Pick the Best People

Sometimes problems are solved by assembling a team. Aerospace companies, graduate schools, and government think tanks often rely on the ability of a group of experts to crack a tough problem.

There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to the two-heads-are-better-than-one approach. The most important teambuilding caveat is expressed by Jeffrey Fox in his insightful book How to Become a Great Boss. Fox scores a weak or average manager a 7 on his 10-point scale of competency and then observes that 9s pick 9s and 10s, but 7s pick 5s, and 5s pick 3s. The most qualified, confident team leaders select people of equal or greater talent compared with themselves. They are unafraid of brilliant, creative people and look forward to working with them and learning from them. Weaker leaders fear smart workers, so they hire individuals of lesser skills so as to not feel threatened. This tendency of a weak leader to fear extraordinary ability in others will result in the creation of a weak team.

Fox's advice is clear: Pick the best people, starting with the managers.

In the best book written (so far) about human space exploration, The Case for Mars, Dr. Robert Zubrin talks about the composition of the first crew to land on Mars. He suggests that there will be no need for a Captain Kirk or a Dr. McCoy. Instead, for a crew of four it would be best to have two Mr. Spocks and two Scottys.

The need for a strong commander to captain the ship and issue orders will not be as important as it is presented in Star Trek. The spaceship to Mars will be highly automated and therefore will not require a highly trained pilot to fly it. The crew will be exceptionally intelligent and motivated to begin with—and will not need a disciplinarian to crack the whip. A medical doctor who has spent a great deal of time training to recognize and treat a wide variety of traumas and diseases will not be required. The crew will be excellent specimens of health, screened for all possible illness and medical problems. In fact, astronaut medical screenings are so thorough (some would say invasive—they examine every nook and cranny) that often a candidate will learn for the first time that he or she has an eye defect, a kidney stone, or even a tumor.

The crew will be trained to perform first aid and certain paramedical procedures. They will not have to treat each other for heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes, AIDS, or Alzheimer's. They won't have to perform hysterectomies, colostomies, open-heart bypass operations, or brain surgery. They won't have to constantly examine and treat the captain for rare STDs picked up from alien encounters of the fourth kind (though this may have been Dr. McCoy's main function).

Much more important in a human mission to Mars is the ability to get there and to get back and the reason for going there in the first place (science and exploration). Two Mr. Spocks will serve science well. Two Scottys will provide the engineering to maintain and repair the ship to ensure a safe return.

Too bad for Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy. But their fate was already predicted in the Star Trek episode "The Ultimate Computer." They were designated "nonessential" personnel.

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