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Wisdom from Outer Space Phones

Updated: Feb 25, 2019

I've been enjoying reading and listening to stories that delve into businesses, both from an overall business lesson perspective and also from a branding angle. It's interesting to learn why a business did what it did and how those impacts ripple outward. For example, did you know that FEMA actually gets a lot of input from Waffle House about storm severity? (Thanks to the podcast "Household Name" for that one, although it's a story for another time.)

Recently, I read the book Eccentric Orbits by John Bloom, which recounted the events surrounding the Iridium satellite telephone network. Motorola designed and launched the innovative system in the 1990s, decided it was losing money and moved to shut it down. Former airline executive Dan Colussy recognized Iridium's value and assembled a group to save it and buy it from Motorola. The book was well-written and captured the vats of drama that came out of this entire episode, and from it, I gleaned a few takeaways of my own. 1. When it's "my way or the highway," your way may lead to your downfall. Throughout the book, Motorola put up incredible resistance to selling off Iridium. They'd made their decision to shut it down, and they made it incredibly hard for Colussy and team to put together the deal that finally saved it. Goalposts were frequently and inexplicably moved, final deadlines were set with less-than-adequate notice.... It got to the point where the U.S. government declared they would never do business with Motorola again as a result of their dealings with the company as part of the Iridium saga. Whether you believe that the government's decision was the pivot point that put Motorola on the path to eventual failure, the company's hubris and perception that it could dictate to the marketplace – rather than collaborate – definitely had an impact. Motorola dominated radios, TVs, telephones, space exploration and semiconductors for over 70 years, but within a decade of the Iridium episode, the company was defunct. (And not because Iridium cost them so much; Colussy and team made it work.) 2. It really is about your network and relationships. Colussy worked tirelessly to build a multinational "coalition of the willing" to fund his purchase of Iridium. In the end, it took support from some of the most unlikely of places, including Jesse Jackson and the Pentagon, to push the deal to completion.

Colussy didn't initially know a lot of the people who joined his group. But thanks to the relationships he'd built and cultivated over the years, he was introduced to people who could help him in his quest. He was able to bring the power of his network to bear on this project, and it paid off for him.

3. You can find personal connections in the most unlikely of places. I believe that stories are most impactful when the reader/listener forms connections to the characters and players. Whether that's selling a product or service by making it resonate personally with the consumer's needs or making elements of the story relatable, emotional connections are a powerful driver of human behavior. At one point in Eccentric Orbits, the author mentions how Colussy had to shut down an entire division of a company he had been running. Part of that entailed going to a plant in Southeastern Connecticut and laying off the entire staff – and I realized that one of the employees he laid off was my father. Somehow, that one sentence hit home hard, and it kind of made me appreciate the book even more because it established a personal bond with me over that small detail.

There are lessons everywhere that can be applied to everyday life, even when doing something as simple as reading a book for pleasure.

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