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The Final Puzzle: Seeing the Deal and Dealing With the Unforeseeable

When I started my career in the early 1980’s, the remnants of this Apollo-era NASA were still there. But by the late 1990’s, I had seen a blurring of vision combined with a changeover in the management chain from success-driven leaders to bureaucrats who were more driven by personal career ambition than the success of the organization. The net effect on that once-great Agency was to strip it of its capacity to perform miracles like it had in the 1960’s. The net effect for me was to strip me of my desire to be part of that organization.

In the final days of my tenure with NASA and at the very time that I was becoming acutely aware of the critical role that leadership and vision plays in an organization, I happened to find a printed copy of a presentation by Colin Powell entitled “A Leadership Primer” thumb- tacked to a bulletin board at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The presentation was one that Powell had given after his retirement as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the first President Bush, and while he was on the public-lecture circuit prior to becoming the Secretary of State under the second President Bush.48

This presentation was a collection of eighteen lessons that the retired, four-star general had learned were key to effective leadership and management.49 As I read through them, I could identify many specific examples within NASA where a lack of vision coupled with poor leadership abilities directly violated one, or several of Powell’s eighteen leadership lessons. By the time I finished reading through the list, my decision to leave the Agency was final – I was convinced that I had no future in an organization that was stagnant due to lack of vision and leadership.

Why do I drag you through this particular episode of my personal life? Well, up until this point in the book, I have deciphered The Inventor’s Puzzle into five pieces, and explored these pieces with enough detail that you are now much better equipped to develop a business plan and build a team that can execute the plan. At this point, I want to talk about two final aspects of product innovation business that are critical to your success and that will consume many hours of thoughtful contemplation and deliberation after you actually launch the enterprise. Addressing

My American Journey, by Colin Powell with Joseph E. Persico, Random House (1995) For reference, I have included Gen. Powell’s lessons on leadership at the end of this b o o k. 48 49


The Inventor’s Puzzle, Copyright © 2009 by Mark Lake

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