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The collaborative approach to stopping armageddon

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The collaborative approach to stopping armageddon

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When an asteroid zooms towards Earth, Hollywood would have us believe that the only course of action is to call upon some brave, intrepid souls to save us all from destruction.  These men are nearly always American, and quite often wear vests a lot.

Whilst Hollywood is seldom of instructional value for anything other than what not to take seriously, the great man theory that underpins most of these kind of movies is sadly rather more widespread.

It’s a theory popularized by Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle, who famously stated that “the history of the world is but the biography of great men”.  And so it often appears to be in leadership, with CEOs and others in lofty positions given god like qualities to mould mankind by little more than their charisma and willpower.

Suffice to say, I largely think that’s a load of codswallop, and there was a nice piece in Strategy & Business this week on the typical location of leadership.  The part that chimed most with me, perhaps not surprisingly, was the bit trumpeting the value in developing leadership (in a systemic way) rather than developing leaders (in an individual way).

If you want something to hang this notion off of, I present to you the recommendations made by the UN recently should one of those asteroids from Hollywood lore ever come close to squashing large chunks of the planet.

The recommendations were formed after the asteroid that struck in Russia earlier this year.  However, rather than phoning up a Bruce Willis style individual, the recommended UN response is to collaborate on the problem internationally.  These teams will share information about any incoming asteroids (the International Asteroid Warning Group) and decide who will coordinate Earth’s response (the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space).

Setting up meetings may seem a lacklustre response, but such collaboration is historically rare.  You can imagine for instance if Bruce Willis managed to divert an asteroid aimed at New York, but only managed to divert it onto Shanghai.  Not good.  Global threats require global responses.

The message is clear.  To achieve great things, you don’t need a superhero at the helm, you just need an environment that encourages great minds to work together.

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