the blog

Queen’s Astronomer

Yesterday, I noticed a new blog on the New York Times website. Entitled “Across the Universe: A Guide to the Past, Present and Future of the Cosmos,” it is written by “three British astronomers.” As I began reading it, I took a cursory look at the three authors before moving down the column. I found it fascinating. Here were three scientists who could write in an engaging way, describing the universe, discussing the big bang and other topics usually relegated to astrophysicists. I eagerly anticipated the next post.

After finishing reading, I went back to look at the names of the authors and did a double take. One of the names was Brian May. “Surely,” I thought to myself, “not the Brian May, guitarist for the rock group Queen.” So I looked at the mini-bios of the writers and sure enough, it was the Brian May, guitarist for the rock group Queen.

Needless to say, I was floored. I have always loved the music of Queen. I actually saw them in concert years ago, when lead singer Freddie Mercury was still alive. They put on a fabulous show with their unique and quintessential style, vocal harmonies and incredible instrumental musicianship. I can tell you that as the holder of an undergraduate degree in music, I have high standards that most contemporary musicians can’t even begin to meet.

Anyway, back to Brian May, astronomer. After I got over my shock, I did a little research. Turns out May had begun his doctoral studies on interplanetary dust before Queen hit it big in the 1970s. Certainly, the band’s success sidetracked him somewhat, but he never really left it behind having been a regular guest on a monthly BBC program called “The Sky at Night” that has been running for 50 years! (One of the other authors is the host of this program.) May’s website contains a regularly updated blog that covers his many interests, contains information on and photos of cosmological events and answers questions from fans. I must tell you, I already had great respect for this musician due to his tremendous talent. Suddenly, though, his star shot up several notches in my book (no pun intended).

So what does any of this have to do with leadership communication? We can go in a number of directions here, but there are two that are most striking to me. The first is how prone we are to label people. It is so easy to filter information through a particular lens and not look more deeply. This narrow typecasting has significant implications:

1. Employers that cannot look beyond a worker’s job description and, thus, miss additional talents that worker can bring to the job.

2. Employees that stay within their narrow interpretation of their job and refuse to go beyond to help their companies thrive and grow.

3. Elected officials who become “legends in their own minds” and lose touch with the people they supposedly represent.

4. Voters who base their political choices on which candidate they think it would be more fun to have a beer with.

5. Business owners who lose sight of their customers and begin to take them for granted.

6. Customers who constantly change their business affiliations because they are chasing price, even if the former supplier was doing a great job.

The second striking consequence is has to do with outside interests. We hear a lot in our world today about how all-consuming work is. It seems to occupy more and more of our “down” time as we constantly check our blackberrys and emails so as not to miss the next big idea. (I’m as guilty as the next person of this, by the way, as I sit here on Sunday, writing this post.) We’ve grown addicted to being in constant touch. But really, how often do these self-imposed tethers actually yield something that would not have been there on Monday morning?

Spending time sinking our teeth into doing something that is not work-related is healthy. It makes us more interesting. It has a freeing effect on our thinking, enabling us to be more creative. This benefits our work and our businesses. By not widening our horizons, we are severely limiting ourselves. Just ask Brian May, whose interest beyond his “day” job is the entire universe.

P.S.: Brian May received his doctorate in astrophysics in June of this year (2007)

Copyright 2007 Ruth Sherman. All Rights Reserved.

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