crisis of the summer. It’s easy to be pessimistic.

But take a step back, and there is an extraordinary level of progress driven by a combination of technology, the thirty-year economic march of the developing world and an undervalued contribution from global NGOs.

Ideas and innovation, markets and human charity have made profound differences. In many important ways, and on average, the world is improving.  On reflection, it seems many more people than not are striving to make it a better place – for themselves, their families, their teams and their societies.

To use a phrase that originates from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address and was popularised by cognitive scientist Stephen Pinker, the actions of the better angels of our nature may still outweigh the activities of our demons. Pinker used the metaphor of angels to discuss what is an extraordinary decline in violence since our hunter-gatherer roots. It can also stand for other engines of human progress.

There are plenty of commentators who see this more positive big picture above the constant clatter and noise of more traditional news. Indeed, as one high-profile antidote to the focus on the negative, Bill Gates has written a recent letter on human progress in 2015. You can find it here.

Inspired by that, this article represents my thoughts across six themes:

  • Progress against Extreme Poverty
  • Progress in Health
  • Progress in Democracy, Global Governance and Human Rights
  • Progress in Space Flight as a Symbol for All Science
  • Progress in Digital Technology
  • Progress in Access to Financial Systems

Progress against Extreme Poverty

Parts of the left in the West have developed a renewed focus on inequality. Thomas Piketty’s 2013 magnum opus Capital in the Twenty-First Century argues that the rate of return on capital in developed economies is persistently greater than the rate of economic growth, causing inequality to always increase without intervention. The world is becoming more unfair on some measures. That has got a lot of media and political attention.

However, over the past thirty years or so, extreme poverty has declined massively thanks to a great renewal of economic growth in the developing world – across South America, China, India, Turkey, parts of Africa and many other places.

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Decline in Global Poverty. Source: Max Roser and OurWorldInData.org.

On October 4th 2015, the World Bank announced that

“the number of people living in extreme poverty around the world is likely to fall to under 10 percent of the global population in 2015”.

The bank’s President, Jim Yong Kim, said:

“This is the best story in the world today — these projections show us that we are the first generation in human history that can end extreme poverty,’’

 Other metrics show both this progress, coupled  it must be said with a continuing need for focus. For example, the number of people with no access to clean drinking water fell below 700 million for the first time in history. More than 6.6 billion people, or 91% of the world’s population now use a clean drinking water source, up from 76% in 1990. Child mortality dropped for the 43rd year in a row

Progress in Health

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Decline in cases of Polio. Source: WHO.

Africa marked a year without any polio. Bill Gates – in that annual letter on human progress wrote:

“This milestone represents a huge victory—one that some experts feared would never come.”

In April, health officials declared the Americas were the first part of the world to have eliminated rubella – the result of a 15-year program.

And after a difficult start, and too much lost life, the Ebola crisis in West Africa was brought to a close. Schools and businesses reopened. There are  promising results from experimental Ebola vaccines.

The longer battle against AIDS is also showing progress. Deaths are in decline, from a high of 2 million in the early years of this century to 1.2 million this year.

Beyond these victories against the ancient enemy of disease, technological progress in health continues. Nobel prizes went to medical researchers who developed drugs that helped the poor – including Artemisinin, which treats malaria, and Ivermectin that hammers diseases caused by parasitic worms.

More steps were made in the 3D printing of replacement body parts, and we have just seen initial steps in using portable, wearable – even edible – low-cost tech to help manage health and fitness.

Longer term, gene editing may drive incredible benefits – and quite possibly some hard moral choices – in medicine and agriculture.

Progress in Democracy, Global Governance and Human Rights

 There remain parts of the world shuttered in darkness, or parts which may be economically successful, but where our normal assumptions of free speech do not hold. However, it is easy to underestimate the real progress that is sometimes made, although sometimes with small, inch-long steps.

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Street post of Aung San Suu Kyi. Source Edenpictures under Creative Commons licence.

This year the remarkable Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won a majority in Myanmar’s national elections. In Nigeria, a complex and difficult election resulted in that country’s first ever democratic transfer of power.

The West has moved with remarkable recent speed to fully accept gay rights. Although still a challenging concept for some on a personal basis, a majority of younger people in the US say that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, and the country’s highest court agrees. Ireland voted to legalize same-sex marriage in a referendum that reflected a very new outlook for that country. Personal freedom matters.

Women voted for the first time in Saudi Arabia, and a number of female councilors were elected. Very importantly, the growth on a global basis of literacy of women continues.

And although the situations in Eastern Europe or the Middle East show the limits of global governance, the climate change conference in Paris in December 2015 did produce a long-term goal to limit global warming to ‘well below’ 2C, or 1.5C if possible. It’s easy to be cynical about this process, but CNN’s John D. Sutter rightly called it:

“a giant shove in the right direction.”

Progress in Space Flight as a Symbol for All Science

For those with a passion for space and space flight, 2015 represented an extraordinary year. The events of the year in space inspire. They push forward the boundaries of human knowledge and stand as symbols of the overall power of science and technology.

We started the year with a European example as the probe Rosetta continued to send remarkable data and images from the active comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

Then NASA’s ion-engine-driven Dawn probe became the first spacecraft to successfully reach two different solar system bodies. After leaving the asteroid Vesta, it arrived at the minor plant Ceres on March 6, 2015. Ceres is a true world that contains a third of the total mass of the asteroid belt, and almost unknown before. Dawn is now mapping its surface in exquisite detail.

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Full disk Pluto as seen from New Horizons

In July, the probe New Horizons flew past Pluto revealing  a strange, beautiful and active world of ice mountains and flat, cracked plains.

There was historically significant progress in launch systems, driven by princes of the Internet. Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origins initiative landed a small rocket after take-off. Even more spectacularly, Elon Musk’s Space-X landed a Falcon 9 first stage that had just successfully put a payload into orbit. Both these achievements set up the space launch industry for a level of re-usability dreamed of since the 1950s, and only partly delivered by the complex, expensive and now retired space shuttle system.

And for Brits, we have the rare privilege of having a UK astronaut – Tim Peake – on the International Space Station.

Progress in Digital Technology

Like the parable of the chessboard where a grain of rice was left on the first square, then two on the second, four on the third and so on, exponential or geometric growth becomes its most miraculous in its later stages. The power of digital tech has doubled every 18-months since the creation of integrated circuits. We are now really beginning to see its potential.

This process – usually referred to as Moore’s Law of course – means that today’s computers are billions of times more powerful than their ancestors.

This creates potential opportunity – ranging from start-ups to major enterprises – of staggering scale.

So as one example, Google’s robotic vehicles have now travelled over a million autonomous miles in Texas and San Francisco without crashing.

Internet and phone access is becoming close to truly universal, which empowers both the rich and the global poor. This was in fact an important United Nations Millennium Development Goal. Ten times as many people now have mobile phones as did at the turn of the century, and Internet penetration of its potential global audience has jumped from 6% worldwide to 43%. This means there are now more than three billion people online, and around 2 billion of them are from the developing world

For enterprises, there is a decade of opportunity ahead around cloud and software-as-a-service, new ways of engaging customers, and new agile ways of getting things done. There are many genuine opportunities to use AI given the redundancies offered by new digital capacity. Those who work in this space are typically fired up with enthusiasm about the potential for positive change.

Progress in Access to Financial Services

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Source: 401kcalculator.org under Creative Commons licence

This may not seem as a grand an area as others, but it is in fact fundamental to freeing up human talent, and enabling the poor to create their own destinies. Good financial systems drove the rise of the West and the first Industrial Revolution. New low-cost systems can make a global difference. Access to financial services  – empowered by technology – certainly makes Bill Gates list.

For example, the middle classes in places like Egypt have issues using e-commerce because their incomes are too low to access normal global banking services, and new forms of banking help with that. Another example: Micro-lending can help create businesses and stimulate enterprise in the most surprising of environments – from cities to villages and farms in the developing world. It can also empower women to drive their own destinies.

And the innovation that drives current change is often lightweight digital banking technology on mobile phones.

One report indicated that between 2011 and 2014 an additional 700 million more people became customers at banks and similar, or mobile financial service providers. The ‘unbanked’ dropped by 20%. In places such as Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe more adults use a mobile money account than an account at a normal financial institution. India, Brazil and Bangladesh are also showing great progress.

Conclusion

We live in interesting times –  where the engines of progress have made gigantic differences to the fate of humankind, and should on balance continue to do so. There will be challenges, and sometimes great ones. However, it’s possible, maybe likely,  our collective futures will be more utopian than dystopian. That’s a good thought for 2016. Happy New Year.

“Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”  – Alfred Lord Tennyson

Keith Haviland is a business and digital technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services. He is a Former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network.  Published author and active film producer, including Last Man on the Moon. Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups.

Lost on Mars – Christmas 2003

Christmas Day 2003 was meant to be a special day for the exploration of Mars, and for a charismatic scientist named Colin Pillinger. In the end, it was the key moment of a story that involves loss and rediscovery, innovation, lessons around program management and flawed but inspirational leadership.

A probe called Beagle 2 – christened after the ship that supported Darwin’s famous voyage of exploration – was intended to land on the Martian surface in the small hours of Christmas morning, UK time.

Its destination was Isidis Planitia, a vast impact basin that sits across the border between the ancient highlands and the northern plains of the Red Planet.

Beagle 2 was a low-cost, small-scale and minimalist British spacecraft. It had, however, audacious goals to directly search for life. Colin Pillinger was its Principle Investigator.

After piggybacking across tens of millions of miles of empty space, the craft had detached from its mother ship, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express, on 19th December 2003 where it would fall towards Mars on a relentless ballistic trajectory.

A Violent Landing

mars-express_beagle_art_atmosphereentry_1600x1078The plan was this. Beagle 2 would slam into the Martin atmosphere at 20,000 km/hour. After a violent deceleration in the Martian atmosphere, parachutes were to deploy. Then just two hundred meters above the Martian landscape, large airbags would inflate to cushion the final impact of the vehicle. The lander would bounce on the surface at about 02:45 UT on 25 December 2003, and come to a stop.

At that point the top of the lander would peal open, pushing out four solar panels. A signal would then be sent to Earth immediately after landing and another the next Martian day to confirm that Beagle 2 had survived both the landing and its first lonely and cold night on Mars.

That was a prelude to the real science. A panoramic image of the landing area would later be taken using the stereo camera. The lander arm was to dig up soil samples for analysis, and a probe nicknamed the mole would inch its way across the surface. Beagle 2 would begin to make its contribution to history.

No Signal

It didn’t happen that way of course. Instead on that Christmas Morning, there was a cold, distant silence.

A search begun. Throughout January and February, Mars Express, the American orbiter Mars Odyssey, even the great Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank would attempt to pick up a signal from Beagle 2. Throughout the Beagle team said they were “still hopeful” of finding a successful signal.

But every time there was no such signal, no sign of the little craft.

The Beagle 2 Management Board declared beagle 2 lost on 6th February 2004. On 11 February, ESA announced an inquiry would be held into the failure of the mission. The results of that enquiry would prove to be highly critical.

Origins

Beagle_2_e_Colin_PillingerThe voyage of Beagle 2 started within the Open University – a British distance learning institution created in the 1960s. Its scientists have been major contributors to the study of a group of meteorites blown off the surface of Mars and the suitability of the ancient Martian environment for life.

In 1997 ESA announced Mission Express with a 2003 launch date. It was then that Colin Pillinger of the Open University team, and a member of the ESA Exobiology Study Group, proposed a lander. The craft would be dedicated to looking for life and conducting chemical analysis of the Martian environment. The name Beagle 2 arose quickly, and Colin himself gave the rationale:

“HMS Beagle was the ship that took Darwin on his voyage around the world in the 1830s and led to our knowledge about life on Earth making a real quantum leap. We hope Beagle 2 will do the same thing for life on Mars.”

The journey had started.

A Very British Eccentric

Colin Pillinger was a larger-than-life figure, and had cast himself from the mould of the archetypal British eccentric scientist. He lived on a farm and possessed “mutton-chop” whiskers that always made him instantly recognizable. Personally, he could be challenging. Professor David Southwood of Imperial College would say:

“My own relationship with him in the Beagle years was stormy … Fitting the much bigger Mars Express project, as I had to, around Colin’s far from standard approach was not easy and he could be very exasperating. Nonetheless, he had genius, a very British genius”.

He could also be inspiring and inspirational. Professor Monica Grady was once one of Pillinger’s PhD student. She would say:

“He was a determined and controversial figure. I crossed swords with him more than once in the 35 years I have known him. But he was enthusiastic, inspirational and never failing in his drive to promote planetary sciences and the science that would come from missions to the moon and Mars. He was one of the most influential people in my life.”

He and his team certainly had a flair for grabbing attention. To put the Beagle 2 project on the map and get financial support, they got the band blur to record mission’s call-sign was composed by the band Blur. The calibration target plate intended for testing Beagle 2’s cameras and spectrometers after landing was painted by Damien Hirst.

Pillinger raised sufficient funds to attempt the mission – although funding was always very light by international standards. A consortium was created to build the probe across the Open University, the Universities of Leicester and Wales, Astrium, Martin-Baker, Logica and SCISYS.

Mars Express launched from Baikonur on 2 June 2003, and on it sat its little disk-shaped companion: Beagle 2.

Analysis of the Failure

In May 2004 the findings of the ESA report were published in the form of 19 recommendations, many of which speak about issues that will be familiar to any student of program management.

It could – and certainly was – read as an indictment of Colin Pillinger’s leadership and management style. The Telegraph newspaper would say the report:

“is believed to criticize the management of the project and blame a lack of testing, time and money for its failure. While he is not named directly, the report is likely to be seen as critical of Professor Colin Pillinger … even before the probe left for Mars … critics of Prof Pillinger warned that Beagle 2 had not been adequately tested”

There were recommendations that covered accountability, and adequate resourcing. Others mentioned the need for appropriate systems level documentation and robust margins to cope with the inherent uncertainties of space flight.

There was also an underlying assumption that Beagle 2 had failed catastrophically. So many of the recommendations covered testing of all kinds, and especially the shocks and processes around entry and landing.

But the truth was that Beagle 2’s fate was a mystery. The probe – without landing telemetry – had simply vanished.

Aftermath

Colin Pillinger continued to display his usual spirit after the report. He said shortly after publication “It isn’t over with Beagle by any means.” He continued to push for another landing attempt, but unsuccessfully.

Then tragically, after a period of ill health, he died unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage, just two days before his 71st birthday at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge on 7 May 2014.

The obituaries were respectful. Just getting Beagle 2 started was seen as an achievement, and many gave him the credit for rekindling British interest in space and space flight.

But he died not knowing what had happened to the spacecraft he had conceived and build.

History is Rewritten

PIA19107-Beagle2-Found-MRO-20140629

But then history was rewritten.

On 16 January 2015, it was announced that the lander had been located intact on the surface of Mars by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, in the expected landing area within Isidis Planitia. The images had been taken in 2013, but not analyzed until after Pillinger’s death.

The images demonstrated the probed had properly landed and partially deployed, with its parachute and back cover nearby. Some of the solar panel petals had deployed, but not all, preventing deployment of its radio antenna. Beagle 2 appeared to have just a few mechanical movements and one faulty motor from success.

One newspaper claimed:

The history books must be re-written to show that the Beagle 2 mission was a success after the first pictures of the probe proved that it did land safely on Mars, vindicating lead scientist Colin Pillinger.

Dr David Parker, then CEO of the UK Space Agency would comment:

“Beagle 2 was much more of a success than we previously knew. The history books need to be slightly rewritten to say that Beagle 2 did land on Christmas Day 2003.”

Conclusion

In the final analysis, Beagle 2 was a most peculiar space mission – created by a British eccentric and funded poorly. It was also perhaps poorly program managed.

However it was genuinely inspirational, becoming a project that touched people’s hearts and minds. There is no doubt it failed, but we now know  it also came within moments of absolute, joyous triumph. This little, underfunded craft almost worked. As Colin Pillinger himself once said

A little set back like a lost lander should not discourage visionaries.

Images used in this article are from ESA and NASA.

Keith Haviland is a business and digital technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services. He is a Former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network.  Published author and active film producer, including Last Man on the Moon. Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups.

Diwali: the Indian festival of light, family, love, truth, knowledge and beginnings.

Beginnings

In 2000, I started working with a group of Accenture Indian and global leaders to start our first international Indian delivery centre, providing technology services to Accenture clients. Our beginnings were modest. We converted a factory in the northern suburbs of Mumbai into a 200 seat development centre, surrounded by pleasant grounds that seemed distant from the everyday turmoil of that great city. We started work in 2001 with just 2 clients, and by the end of the year we had hired around 70 people.

It was the start of an epic journey. It was my pleasure and privilege to be deeply involved with our Indian delivery centres until the beginning of 2014, when I moved into a new phase of my own career. Along the way, I made many, many Indian friends and colleagues, delighted in the way that India created employment and opportunity through digital technology and began to absorb just a little of its vast and glorious culture. We saw India become a natural part of the global economy, connected to businesses everywhere. As a group, we learnt about hyper-growth, transformation, scale and working as a global team around a common culture.

And at the start of 2014, our Accenture Indian team had opened in seven cities, made Bangalore the biggest location in Accenture and grown to more than 110,000 people. It the the great foundation of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network, and only just a teenager. A little before, we had held a great party to mark that success, rooted in our small beginning.

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The Festival of Diwali

And of course, now it is Diwali – the festival of light that marks family, love, truth, knowledge and beginnings.

It has also become a symbol of India  – ancient and modern, a nation of villages and digital tech – that is celebrated across the world.

In India itself, before the key celebration, people will decorate and clean their homes. The main Diwali night is a time for wearing new clothes and lighting the diyas or lamps that give the festival its name. Then, in a traditional household, prayers are offered to Lakshimi – the goddess of wealth and success. Fireworks and the sharing of sweets will follow. There are many stories and legends around Diwali, but overall it always signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. It is a time of cleansing, forgiveness and new beginnings.

A few, translated words from the extraordinary writer Rabindranath Tagore mark its meaning:

Light, oh where is the light!
Kindle it with the burning fire of desire!
It thunders and the wind rushes screaming through the void.
The night is black as a black stone.
Let not the hours pass by in the dark.
Kindle the lamp of love with thy life.

My Diwali Greeting

So, a simple Diwali message is for all my Indian friends, those from India, those who love India and those who miss India:  Happy Diwali – Shubh Deepavali – to you, your own friends and your families. Whatever your own beliefs, I hope the next twelve months is a time of new starts, new connections and opportunities, new achievements, and success.

Deepavali ki Shubhkamnayein

Deepavali Habbada Shubhashayagalu

Shubh Deepavali Diwalichya Shubhechha

Subho Deepavalir Preeti O Subeccha

Keith Haviland is a business and digital technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services. He is a Former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network. 

Published author and active film producer, including Last Man on the Moonand Dying Laughing.  Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups.

Digital Abundance, and the Second Half of the Chessboard

We live in an time where the rate of change in digital and cloud technology is exponential. The word “exponential” is used a lot,  often without rigour, but in this case the statement reflects reality closely, and the implications are perhaps staggering. We already seeing – and often taking for granted – a rate of innovation greater than any other period in digital history.

Fable of the Chess Board

To understand the extraordinary power of exponential growth, set’s start with the fable of placing rice (sometimes wheat) on each square of a chessboard, starting with one grain on square one, two grains on square two, four grains on square three and so on – doubling each time. The well known question is: how many grains of rice would be on the chessboard at the finish?  The story is often told in the form of a servant speaking with the Chinese emperor, but the tale is linked more clearly to the writings of Islamic scholars around the 10th century, or sometimes to the invention of Chess itself in India.

The final square alone would end up with 2 raised to the power of 63. That is a very large number indeed, and there would be enough rice on the board that placed end-to-end the grains would span the gap to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, and back again.

Moore’s Law

Gordon Moore working at Intel in 1970
Gordon Moore working at Intel in 1970

The one real place in human endeavour where this type of process exists is IT. It is (of course) enshrined in Gordon Moore’s “law”, where in 1965 he predicted a doubling every one to two years in the number of components per integrated circuit.

Moore’s Law is now a cliché, mentioned in articles and on stages an untold numbers of times. It is not even a law in the normal sense, but a remarkably astute observation. But as a description of actual progress it is real, and remains real.  It also carries through to memory capacity, disk capacity, the number of pixels in digital cameras, and much more. The drum beat of progress is remarkable, sustained, even relentless.

Ray Kurzweil and the Second Half of the Chessboard

Ray Kurzweil
Ray Kurzweil

In 2001, Ray Kurzweil – computer scientist, inventor and futurist – wrote a seminal essay about the rate of change in digital tech that contained the following observations about the rice and chess parable, to illuminate the future power of the Moore’s law process.

It should be pointed out that as the emperor and the inventor went through the first half of the chess board, things were fairly uneventful. The inventor was given spoonfuls of rice, then bowls of rice, then barrels. By the end of the first half of the chess board, the inventor had accumulated one large field’s worth (4 billion grains), and the emperor did start to take notice. It was as they progressed through the second half of the chessboard that the situation quickly deteriorated …. One version of the story has the emperor going bankrupt as the 63 doublings ultimately totaled 18 million trillion grains of rice. At ten grains of rice per square inch, this requires rice fields covering twice the surface area of the Earth, oceans included. Another version of the story has the inventor losing his head.
Ray Kurzweil from “The Law of Accelerating Returns”

In other words, it is in the later phases of exponential growth that the effects become extraordinary, and beyond all common-sense models. Kurzweil uses this as part of building the case for the singularity – a predicted epoch of miraculous tech-driven change – that sits at the ragged edge of futurist thinking.

1958 – 2006

Erik Bryonjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of MIT develop the chessboard metaphor further in their excellent book “The Second Machine Age”.

They take a start point in 1958. The late ’50s were a remarkable and forgotten period of progress in tech, where many of  foundation concepts were created. 1958 also marks the moment when the first use of the term Information technology was made in the Harvard Business Journal .

Assuming a doubling of IT power every 18 months, we entered the second half of the chessboard in 2006 – a year that saw the launch of  twitter, youtube and Amazon Web Services in a form we would understand today.

Digital Resource Abundance

The point that Bryonjolfsson and Andrew McAfee are making is this: remarkable capacity is now available, and continuously increasing, for innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs. Such abundance of resources allows us to have driverless car technology,  smart phones with the capacity of high end PCs of the past, and games consoles with the capacity of former supercomputers. Digital abundance has also led to the first usable voice-based agents such as Siri, vast and responsive social networks, and robots that begin to mechanically move and act in the world like humans or animals. We have data, and potential insight, at scales that stretch our ability to describe in the current metric system. Social Commerce enterprises, like uber and Airbnb, have connected legions of customers and citizen suppliers on a scale that is breathtaking. We have arrived in the foothills of the future sooner than we were perhaps expecting.

Implications for Enterprises

For enterprises, this richness of compute and storage power allows the redundancies that make large-scale cloud computing not only feasible, but competitively essential and inevitable.  For most purposes, it is already inherently cheaper, more (potentially) agile and secure. The new technologies also facilitate new types of business model, new sources of insight on a gigantic scale and new demands from their end clients.  Immediacy in business matters more than ever. As a result, Enterprise IT has embarked on a long period of transformation and change – maybe a decade of marvels and dark dangers. Any organisation now needs to think more about tech opportunity and invention, than optimisation of the server estate, or cost per development hour.

Whether we will create true AI in the next decade, or next century, or ever remains an unanswerable question. The current rush to digital will prove to be part-bubble driven by over enthusiasm.  There will be broken promises, and conventional  challenges around service and costs. Legacy rarely dies, but grows larger.

But what is clear is that the opportunity to invent and innovate grows ever more profound as we move into the next great phase of digital history. It’s time for imagination, and for all technology practitioners to look forward.

Keith Haviland

Keith Haviland is a business and digital technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services. He is a Former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network. 

Published author and active film producer, including Last Man on the Moon. Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups.

New Horizons and the Human Journey to the Surface of Pluto

“I thought I’d better check this third plate, which is another date, see if there’s an image there in the right place that would be consistent with the images on the other plates. That was the final proof.” – Clyde Tombaugh

Pluto was discovered on 18 February 1930 by young astronomer Clyde Tombaugh. His technique was humble, switching mechanically between photographic plates to see if one of the faint points of light appeared to move. On that day, he noticed a moving object on photographic plates taken on 23 and 29 January of that year. After the Lowell observatory had taken confirmatory photographs, news of the discovery was announced on 13 March 1930.

Clyde Tombaugh
Clyde Tombaugh

The naming process would prove complex, and human. Candidate names include Zeus, Percival and Chronos. The final choice of Pluto was proposed by Venetia Burney, an eleven-year-old schoolgirl from England, who was interested in mythology. She would earn £5 for her idea. The name would inspire Walt Disney in naming his cartoon dog, and the discoverer of the radioactive element plutonium.

Venetia Burney, who named Pluto
Venetia Burney, who named Pluto

Within months of discovery, Pluto was appearing in fiction, including the Cthulhu Mythos stories by HP Lovecraft. But the main role of Pluto in popular culture was to be a symbol of vast distance, cold loneliness and the unknowable. Even the mighty Hubble telescope would find only the barest hints of what lay on its surface, a surface that would sometimes reach temperatures as low as 33 Kelvin, within touching distance of absolute zero.

Eventually that would change.

Indeed, a Pluto flyby was a possibility for the “Grand Tour” undertaken by Voyager 1, and would have happened in the late 1980s. However, a close approach to Saturn’s moon Titan was selected instead, since it was seen as of much greater significance than tiny, remote Pluto. As a consequence of that, when Voyager 2 encountered Uranus and Neptune, Pluto became the only traditional planet whose face was unmapped and unknown.

So, in 1989, a group of scientists formed the “Pluto Underground” to promote the idea of a mission. At the heart of this alliance was a scientist called Alan Stern, who would pursue the concept of a Pluto mission with intense passion and would eventually become the Principle Investigator for New Horizons.

It wasn’t an easy process. Initial ideas were rejected, sometimes with great controversy. Then a competition was held, in which NASA would select a mission concept to fund as part of the first mission of the mid-cost New Frontiers program. New Horizons won, was rejected but then re-selected, for a mission cost of around $700m.

The probe finally lifted off from Pad 41 at Cape Canaveral at 14:00 on January 19, 2006.

New Horizons on the Launch Pad
New Horizons on the Launch Pad

The triangular New Horizons spacecraft has been compared in size and shaped to a grand piano. Unlike a piano, it is powered by a plutonium battery – more formally called a radioisotope thermoelectric generator or RTG. There’s irony here. The first probe to Pluto is powered by an element named after it.

New Horizons was the fastest spacecraft ever to leave Earth, it was accelerated even further after a scientifically valuable flyby of the Jovian system.

Jupiter and Io as seen from New Horizons
Jupiter and Io as seen from New Horizons

Almost a full decade after lift off, New Horizons reached its destination – the distant ice world of Pluto, almost exactly on the day that marked the 50th anniversary of interplanetary exploration. Because New Horizons is 4 ½ light hours away, the extraordinarily fast encounter was dark to the ground, powered by software and supported by immense pre-planning.

But shortly afterwards, and for first time in many years, we had the raw pleasure of seeing – as a connected human community – the faces of strange new worlds. We saw the cratered surface of Charon, the major moon of Pluto, cracked by a mighty canyon and marked by a mountain seemingly buried in the heart of a crater, like a giant Norman castle. On Pluto we saw a landscape of the Norgay Montes ice-mountains adjacent to a vast young plain (Sputnik Planum) fractured into polygon shapes – a landscape that is somehow active and renews itself at those temperatures of 33 kelvin.

Sputnik Planum
Sputnik Planum
Norgay Montes -  Ice Mountains on Pluto
Norgay Montes – Ice Mountains on Pluto

The triumph of New Horizons completes a story that combines the initial discovery of a very distant world, the vision of those that pursued a Pluto Mission for decades, and the gigantic contribution NASA and the US have made to this period of exploration. That story also includes the remarkable efforts of the New Horizon team, across complex planning, the spacecraft design, the construction of the science instruments and the management of mission operators.

It is of course a human story, not just a tale of achievement in technology and engineering. The probe itself carries a number of artifacts that tie it back to the beginnings of the Pluto story. Two stand out for me.

The Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter or VBSDC was built and is operated by students at University of Colorado. It measures the dust peppering New Horizons during its voyage. It is named after the little girl who named the distant world in the early 1930s.

And most moving of all is the fact that the craft contains one ounce of the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh himself, the young man who discovered Pluto and who would never know that his remains would pass close to 10,000 kilometers about the surface of the planet he was the first to glimpse.

Full disk Pluto as seen from New Horizons
Full disk Pluto as seen from New Horizons

As principal investigator and life-long Pluto advocate Alan Stern has said: “We have completed the initial reconnaissance of the solar system.” And like all such missions, for a moment it connected us all, as an example of the best we can do.

Vision + Execution = Greatness

Vision is core to good leadership, and the best management. It is the essence of successful programs, the heart of effective transformation and the engine of innovation.

It is also what teams want from their leaders. James Kouzes and Barry Posner once wrote in the Harvard Business Review:

 “Being forward-looking—envisioning exciting possibilities and enlisting others in a shared view of the future—is the attribute that most distinguishes leaders from non-leaders. We know this because we asked followers.”

The Kennedy Commitment

One of my favourite examples of how an extraordinary vision can become reality is when Kennedy promised the world, before the US had even fifteen minutes of manned spaceflight experience:  “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
The Kennedy vision is truly remarkable because it was achieved, in full. The simple promise was turned to powerful reality by the leadership, intense focus and personal commitment of 400,000 people at peak.

Vision + Execution = Greatness

So, for me the essence of real leadership is precisely this combining of vision with the ability to execute. Another leadership thinker, Warren Bennis, once said:  “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
This is not straightforward. Many of us will have seen corporate vision or strategy documents that are strong on the Promised Land, but not the hardships and challenges of the journey to get there. Many good ideas come to grief on the cold, sharp-edged rocks of delivery.

Example: The Global Delivery Network

My own most intense experience of combining big vision and successful execution comes from building the Accenture Global Delivery Network, and, within that, its Indian Delivery Centres. Today, the company is one of the dominant players in India-based and global delivery of technology services. In hindsight, the journey seems inevitable, almost a slam-dunk. But it wasn’t always like this.We started practical work with a small core team of India leaders, Brits and Americans in late 2000, at the request of the charismatic, global head of Financial Services. He felt the intensity of coming global competition, and had the vision to take action.

This core team would become true masters of delivery and client service. They would achieve extraordinary things in their careers. (And to give credit were it is due, we were also strongly supported by experienced leaders in the US and Spain, reflecting the already global personality of the company. They would give us resources and counsel.)

Meeting in Mumbai

The initiative and initial investment was based on creation of an initial team of just 200 people. There are now 100,000s of people in the firm’s global delivery network. At the time that would have seemed to many the purest fantasy, although some of us had a glimmer of what might be possible. However, we were starting with a small step.
By the summer of 2001 had two clients and the 200 seats in the India city of Mumbai, only partially filled with people. Our initial task was getting close to completion. But we knew that our responsibility was much greater, and it was time to plan the next stage.
So in a meeting room in Mumbai, lit brightly by sunlight, we discussed want we wanted to achieve. We needed an aspirational vision but it needed to be practical, based on specific goals and achievements that we could easily communicate.

Vision on a Whiteboard

At the end of our discussion, I drew a whiteboard diagram to summarize and took a photo for future reference. I felt that it would be important, at least as a personal memento. In fact, it would years later be published in a celebration of the Indian team’s success. Although it was formalised and turned into detailed, properly costed plans, our simple whiteboard summary turned out to be a foundation stone.
The essence of this vision was what we needed to do to catalyse growth. Unlike typical start-ups, we were blessed with a vast and impressive existing channel. We needed scale and momentum, coupled with our first core offerings. We had to convince our salesforce and then our real clients we were credible in a new market. I had an instinct that once we passed that test of credibility, our growth rates would look exponential. And so it was to be. But first we had to get started.
So, the top half of the whiteboard looked like the following. (Our financial year ran from September to August, so Q1 of FY2002 starts in September 2001).
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Simple Targets

This wasn’t a conventional vision or strategy. It was stripped down to a bare minimum of supply-side metrics. But it would serve its purpose. It covered the following:
  • CMM targets that refered to the 5-level Capability Maturity Model from the Software Engineering Institute located at Carnegie Mellon University. This aims to measure the quality of software delivery processes. The true value of CMM – and its descendents like CMMi – is subject to debate. However, it does require a rigorous focus on process and quality, and was essential to competing in this new market. We had to reach the highest levels of the model fast. These targets would soon evolve into a much more profound focus on offerings and industrialisation.
  • Most importantly, the diagram showed the headcount growth we wanted to achieve in the next two years – headcount would be a vital and simple metric of our progress. The goals we put down – given we were starting from scratch – were tough. We would have to keep the people we hired busy, engaged and chargeable. We were in essence already anticipating an exponential growth curve.
  • The diagram also shows our intent to move into three cities as part of building a platform for growth. Getting support for this rapid geographic expansion would not be easy, but it would provide flexibility and scalability. In fact we opened in 2002 in Bangalore, followed by Hyderabad a little later. Bangalore was destined to become a true global hub.

Building a Team

The second half of the board contained another diagram that I have also recreated below. It shows something else we realised very early on. We need a focus on building a team for the future, not simply a collection of new resources, but a group of people – a real team – who shared a strong sense of culture and common cause. Slide2-001

Communicating the Vision

We now had goals that were hard to achieve, but inspirational for our core team, easy to measure and simple to communicate. This was also fundamental. As PeterDrucker once said: “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” We needed to be able to straightforwardly tell our story and our intent to a team freshly hired, and get them to become leaders in a  long journey of transformation. We used our whiteboard goals as the anchor for that process.

Start-Up Days

Work started very practically, with the joys and stresses of any good start-up. One of team – who was destined to become a much respected Senior Managing Director – help dig the cable trenches in the tarmac outside the main building. We built our first big client meeting room the day before our first big client meeting. Recruiting was hard at first. Really hard. We hadn’t built our brand in the relevant technology talent pools. We did have a thriving local consulting practice. However, we were unknown to the people we needed for tech work. The vision helped. So did phone calls and events with candidates, their parents and families to show our intent, and the possibilities ahead. Our India leaders worked hard to sell our story, and with passion. Good people began to join us.

A Key Test

Then came a moment that I have written about before, but remains a pivot point of this slice of history. We had reached 500 people, and acquired more space. Overall, with a little difficultly, we had balanced demand and supply effectively. Our HR team had made a brilliant start. Now demand for people was increasing. We were beginning to see supply challenges. It was the start of the exponential growth curve I had expected, hoped for and feared, just a little. I asked our talented local leaders this: Although, it has taken eighteen months to grow to 500 peoplewe need to hire 500 people in the next five weeks. Can you do it? Those who have built and worked in start-ups know how hard an ask this was. And what the mood of that meeting, when a world of pain and hard work was opening up before us? It was tremendous – full of energy and laughter. They had a can-do, will-do attitude”  and were committed to the vision. They went for it. We hired many HR contractors, and arranged for virtual interviews across the globe. We created a large war room with white boards to record real-time status. And then we held interviews, thousands of times. By the end of the period they had made 526 offers to good candidates. This was a break through moment. The India team went to trounce all the targets in the initial strategy. They had a vision, they had executed well.  When we found a rare moment to reflect, we all felt we had shared in a period of great accomplishment.

Evolving the Vision

After that we adapted the vision and strategy on a six-monthly basis. It become a regular part of our process, both in India and globally. We looked ahead at our business challenges and opportunities, at what innovations were possible and what offerings would drive growth. We worked on horizons of now (immediate issues), three months, 12 months and 3-5 years. As a result, we drove higher levels of industrialisation, delivery innovation and accountability. We added a strong focus on business and industry skills. We opened in seven cities, and introduced ways of dealing with huge scale. We introduced offshore approaches to consulting and systems integration, beyond the normal outsourcing focus of global delivery. Throughout the focus remained on vision and execution.

Looking to the Future

What of the future? Global delivery models are now part of the fabric of IT services.  They are standard, and expected. However, as always, there is new opportunity on the horizon. This is not so much from fashionable digital business models. These are important,  but even more important is the systematic underlying change from an old world of devices and systems to a new universe of services and infinite sharing in the cloud. Agility becomes possible at scale in ways it never has before, and our connection with technology will be completely transformed. So, there is still plenty of scope for leadership that combines ambitious vision, and successful execution. There are still histories to be made.

Keith Haviland

Keith Haviland is a business and technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services. He is a Former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network.  Published author and active film producer, including Last Man on the Moon. Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups.

Stewardship: A Fundamental Part of Good Leadership

“The price of greatness is responsibility.”– Winston Churchill

Meetings in Hollywood and London

The meeting was over drinks in the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. It was with an old friend who I had worked for in the late 1980s. He was then leading a technology start-up in London, specialising in UNIX and Open Systems. The company was a true prototype for the eCommerce and Digital start-up waves of the 21st Century. It was tech-savvy, youthful, ambitious and diverse. It had energy and pzazz.

It became a business success, and was sold in 1990. It was also a cultural success. People liked working there. Even today in 2015 there are occasional re-unions of the core team.

My friend had then moved to LA to try his luck in the world of film. Again he had successful, and now lives in a Spanish style villa in the Hollywood Hills.

We spoke about his plans, and mine. It wasn’t long before I realized that, although I hadn’t worked with him for twenty years or so, he wanted me to develop and be successful. He still felt his old loyalty to his previous team.

Cut to another scene. It is a few weeks later. I am having lunch in London with another old friend, someone I have worked for a little more recently. He had been a respected leader in both commerce and public service. Again, I felt that same sense of support, and quiet, steady belief. Here was someone who wanted others to succeed almost as a natural reflex.

Stewardship

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This led me to reflecting on what I think is one of the most essential qualities of good leaders: stewardship.

One of my alma maters is Accenture, a company who organize people on a global scale. It has a set of simple core values intended to help define its culture. To paraphrase, these include: integrity; respect for people as individuals; a focus on acting as a team; excellence and, above all, prioritizing client service.

And as an instruction to leaders, this set of values also includes the word stewardship – which means a focus on the greater good, thinking of the future, and the development of the people around you. It has been a fundamental element of that company’s long history, arising from its origins as a partnership.

Over the years, and across companies, I have had the privilege to work with many good leaders, and the best naturally adopt a stewardship style. They care about the future of both their business and their team with a natural grace and enthusiasm. Above all, they think about the motivations, development and careers of the people who work for them.

This does not need to be at the expense of being able to make tough calls. Indeed some of the best stewards are also courageous. One leader who worked for me in building the Accenture Global Delivery Network was a red-blooded operator – able to direct without hestitation, and do the hard things at scale. He is one of the masters of delivery it has my privilege to work with.  However, he also ensured that the bi-annual performance management process of a large group of people was undertaken with a huge amount of care, professionalism and objectivity. The views of his own leadership team were fully taken into account, and balanced. When it mattered, he acted as a steward. It impressed me, and a great many others, enormously.

Aspects of Stewardship

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There economic models of stewardship cultures in enterprises, and a whole literature on “servant leadership.” However, what follows is my personal definition of major attributes of stewardship, written as advice for leaders and potential leaders.

  • A combination of strong values and an inspiring vision, communicated well. The vision is essential for setting a direction. It should be adaptable, but stable enough to allow consistent execution. The values will enable you to handle change, and trouble, and create the foundations of the culture you aim to build.
  • Loyalty. By this, I mean the loyalty of leaders to their teams. Great teams can be created when people know you “have their back”, that what you say is what you mean, and you want them as individuals to progress and prosper. Loyalty is something best returned, rather than exhorted or demanded.
  • Courage. It is important to have the skills to deal with challenges and failures in a positive way. This can mean being simple and direct about bad news, or poor performance. Truth is at the heart of delivery and learning. Courage can also mean a leader constructively standing up to his own boss when poor decisions are being made – since even great people will make poor calls.
  • A relentless focus on recognition. People thrive when their achievements or hard-work are celebrated. It is a core part of what most individuals will want out of their career. And sometimes a simple thank you is plenty enough. It still amazes me how many of those in management positions don’t recognize the value of this kind of simple engagement. As with loyalty, give credit, and you earn it back.
  • An unyielding emphasis on development. If you want long-term growth, you need to develop your team, and build a flexible leadership bench for the future. You need to worry about the progress of each individual, and what skills or encouragement they each need to succeed. This is much broader than succession planning, which often has a narrow, static focus. Indeed, when a company starts treating its middle management as an economic issue that is ultimately a failure of top leadership and their stewardship foresight.
  • Forward thinking. The job of a leader is to make sure future challenges are anticipated, offerings are adapted to changing markets, and structures flex with growth. As I was building the Accenture Global Delivery Network, I made myself think frequently about horizons of 3 months, 12 months and five years. It worked well, during a long and exhilarating period of quasi-exponential growth.
  • Providing an environment in which good can be done. When I started working with people in India, the Philippines and other developing countries, I was very struck by the intense enthusiasm for supporting local communities, and for giving something back. It was humbling, and inspirational. This taught me the importance of making sure a sense of the common good was part of the cultural fabric. Such a culture will start many experiments in achieving excellence in client-service, improvements in training, initiatives in diversity, and action to help the community and environment. And some of these experiments will work.

Benefits

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What are the benefits of stewardship?

It creates the kind of positive culture where teams want to deliver excellence in client service, and continuous improvement. It enables long-term growth because you naturally create a bench of leaders able to take your place. It creates an almost unconscious loyalty, with high levels of engagement, and lower levels of attrition. And your future leaders will develop their own sense of stewardship.

It creates open channels of communication, because people work in an atmosphere of trust. It can make a real impact on local communities through an effective corporate social responsibility program. In the end you can create a place where people aspire to work, to serve and progress.

Conversely, toxic leaders who are interested in personal position first and foremost will often do a great deal of damage, and can leave ineffective teams behind them. And even formerly respected leaders who break a bond of trust can see the morale and performance of their teams drop dramatically.

However, the final message is an immensely positive one. Stewardship cultures feel right. They also are right – bringing great benefits in culture and client-service. Above all, they bring the ability to grow, at scale and in the long-term, in a dynamic and changing world.

Keith Haviland

Keith Haviland is a business and technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services. He is a Former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network.

Published author and active film producer, including Last Man on the Moon. Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups.

 

 

Writings from Keith Haviland