I am gobsmacked by all the NASA scientists are showing us with the first set of pictures from the James Webb Space Telescope. Mind-blowing is not an overstatement.
As the news has rippled through our consciousness, I’ve also read the reactions of others on social media, blogs, and mass media sites. I watched last evening’s extraordinary NOVA documentary on PBS, Ultimate Space Telescope, which took the story of the telescope, nicknamed JWST, from inception up until the first release of images earlier this week on Tuesday, July 12th.
While the NOVA documentary featured NASA engineers who could explain complicated scientific concepts for the layperson, many of the descriptions and stories I read are more technical than my brain can handle at the moment. But my friend — innovation consultant and author Alan Gregerman — hit the nail on the head for me with his short LinkedIn post on what struck him as extraordinary about JWST. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I thought I’d just share Alan’s thoughts.
Like many of you I am in awe of the pictures coming from the James Webb telescope. The development of the telescope itself is a lesson in the importance of expertise, curiosity, open-mindedness, learning from tests and mistakes, and teamwork. And the new discoveries are already providing a remarkable source of data for improving our understanding of the universe, its history, and our place in it. As an innovation consultant it also reinforces the importance of exploring worlds near and far as a key to learning and creating breakthroughs in the things that matter most. Let’s hope that this positive and inspiring news can energize all of us, and especially young people, in these challenging times to stretch our thinking about what is possible and to never stop exploring.
Alan’s thoughts on teamwork reminded me of the 2018 Michael Lewis book The Fifth Risk, and the comment in that work that has stuck with me to this day:
The only thing any of us can do completely on our own is to have the start of a good idea.
Simple on its face yet it captures so much of the spirit that is needed today in America, from our leaders and from us, as citizens. Kathryn Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space and later the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), heard the “start of a good idea” line once and it stayed with her. The message she took from it was that exchanges of information from “odd groups, outsiders to the program under study,” were how people learn, adapt, and build exciting new tools and programs to serve humankind. Individuals seldom add value when they come into those conversations with strong agendas built on furthering their professional practice, a rigid ideology, or personal greed.
JWST was the result, in many ways, of a compact underpinned by strong bipartisan support in government that worked for the good of the community. The absolute necessity of our need to nurture and maintain the social compact for a country built on ideas and ideals is among my core beliefs.
Alan’s thoughts on the possibilities that come from wonder and exploration are very much in line with those expressed by Kathryn Sullivan. In these challenging times, I celebrate Alan’s optimism and look for the energy that results from this innovation. Expertise, curiosity, open-mindedness, learning from tests and mistakes, and teamwork among friends and strangers really does lead to brilliance and genius.
More to come…
All images from the James Webb Space Telescope (credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI.) The landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” speckled with glittering stars in the top image is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light by NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals for the first time previously invisible areas of star birth.