Reflections from the January 2019 Executive Program

2019 is already off to a very interesting start! Our January Executive Program alumni have the distinct honor of being the first class to ever attend the EP during a government shutdown! While the shutdown did not have dramatic effects on our participants, it did make our team’s work a little more challenging as almost everything here at NASA Research Park was shut down (except for SU). Now that the government is reopened I am hoping that this shutdown experience will be a memory that is exclusive to the January class, but for now, we will have to wait and see! As you can imagine, it did lead to some very interesting conversations with faculty member Dr. David Bray, who spoke on The Future of Work, Governance, and Leadership during the program.

From time to time I like to share the top takeaways that our EP classes identify during the course of the week to keep our community up to date on the conversations that we are having and the insights that are being generated here at the EP.

So without further ado…here are the top three takeaways from our January EP class, which definitely brought a penchant for deep and philosophical thought to the EP!

1. The fast layers of society are where all the attention is, but the slow layers have all the power.

One of my favorite sessions at the EP is Paul Saffo’s session on Pace Layers, a framework for comparing the speeds at which different layers of society (nature, culture, governance, infrastructure, commerce, and fashion) all move. I find this to be an incredible framework for diagnosing the issues around complicated topics that we face as a society (climate change, civil rights, terrorism) and to think differently about how we might be able to make small, targeted interventions at the right level to unlock revolutionary solutions across each level, or as one of our January alumni put it, “How do we cause the earthquake?”

Chipp Norcross Group Photo

2. Our planet is the only Plan A.

Space is a very hot topic in 2019, with SpaceX; Blue Origin; jaw-dropping images of Ultima Thule; and repeating, fast radio bursts from deep space all grabbing headlines. Gregg Maryniak went deep into these topics and also discussed the current fascination around the eventual colonization of Mars. Suffice it to say that Gregg thinks “Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids,” and he’s more optimistic about other options for creating a “Plan B” for humanity in the event that Earth faces a catastrophic threat. However, as fast as technology is moving, living in free space is still many years away and in the meantime, we need to make sure we are taking good care of our species’ Plan A, Earth.

3. Embrace ambiguity, embrace failure, embrace the unknown.

Our final session of the first day of the EP was with Dan Klein and focused on how we can improve our relationship with ambiguity. This improv-based session is much more than a fun, energetic session strategically positioned at the point in the day when jet lag is at its worst. It also helps our EP class prepare for the week ahead by taking risks, and bonding and practicing the art of open-mindedness together. Not only was this a top takeaway for the January class, but it is also just great advice as we head into a year that is rich with uncertainty.

It is a busy time here at SU, and our team is already looking forward to welcoming our March EP class in just a few weeks and hearing the takeaways that they uncover during the course of their week together. Also, there are likely to be some exciting things you will be hearing about in the coming months, so please stay in touch! In the meantime, embrace ambiguity, embrace failure, embrace the unknown.

If these topics are interesting to you, I urge you to apply to the EP, especially if you have a unique perspective that you believe is underrepresented in the conversation about the future we are building. While the application process is competitive, one of our core beliefs is that diverse groups create the best solutions, and we welcome adding your perspective to the conversation.