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Clever management

by | Feb 15, 2022 | Clever, manage, Sly and The Family Stone

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managing can be Clever…

Our design danced to life “right on schedule”, a Clever way of saying we made it just in time. After struggling for weeks, our 2nd Line manager had “offered” that if we didn’t have it running soon, they would fly in some “real” engineers from our main site to “help” us. As you might expect, it was not music to our ears … and that type of management triggered exactly the response he wanted. Maybe not the TONE he expected, but it had gotten our system running, and mostly on schedule. A good thing, as I was now the Project Manager

We were a “field branch” of the main facility that built all of the “real” equipment for space flight. With over 5000 employees, they had deep pockets and processes that were “non-negotiable” from years of “expertise”. However, there were actually more pieces of “non-flight” equipment used for all of the simulators around the Johnson Space Center in Houston – nearly at a 20 to 1 ratio. As such, in the mid 70’s a small group of 40 technicians were hired locally to do “easy” repairs, recruited mostly from the team that supported the equipment in Mission Control. And the ethos of that team was well established – we can do it best without the help of the “main” team.

…leveraging expectations…

Sylvester Stewart was born in Denton Texas in 1943, the second of the family’s five children, into a family with a deeply religious foundation. As part of the doctrines of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the parents encouraged musical expression in the household. Sylvester and his brother Freddie along with their sisters Rose and Loretta formed “The Stewart Four” as children, performing gospel music. Sylvester was identified as a musical prodigy. By the time he was seven, Sylvester had already become proficient on the keyboards, and by the age of eleven, he had mastered the guitar, bass, and drums as well. While still in high school, Sylvester had settled primarily on the guitar and joined a number of high school bands, and by that time, his nickname was the misspelled “Sly” which fit his management approach…

In the mid-1960s, Stone worked as a disc jockey for San Francisco, California, soul radio station KSOL, where he included white performers such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in his playlists. During the same period, he worked as a staff record producer for Autumn Records, producing for predominantly white San Francisco-area bands such as The Beau Brummels, The Mojo Men, Bobby Freeman, and Grace Slick’s first band, The Great Society.

Sly was performing with his band Sly and The Stoners which included Cynthia Robinson on trumpet. His brother Freddie was working with his band called Freddie and the Stone Souls with Greg Errico and Jerry Martini. One night, the two stood in a kitchen making the decision to fuse the bands together, adding Larry Graham, who had studied music and worked in numerous groups. Working around the Bay Area in 1967, this multiracial band made a strong impression. Later, in 1968, Rose joined the band. This lineup was the partnership that played a critical role in the development of funk with their pioneering fusion of soul, rock, psychedelia and gospel. Crawdaddy! has called Sly “the founder of progressive soul”

Clever often comes from non-managers

Reminding me of working with my Dad and grandparents, it felt “normal” working around the team that I stepped into. My office mate Clark had been gathering up “bits and pieces” of equipment that has been cast off or partially not working. The lab had been built on a shoestring, with most of it even older and more obsolete than what we had in our college labs. But no matter, it was really the essence of engineering – always manage what are the constraints… and then, the fun would begin. Could you work with what you had, and another phrase I learned from my Dad… “Change the problem into one you could solve”.

Now that we had the hardware working, it was a process of building out the demonstration to show how it could actually be used for the “real” Space Shuttle. Which meant I was responsible for managing not just my own design, but the overall Hardware, Software, and “other duties as assigned” – my favorite management phrase. In this case, it meant I was doing all of the marketing, customer meetings, interfacing with the other facilities we had to partner with. And this is where Clark really turned out to be the perfect partner for that season…

… he loved a hard challenge, and we had many. Having been a Navy Tech, like most of the guys around us, he had a disdain for us “college kids”. Luckily, we shared a love of working on cars, and many of my weekends were spent with him “helping” me – where, as with my own Dad, it was mostly me handing him the tools to do what was needed. No matter – his earthy tone, and grounding would constantly bring me back to what I really appreciated most – Cleverness. I could brainstorm with him, and let his “older sage counsel” guide me… mostly 😉

What does Clever mean to your management?

There is a clear directness from partners that can bring out Cleverness. In our case, that ultimatum drove us back into our office to realize that we had – sitting next to each other, in the same office, spending weekends together even – misheard each other. Even partners can miss things – and maybe this is where my lifelong focus on communications started. Realizing HOW many long days, nights, weekends were caused by the simple confusion over a few words, I started to focus much harder on being a better manager and communicator.

I often now work with leaders to help them clarify what it is they really need to say. Often it starts out as pages of dialog that we work together to whittle down and down – usually getting clarity when we reach about 6 words. Chosen with clarity, and a little Cleverness, that is the stance I have seen teams and organizations respond best to, particularly in the environment we are in currently. What partners help you get clarity on what really needs to be said, and are they Clever in getting you to act on it? Or is that your role in the partnership? Either way, it is important to realize that someone needs some Cleverness to get us to Dance to The Music.

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