An Important Lesson from Project Hail Mary

Well, summer sure hit us hard this past week! We hit multiple heat records in two days. I’ve never been more thankful for cool air and ice water. To occupy my time while I stayed inside last weekend, I started reading the book Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. It’s a brick – 481 pages, but it’s a wild and crazy read! Spoiler alert: If you plan to read it you may want to close this email now and save it for when you’re done.

The book opens with the main character awakening from a coma and realizing he’s in a spaceship on a last-attempt mission to save planet earth. As his memory comes back, we become aware (through clever flashbacks) of the problem and the reason for the mission. Alien life “astrophage” are stealing energy from the sun, thus dimming or cooling the earth. (Oh, the irony of reading about the planet cooling when it’s 115 degrees outside!!) There is one planet, Tau Ceti, that astrophage don’t affect. This is where our astronaut, Ryland Grace, lands. He has to figure out what’s going on on Tau Ceti and send that information back to earth. And guess what? He encounters another spacecraft, not made by humans, and meets an alien he calls “Rocky.” Here’s the part that applies to this blog (in case I’m about to lose some of you! *grin*). Ryland knows he has to find something that he and Rocky both understand in order to start communicating. He discovers that the aliens’ numeric system is in base six and starts simple communication through numbers. From that, they start to build a relationship and help each other. There are a lot more details in the book, so if you’re curious, it’s an interesting read!

I love how Ryland and Rocky become a team. It starts with finding commonalities, something they both understand and share. Then language develops to create communication. And from communication comes relationship. Think about this in the workplace and in our lives. Do we take time to find common interests/goals/priorities when we meet with teammates, internal and external customers and stakeholders? Do we really try to understand what we share as desired common goals? Do we then use that information to better trust and communicate with each other to ultimately reach that goal? I may not know astro-physics, but the science I know shows us that there is one single factor that separates the happiest and least happy people and it is the presence of satisfying, significant relationships. And these relationships are built little by little, in face to face activities.

In September, when state government re-opens to the public, and some of us go back to our workspaces in our agencies, we have an opportunity to really look at each other face to face again. We have the opportunity to find commonalities, maybe even new things we have in common. We have the opportunity to share our goals and priorities and to work together to make things happen. Relationships of trust and authentic communication are key. Removing old stories and assumptions is also important. This is an opportunity for work reimagined. Let’s do it together!


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