The Right partners to be Effective
As I watched the fog roll across the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge was the first to disappear. Then San Francisco became just a soft glow. Now the fog was over Berkeley and coming up the hills where it was 3 am. Completely covered now, the moon was just a glow, and I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I stepped back inside just in time to help my partners change out the current device for the next one in our testing. I was standing inside of one of the world’s most powerful devices – yes – inside…
… it didn’t hurt that it was built in one of the most beautiful places on the earth – the Berkeley Hills. Growing out of the Manhattan Project, Lawrence Berkeley Labs was the center of the world when it came to high-energy particle physics in the ’80s. Here we could take our chips and blast them with particles of Iron, Copper, Nickel – all stripped of their electrons and accelerated to near the speed of light by 2 huge magnets that would switch off and on driving the particles faster and faster. We were in the center of a huge concrete structure surrounded by equipment, and I was Effectively using everything I had ever learned. We were “doing physics” on an important engineering project built with great teammates.
A name that kept popping up in my research turned out to be one of the few experimentalists in the Cosmic Radiation field. W.A. Kolosinski – who we called Al – and his partner Rocky Koga – both worked for The Aerospace Corporation. Started as a support organization for the Air Force, Aerospace was the consistent partner to officers who would rotate in and out doing research on their career path. They made sure that there was an Effective focus on long-term projects, such as this one. The Air Force was responsible for the satellites that predicted nuclear launches and other critical (and classified) things. I had convinced him to help us in our research because the chips we were testing were “interesting” to him – and I never pressed beyond that description as it was not Right. Need to Know is a real thing 😉
Harmony comes from Effective partners…
Lionel Hampton was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on April 20, 1908. He was fluent on both drums and piano from his early days. He played with Louis Armstrong on several recordings in 1930 and during a break in one of their sessions, the pair came across what Hampton later referred to as a “vibraharp,” in a side room. Trumpeter Armstrong asked Hampton if he could play it. Hampton, who said he thought the keyboard was similar to that of a xylophone, which he had studied in Chicago, pulled the instrument into the studio, plugged it in, and played a solo that he had memorized from Armstrong’s record “Cornet Chop Suey.” Armstrong was bowled over by the sound and asked Hampton to play the instrument on the Eubie Blake song “Memories of You.” It was, according to most jazz historians, the first time the vibraharp was used on a major jazz recording.
That recording session happened in California, where of course Benny would soon land at the Palomar Ballroom. While playing those groundbreaking concerts, John Hammond took Benny to see Lionel performing at a local Black club. He invited Lionel to join his small trio, making it now a quartet. As with Teddy, Lionel would play off-stage during “intermission” and occasionally sneak on stage to substitute for Gene Krupa who was also committed to integrating music. “Hampton had a tremendous sense of rhythm, and he transferred that to the vibes,” remarked Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute for Jazz Studies at Rutgers University. “He could really swing, and that’s what captured Benny Goodman. Hampton had a great ear and could improvise.”
… and the Right role for the long term
Harkening back to my days at Texas Instruments, I loved being the “junior tech” and got all of the grunt work for the team. That included putting the devices into the electronic jig we had built, attaching the leads, and then observing as we pumped out all of the air. That would take about 6 hours, for a 1 hour “run” of the beam, repeat. And when we had “beam time” it meant we were there around the clock. Al would regale me with stories from his travels around the world and about being the “support” partner to Air Force officers that were… less than Effective… and how he could nudge them gently towards Right because of his careful approach as a partner. He also taught me about great Italian food, and that the best Indian food in the world was in London… and so many other things that this whole season was still one of the best in my whole career.
So how did this all happen? It took the determination of the Rightness of being young… and the Effectiveness of partners who knew how to appropriately channel it productively. Here I was using all of my Physics, Engineering, Math… and more importantly, relationship skills. They still had a lot of rough edges, but partnering with Al, I was now a part of a community of scientists that were the very best at what they did. The stance I assumed was low man on the totem pole, and that almost always works. You have to have confidence in what you do know, but setting that aside opens up the possibility of learning something you don’t, particularly from those who are really the best.
What partners are Right for you?
It is a constant balance to this day – should I focus on Right … or try to be Effective? Particularly as I have gotten older, the energy to always be Right is just not there, along with the many scars from charging headlong into confrontations that ultimately were not worth it. As you are considering your own partners, who is there to help guide you to be more Effective? Or is it you that needs to do that for other teammates that, like Don Quixote, constantly challenge windmills that are not worth it. All I can say is that as I sat there that morning, I realized that something was shifting for me as I basked in the stories from Al… and the Moonglow.