On Wings of Eagles

My sister-in-law recently recommended that I read Ken Follett’s On Wings of Eagles about extricating Ross Perot’s falsely accused EDS employees from prison in Iran during the fall of the Shah. It was a fascinating story, and often quite moving. I found various comments, listed below, quite relevant to our own Chemists Without Borders enterprise.

As I may have mentioned before, Chemists Without Borders, like most enterprises, is as much about human relations as about anything else, for it is only through successful human interactions that our goals are reached. Few of us, however, have had any training on the subject. Indeed, with all due respect, I think some of us, including myself, may have chosen scientific and engineering occupations to avoid human interaction. One of my own goals for Chemists Without Borders is to provide resources which help us improve our ability to interact successfully with others.

Finding the best man for the job was Perot’s specialty.
During every episode on The Goon Show on BBC radio when I was growing up in the 1950s, a particular character would have reason to say, “Do you think he’s the right man for the job?”
He did just one thing superbly well: pick the right man, give him the resources, motivate him, then leave him alone to do the job.
Good advice.
[Of Bull Simons] He was a meticulous, endlessly patient planner; he was cautious — one of his catchphrases was: “That’s a risk we don’t have to take.”
It’s easy to confuse “risk” with “risky”. Many activities, like driving a car, have risk. Risky, by contrast, is driving the car drunk, smoking a cigarette, eating a sandwich, and drinking hot coffee whilst talking on a cell phone.
This was a persistent failing of Perot’s: when he was in high gear, he trod on people’s toes and never knew he had hurt them. He was a remarkable man, but he was not a saint.
When I was taught about Social Styles, it was as if I’d been provided with steel toe caps on my shoes.
Perot’s single-mindedness, his ability to focus narrowly on one thing and shut out distractions until he got the job done, had its disagreeable side. He would wound people.
I never forgot the scene in the film Lawrence of Arabia where Lawrence slowly extinguished a burning match with his bare fingers. When asked by an observer, “Doesn’t it hurt?” he said, “Of course.” “So what’s the trick,” he was asked. “The trick is not to mind,” he replied.
His occasional unfeeling harshness was just part of the incredible energy and determination without which he would never have created EDS.
While I disapprove of callousness, I came to realize that for some people it was sometimes a necessary component of their greatness. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.
There had been times, in business, when EDS had been ready to admit defeat but had gone on to victory because Perot himself had insisted on going one more mile: this was what leadership was all about.
Never quit!
…: she understood her husband’s concept of duty and she never complained. That was why he could stay focused on what he had to do, and block out negative thoughts that would excuse inaction. He was lucky to have her.
While we are not all so fortunate, the goal is worthy. For those of us so blessed, stay mindful of the blessings and acknowledge them.
You never said: “I can’t do that because …” You always said: “This is the progress I have made so far, and this is the problem I am working on right now…”
I am proud to say this is an attitude commonly found within Chemists Without Borders.
[Rashid] It was easy to manipulate people if you understood the psychology of the human being. You just had to study the people, comprehend their situation, and figure out their needs.
The book gives several examples of Rashid’s natural prowess in this. The necessary skills can be learned by anyone. Manipulation, however, is not something I recommend, but helping people meet their goals in ways that coincide with our own is a healthy win-win.
The decision was made. If you go through life thinking about all the bad things that can happen, you soon talk yourself into doing nothing at all. Concentrate on the problems that can be solved.
If I understand Thomas Khun correctly in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, this is precisely how we tend to select problems, knowingly or not.
As Simons talked, Coburn admired how he announced his decision in such a way that they all thought they were being asked for their opinions rather than being told what to do.
If we own an idea, if we think it was ours, we tend to be more committed to capitalizing on it.

There is a book that has been translated into many different languages and has over the decades sold millions of copies around the world because of the wisdom therein. Huge numbers of people have read the book, and if you mention it in a crowd of people, you will get common acknowledgment and often laughter. Ask these same people if they’ve actually read the book, and most will say no. If you were to read only one book on the subject of human relations, this should be it. It is How to Win Friends and Influence People. I strongly recommend it, and that you read it in the manner the author prescribes in the preface. Happy reading.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *