"The More Minds the Merrier"
Ghost Authored by Jessica Walton
Interview with Robie Samanta Roy, Lockheed Martin's Vice President of Technology and Government Affairs
Right before I made the decision to join the U.S. Air Force, General Larry Welch, the former Chief of Staff, warned me, “There’s a fifty-fifty chance you’re not going to find it beneficial.” I was 32-years old at the time with a satisfying career in academia and a think tank, standing on the brink of joining the military world to expand my involvement in national security and space. I think what the general meant was that the culture I was about to enter would be radically different from what I was used to, and that there was a chance that the military ethos wouldn’t suit my tastes.
Living at the intersection of different cultures was actually familiar to me. My father, who is originally from India, met my Midwestern mother in the U.S. and then relocated briefly to Calcutta where I was born. My family then returned to my mother’s Midwest roots, settling in Wisconsin. As a kid, I loved everything that had to do with space and aviation. I ultimately wound up studying aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, all the way up to the PhD and post-doc levels, before joining the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) in Alexandria, Virginia.
I’m sure much to the relief of the general, the Air Force turned out to be a great fit, although I did suffer a bit of culture shock showing up in Tennessee for basic training (to be commissioned) where I ate more fried food in six weeks than I have ever consumed in my entire life. As a reservist, my training was a little more civilized than being hurled through the mud with a rucksack, but I still learned to proudly wear the uniform, keep my quarters tidy and march. The military also paired me up with an experienced prior non-commissioned officer so that we could learn from each other’s backgrounds.
I joined the military to expand my perspective on national security from purely academic and theoretical to the practical. This bridge turned out to be very relevant when I was later “deployed” to the Pentagon and onwards through various strategy and policymaking echelons in Washington D.C. Whether it was on the Air Staff or at the National Reconnaissance Office, or my civilian career at the Senate Armed Services Committee or the White House, I saw how important it was to ensure that decision makers were always connecting high-level strategy with pragmatic considerations according to realities on the ground. As a leader, when making complex decisions it’s important to maximize the diversity of thought and inputs available to you during the decision-making process.
Colonel Pete Warden, a space visionary and astronomer who actually planted the seed in my decision to join the Air Force, also involved me in the International Space University with about a hundred other young professionals and students from around the world. It was a 10-week multidisciplinary summer program that included a blended education of science, technology, engineering, law, policy, business and even medicine. We were split into two design teams that summer to develop two sets of scientific space missions. It was fascinating to work with colleagues from all of these different countries, wielding a wide range of abilities and perspectives.
Joining forces with all of these minds that were so different from my own compelled me to approach complex problems with fresh eyes and to better appreciate working with diverse teams later on at Lockheed Martin. Through the company’s Military-Veteran Business Resource Group (MilVet BRG), I continue to gain this enriching exposure through the variety of inspirational speakers who share their personal stories of growth and overcoming challenges.
Clarity of mission and sound technical-scientific assessments are critical, but if a team is to truly succeed in their mission they need to contain the right team member ingredients, so to speak: you need the dreamers, the doers, and the liaisons who can bridge the gap between the two types. You need a resourceful program manager to keep the pieces glued together, and a leader who can clearly communicate the objectives and show each member where he or she belongs in the bigger picture.
Leaders should never stop learning. The more diversity of minds you have on your team the better position you’re in to appreciate the dynamics of the complex. By working with a clear vision and an inventive team, only the universe is the limit.