October 2006

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October 4, 2006 W #

MIT Astropreneurs Club

The newly founded MIT Astropreneurs Club is now alive!!!

(one of the reasons I didn't have time to post in September)

October 6, 2006 F #

I Love being at MIT!!!

Can I say it again?

I LOVE being at MIT!!!

The summer was fun, and we did a lot of cool stuff focused directly around LFM... but now all of MIT is alive and kicking.... and this has got to be the coolest campus in the whole wide world!!!

I finally started integrating with the engineering side of campus. I met Scott, a grad student doing his Masters Thesis on human responses to different motion conditions, and spent two hours spinning in this horizontal centrifuge with a computer tracking my eyes, while feeling like I was tumbling all over through the universe. Scott completed his third year of Med School in Washington, and decided he wanted to do some space related research before returning back to straight medical.

I didn't get pictures of the Mars Gravity BioSatellite several students are working on. They're sending twelve mice up in a satellite that will spin at Martian gravity for a while, then bring the mice back (alive) and see what happens to their bone density, etc.

Of course there's more engineering stuff, but the business school stuff has been equally fun. We spent our first week doing team building type stuff, and then dropped right into classes. The social dynamics have been very different in MIT Sloan than they were just in LFM over the summer. There are so many of us (370), and even though we're split into Oceans of 60 (Go Pacificans!), we didn't meld as quickly and naturally as we did in LFM. I think the numbers are a lot of the reason. We have a good crew though, and as I get to know more people on deeper levels, I become incresingly impressed.

We're split into smaller teams of 6 again, and once again, I got a strong perfomring team. Two out of GE, one fresh out of Korea (without the slightest accent), and one from Brazil. I like Brazilians.

To tell the truth, some of the core classes have been a little disappointing (all first year Sloanies take the same "core" classes during the first semester). Some, like Accounting, have been great. It's all a function of the professor, never the content.

But one of the superior benefits of MIT Sloan is they give you the leverage to do just about anything you want if you think it will improve the place. Several of us also thought some of the summer courses could use some improvement, sowe had some conversations amongst ourselves and with professors, and I decide to develop and launch a Sixty Second Feedback tool. The idea came straight from the content of our Operations and Lean / Six Sigma courses, and was born in a dinner conversation with an LFM alumn who was a star at Chrysler, and is now with Toyota here in America (Again, it's unbelievable how much attention we get from industry and alumni).

So Amber Hardy and I spent a Saturday and a half developing the php interface and database, and now we have a web based daily feedback tool for professors to use with their classes. No longer do they have to wait until the end of the semester to get feedback!

Link: Sample Input Interface - Link: Sample Review Interface - Try it out. It should be intuitive

Alas, I'm still a bit of a slacker (but only sort of), so only a few professors have it for use. I disciplined myself to follow the established channels of authority, and they've been very supportive, and helpful in our dialog about what, why, and how. Having followed these channels up front will make the final implementation far easier (this is just a pilot)... but I've got myself distracted with other newer and more interesting things, so I haven't fully launched the pilot yet. A personal weakness I don't like, and still can't seem to fix... even though I understand exactly how and why I am that way. Stupid me.

But sub optimal classes or not, that is such a small part of the experience of being here at MIT. Every single lunch and dinner has some sort of club bringing in a phenomenal speaker who is doing something very worthwhile with their life. It's motivating, enlightening, and educational like nothing I've ever been involved in before. The picture above is during a post lecture conversation with Mark Albion, the founder of Net Impact, a group focused on running business such that they both directly and indirectly bring a positive influence to the world at large. He is very reasonable about corporate responsibility, appreciating the long term effect of corporate decisions in all aspects of our world.

The most inspiring speaker I've listened to so far wasDr. Harish Hande, a relatively young guy who has been developing solar power applications in the poorest areas ofIndia, totally base on private funding and loans. Not one single subsidy or freebie, and he's bringing power and light to the poorest individuals throughout India, enabling them to be more productive, finde larger markets for their services... and He's Making a Profit on It!!!

"All development projects must become commercially viable; otherwise we'll always have projects in the world."

It took him six years to become profitable (founded in '95), and a whole lot of creativity and work, but he did it, and is continuing to expand his network. He didn't use any powerpoit slides, spoke with his Indian accent, and showed a few pictures of the places he has worked to help people find ways that they could afford to buy his solar lights. Commercial Space Exploration is a pretty cool goal, but this guy's Commercial Solar Power goal is even more admirable! And hearing people like him speak is just another every day thing here!!!

Again... I love being at MIT!!!

Speaking of Space...

MIT Astropreneurs Club:
Entrepreneurship to Advance the Commercial Spaceflight Industry

I got into a conversation with a second year girl near the beginning of the semester, and she mentioned a Space Entrepreneurs Club she wanted to start. I was fully supportive of that idea. After seeing how busy she would be with her other committments, I got impatient, and took the reigns to launch the club myself. I don't think you could pick a better place to launch a club like this, and the support and interest has been immediate and strong. We had almost fourty people at our initial launch.

It's great being surrounded with people who are smart enough to see the indirect path that will be most effective to this objective. We'll be focusing on technologies and industries that are preipheral to Commercial Space Exploration, such that we can simultaneously move the technology and industrial infrastructure forward in our industry, and serve other commercial needs and industries in ways that will develop our own experience, funds, and networks.

Launching this club has been a learning experience in itself... and will continue to be... but I'm not going to write about that right now. It would even be worth it just for the excuse to get introduced to so many technologies and labs at MIT. I'm glad to have the strong support of a few core people who are fouding this with me, and carry their own valuable set of talents.

Other Stuff

I think I had a lot of other stuff to write... but it's not on my mind anymore.

I really enjoy having my LFM friends. We've all been good about integrating with the rest of MIT Sloan, meeting new people and making new friends, but we developed some kind of bond over the summer that just doesn't go away. A couple weeks into the semester, I walked into our office and we had spontaneously congregated into our couches. You can't beat having good friends. I can't think about leaving or I start missing everyone. I'm definitely enjoying my time here.

I still love running along the Charles. Lately, I've only found time to run at night, but it's beautiful with the clouds reflecting the city lights. The water becomes a royal purple, and with the briliant city lights in the crystal air against the dark backdrop over the city... It's a good run. It's a good life.

October 19, 2006 R #

There goes mid-terms. I'm not sure if that half semester went quickly or not. As for classes, the time flew by. When I look back to all the people I've met, launching and developing Astropreneurs, the labs I've visited, all the entrepreneurs and business leaders I've listened to and learned from, it seems like a good year of living has been stuffed into this seven weeks.

I'm on the airplane to New Mexico now for the X Prize Cup. stoked about the Cup, but disappointed that I'll be missing all the mid term parties. I'm really starting to like the friends I'm making at MIT Sloan. Just before leaving, I realized I needed to make a couple last minute stops by school, so I took a cab instead of the T. Through round about circumstances, I ended having a fun conversation with Ramell, the cab driver. Totally a cool guy from Haiti, moved to New York in '70, off to Boston in '91, and he'll probably head to Florida after a few more years here. 57 years old, and just doing his thing, driving a taxi like he's been doing ever since New York.

The leaves are changing, and it's getting cooler, but the weather is still beautiful for spending time outside. I used to do some trials riding like this guy, but this is the first time I've see anyone else doing it.

It's interesting seeing how people have been reacting differently during mid terms. Some people have been pretty stressed about it, some haven't been stressed but have put in loads of studying, some maybe haven't been as concerned as they ought to be. I think I successfully found the perfect balance between preparing and having a good time. but at the same time, I'm not interested in going into I-Banking or Consulting where (apparently) your grades actually matter.

I invited my Ocean over for brunch last Sunday. I love cooking breakfast for lots of people. I've become a slacker with my camera though. no pictures.

MIT Spheres. They have ten or so of these spheres, three currently on the International Space Station, one heading up in the Space Shuttle soon, and others floating around elsewhere. Swati here is responsible for a lot of the coding to make these things dance with each other, and will be heading out to train the astronauts in the experiments they'll be running with them next. Cool little toys. They sense their location and the location of other spheres with little sonic sensors and beacons.

And these funny looking things are the toys for developing Electro-Magnetic Formation Flight (EMFF). From about fifteen feet apart, they can create enough force to pull themselves together in less than fifteen seconds, and they can navigate with each other in formation, totally by electromagnetic forces.

I forgot to note last time about the phone call from Anousia Ansari while she was up in the International Space Station. Sending a live television feed over satellite seems to be super easy and reliable, but communication over a phone call from the ISS is far from reliable. The first attempt (a Friday) flopped after several dropouts. The second attempt (a Sunday) was a half success, with a few drops and intermittent blanks in the sound. While the novelty of hearing Anousia talk was cool, the whole thing opened my eyes to the enormous need for improving space based communication. I still can't believe how ridiculously horrible the feed was.

Last weekend I spent some time on the phone with an Aero Astro Alum who did his undergrad here, grad work at Cal Tech, has been in Aerospace Consulting in Wash. DC for the past four years, is near finishing his Law degree part time through Georgetown, and is looking for a couple students from our Astropreneurs Club to join his team for a Fractionated Spacecraft venture he's ready to pitch to VC's. There is also another MIT Aero-Astro alum in the Bay Area who heard about Astropreneurs through the network, and this weekend we'll be talking about some ideas he has been churning.

(Spheres Locating Beacon)

I was thinking about how to channel our purpose in this club; how to use some sort of gauge that would focus our efforts toward our objective through a measurable method. I invented our Return on Investment metric.

ROI = Profits / Investment

      Cash awards from Business Competitions
      Investment Funds through Angels and VC's
      Starting Salary from Jobs with Ventures and Startups
      External Funding
      Meetings (hourly charge)

I though that was sort of fun, and it will be a fun metric to watch over multiple years. (We'll calculate it with Revenues over Expenses. not technically ROI, but who's counting?).

For generating and categorizing ventures, we created a matrix of technologies and spaceflight industries. We derived the technology sectors from Red Planet Capital, a VC group backed by NASA with $75M to invest in spaceflight advancing ventures over the next five years. Then we crossed those technology sectors with the varying spaceflight markets needing the proposed advancements.

We had four teams present venture proposals they generated over the last week, and the proposals were more thought out and more worthwhile than I had expected. Next week we'll show up with another set of entirely new proposals. Then we'll buckle down and start generating proposals to submit to the MIT $1K this semester, leading into the MIT $100K next semester, and also the $25K Lunar Venture Challenge sponsored by NASA.

Our IT guy from MIT Sloan has generated a killer web based team workspace for us to use for the club, and done so incredibly quickly. We're making most of our materials available for anybody interested in using them for relevant purposes. Eventually we'll get it ported to www.Astropreneurs.org, but that is still a little time away.

Leadership Lessons #

I've historically scoffed at much of the notion of "leadership." Not because I didn't think it was important, but it seemed like glorified praise for management or teaching. Through this MIT Astropreneurs Club, I have seen a distinct difference between management, teaching (both of which I have done many other times in my life), and this category of "leadership." Even at that, I think I am experiencing the activity of "organizational creation" more than "leadership," but I see a new dimension I didn't see previously.

It has been a real surprise to me, the brain cycles required in launching this whole MIT Astropreneurs Club. Much of the logistics, preparations, etc, are being carried by the club officers (management / delegation), but the thought necessary to design this organization to accomplish what we want has been far more deliberate than I expected. Then to communicate the design ideas to others wasn't as easy as I anticipated (Fortunately we're all on the same page, but I thought people could intuitively read my mind better).

So far, I feel like I've made the right moves with each step in the progression. Even so, it feels like each idea has arrived just in time for implementation. Once everything is together, it appears very natural and intuitive that it should be this way (I take that as a sign that it has been designed correctly). But starting from nothing, with no precedent for what or how to do things, is demanding. Its fun having a clean slate to create whatever I want, but it takes thought and decision to go through the initial creation process.

It has been invaluable to have other observant and realistic minded officers and club members through the process. They've contributed significantly to our present condition, but I've had to start with a clear idea in my mind (one that stood up to my own intellectual scrutiny), and communicate that idea. It has been very beneficial to hear the occasional "I object" to a proposed idea, and hear the accompanying rationale. The easy part is adapting that idea to the constructive suggestions of others. But I have been surprised to see how important it is that I begin with an initial clearly defined starting point, and then wrap everything into a clearly defined collection at the end. Even with the constructive adaptation through which others contribute, I have seen that a quality initial idea is critical to the effectiveness of the collaborative improvement process.

I have learned the value in seeking out models and ideas that other people and organizations have already developed. It is far easier to develop an effective organizational mechanism through evaluation and critique of what others have done. Arranging a piecemeal of other ideas hasn't been an optimal alternative yet, but other ideas certainly provide worthwhile starting points. and I enjoy referencing who I believe are quality sources.

I have stumbled through a bit of creating the culture of this organization. I like to allow groups to grow and develop organically, but even that style is fostered by decision (or indecision). A friend from LA who is in his second year at HBS, has brought some valuable professionalism to the officers meetings (professionalism that doesn't naturally grow at MIT). Having his outside influence offers the opportunity to implement a precedent that I initially hadn't seen available. The significant realization I didn't expect is that I am in the strongest position to influence what precedents will be carried and which will not. and if I want to implement something that doesn't haphazardly happen, I'll have to develop a mechanism to make it happen.

I have also seen how showing up unprepared, without clear objectives in mind, or without an organized agenda, could make a highly disorganized and ineffective meeting. A series of such meetings could let a great idea flop and go nowhere. I suddenly have a huge appreciation for my manager back in Azusa, who ran such effective and organized meetings. I didn't realize the skill she worked with, and I'm adopting several of her methods.

I also laughed when I realized that nobody in this group has any preconceptions of who I am, and what my style has been. All the expectations they have begun to develop are entirely based on their interaction with me under these conditions. I'll be in this similar scenario when I graduate and integrate into the larger Northrop Grumman Corporation. Opportunity to be leveraged as I choose to use it.

In summary, I'm learning a lot about "organizational creation." This has been far more effective than a class full of case studies and discussions. I still think "leadership" is something else. something dealing with influencing other people. All the MIT Astropreneurs (and our HBS consortium) are already motivated toward our common purpose. This club is an enabling mechanism for us, and I am organizing it as such, to the best of my ability. Organizing is enabling, whereas leading is influencing. and I don't think I'm doing any substantial influencing in this role.

It's been a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the experience... well, looking forward to the rest of life for that matter.

(Hint: Einstein is in this picture)

And before I end this... there is one other development over these last six or seven weeks that has been far more significant than any of this... but I'm not going to write about that now.

This is a personal web page. Things expressed here do not represent the position of my employer.

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