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Morning Talk, August 5th, Dr Chris Rowley

Good Morning everyone.

I have some advice for you that may sound a little strange – be a zero! I know that this seems like very peculiar advice to give, but bear with me, all will become clear.

Actually, this is not even my advice, but some wisdom that comes from Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut. For those that don’t know him, he is an amazing Canadian, a man who has been the best at everything he does, but is still a humble, “Ned Flanders” kind of guy. He was in the military and wanted to be an astronaut. So figured the best path was to become a fighter pilot. So he did the jet training course, and came top – the only way to guarantee he would fly fighter jets. He wanted to go to the US Top Gun academy, so he became the best fighter pilot in Canada. At the Top Gun academy, where all the best pilots from the US Marine, AirForce, Navy and all over the world train, he graduated as the top pilot. Then he applied to NASA with hundreds of people as amazing as him, and he got in. Even then, most astronauts never actually make it into space, but he did, three times, finally as the commander of the International Space Station. So Chris Hadfield has continually gone into new and very challenging environments and ended up as the best. But he has some advice to help us all cope with new situations.

We all have new situations. Even as a doctor, there are always new courses, new skills or new committees where I go and have to adapt and learn. The campers here are all thrown into new challenges at camp – new tent mates, new skills, new programs. Counsellors have to take on new responsibilities and new tasks. And the CITs especially, have a whole month of everything new in terms of the roles they play as leaders and the extra responsibility – as well as being evaluated 24 hours a day for a month. As part of my job, I have medical students and residents come and train and learn with me. They are all very smart and very keen and very nice. But sometimes one of them will try too hard to be great and it always becomes disruptive and annoying. But I could never quite put my finger on describing what they were doing. Chris Hadfield has done that for me.

So in a new situation, he feels that we can divide people into three categories.

Minus 1 – they are actively harmful, and create problems

Zero – their impact is neutral, they don’t tip the balance to better or worse

Plus 1 – someone who actively adds value to the group

Now this sounds like we should all try to be a plus one. And eventually, we should all hope to be a plus one and adding to the group. But here is the catch, when you show up new, desperately wanting and trying to be a plus 1, you end up being perceived as a minus 1.

Let me give you an example to help explain this. If we have a group of campers all taking kayaking. The minus 1 is the kid who shows up late, doesn’t listen, interrupts, does the drills wrong. The person trying to be the plus 1 is the kid who has some experience at kayaking and really wants everyone to know it – he says “my instructor in the city said to do it differently,” “my dad said you should hold your paddle like this,” “when i kayaked in the Himalayas we did it better.” We all know kids like these two, but before you start looking around your table trying to figure out who is a plus or minus 1 – look at yourself. At times we all have little bit of a minus 1 or a plus 1 inside us in certain situations. This talk is to encourage self reflection, not judgment. So how does the Zero handle this – he shows up early to ask if he can help set up, he listens to the instructor and tries to do the drills exactly as told, he helps his friends if they ask him, but keeps quiet otherwise, he stays late to clean up and over time he becomes a plus 1.

The same applies to counsellors. A new counsellor at the swim dock shouldn’t come in and try to change how things are done on the first day, you watch, learn, observe and learn how it is done here and why, and then over time that person’s previous experience and knowledge will be helpful, and maybe will help make positive changes.

So whether you are commanding the space station, learning to kayak, or taking on a new job or responsibility, in any new situation do not be a minus 1, do not be a plus 1, aim to be a Zero and you will gradually become a big plus 1.