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Challenge a key motivator – astronaut twins

Dual achievers: astronauts and identical twins Scott Kelly, left. and Mark Kelly

Identical twins who both became Nasa astronauts spoke of the importance of challenge as a motivator at a major human resources conference in Atlanta.

Mark and Scott Kelly shared their experiences that helped shaped their views on teamwork and leadership, how they overcame adversities and how they dealt with tragedy at the Association for Talent Development’s international conference.

The Kelly twins discussed strategies for dealing with challenges and adapting to change, and gave the audience an inspirational presentation.

Mark is married to Gabrielle Giffords, the former US Representative. She was shot in the head while meeting with some of her constituents in her congressional district. Her survival beat the odds and her recovery was a big challenge to Mark as well as her.

The Kelly brothers served in the US Navy and subsequently joined Nasa in 1996. Mark is now retired after having spent 15 years with Nasa. Mark spent more than 50 days in space and commanded both the space shuttle Endeavour, including its final flight in 2011, and the space shuttle Discovery. He is one of only two individuals who have visited the International Space Station on four different occasions. Scott is continuing in his profession.

Scott’s record-breaking year in space was from March 2015 to March 2016, during which he and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko did many live interviews. The historic mission also included Nasa’s Twins Study, monitoring Scott from space and Mark on the ground, in an experiment to understand how space affects the human body. Scott’s memoir, Endurance: My Year in Space and Our Journey to Mars, will feature his life and career experiences and will be published in the fall.

“We chose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” That famous John F. Kennedy quote is how the Kellys began their keynote address. While sharing stories about their journeys that took them from New Jersey to the US Navy and ultimately to Nasa, the twin brothers underscored the importance of taking on challenges and staying focused on achieving goals.

The brothers admitted that they were not particularly good students. “I graduated in the bottom half of my class in school,” said Scott.

During flight school for the US Navy, both brothers struggled with landing a plane on an aircraft carrier. The brothers could easily have quit at that stage.

Mark explained that after several failed attempts, he was asked “Are you sure this career is for you?” That made him even more motivated to succeed. According to Scott, “life is a set of challenges”. It was the challenge that kept them going and of course there’s a lesson there for all of us. In countless seminars I’ve conducted over the years challenge keeps coming up as one of the most motivating factors for people in the workplace.

“I didn’t give up,” Mark said. “How good you are at the beginning of anything you try is not an indicator of how good you will become.”

He also stressed the importance of paying attention to detail in managing behaviour. Scott emphasised how important it is to take risks. No doubt he was referring to calculated risks as opposed to reckless risks. He added: “For all of us, having goals is incredibly important.”

Scott dispelled the myth that the sky is the limit. He and his brother are evidence that it’s not. He went on his first combat mission on January 17, 1991 and dropped eight 1,000lb bombs. He described the mission and the attacks by enemy aircraft.

On that mission he learnt that it’s important to “focus on the things we can control and forget the rest”.

Mark described the experience in the shuttle and told us that “every 45 minutes there’s a sunrise or a sunset”. The spacecraft travels at a speed of 17,500mph.

He talked about the planned trip to Mars and said that it would take six months to get there and another six to get back — a full year spent travelling.

Scott said that “you don’t see any borders when you look at Earth”. He also said that he learnt a lot when he was in space for a year. He claims that if we want to cure cancer we can do it. “If we can dream it, we can do it. He ended up by saying “teamwork is where the dream works”.

The event was held from May 21 to 24 at the Georgia World Congress Centre. There were 78 countries represented with 1,800 attendees from outside the US. This annual conference is the premier gathering for professionals in the learning and development field.

The conference theme was Content, Community and Global Perspectives. There were ten content tracks: career development, global human resource development, human capital, instructional design, leadership development, learning measurement and analytics, learning technologies, management, science of learning and training delivery.

There were four industry tracks: government, healthcare, higher education and sales enablement. The 450 speakers were selected for their ability to provide tools that can be used by learning and development professionals to improve performance and increase productivity in their workplaces. There were over 300 sessions.

There were 428 exhibitors spread over 26 aisles in the huge exhibition hall.

There were no registered attendees from Bermuda. There was one last year and this may be a reflection of our current economic situation as Bermuda has been represented better in the past.

Maybe Bermudian HR people are saving themselves for the Society for Human Resource Management Conference in New Orleans later this month.

ATD was founded in 1943 as the American Society of Training Directors. Its name was subsequently changed to the American Society for Training and Development and just three years ago was changed again to ATD. By changing its name the association recognised its global impact and membership. It dropped the word American from its name. Its purpose has always been to support the education and development of those responsible for training others.

Paul Loftus will also be covering the Society for Human Resource Management Conference in New Orleans from June 18 to 21. He would like to hear from any Bermudians who will be attending the conference

Paul Loftus is an industrial/organisational psychologist, an intercultural consultant and a freelance journalist. He has been conducting both public and in-company management development seminars in Bermuda for over 20 years. He can be reached at (514) 282-9111; ploftus@colba.net; www.paulloftus.com