Former Manager of the Mars Exploration Program and Author
Donna Shirley was the manager of the Mars Exploration Program and the original leader of the team that built the Sojourner Rover, the first automated vehicle on the surface of another planet. Building the rover against the backdrop of a fiscally conservative public and industry for 25 million (one year’s salary for a professional basketball player and a fraction of the cost of any other space project) makes her not just a heroine, but a brilliant strategist and manager. Add entrepreneur, adventurer, understanding big sister, engineer, professor, spokesperson, cheerleader, bureaucratic warrior, and creative leader to that list.
"Management is a balancing act," she says. "It is finely balancing the amounts of leadership, control, authority, encouragement, and autonomy so that the team maintains that optimum level of performance between the extremes of anarchy and slavery that becomes the critical factor. To survive, the organization must operate at the edge of chaos."
Donna Shirley has found ways to keep teams inflamed with visions of the miracles they can accomplish. This is what she did with her own 30 person Mars Rover team. They not only found belief in their mission and goals, they did so to the point where they accomplished the "impossible" without realizing it.
Her message is applicable to any challenging situation in which people must believe in their own talents while relying on the talent of others to accomplish an impossible dream. She believes that an energized collective consciousness can find ways around any obstacle, no matter how daunting. She is out to make sure others understand the same message. She has codified her management process in a tested system for managing creative enterprises and, in her current position as an engineering professor at the University of Oklahoma, carries the message to young engineers and business people.
Since the landing of Mars Pathfinder and its rover Sojourner on the red planet in July 1997, Donna has appeared on CNN, ABC, NBC, the Discovery Channel, PBS, and many local and international television and radio stations. She is the author of an autobiography, Managing Martians: The Extraordinary Story of a Woman's Lifelong Quest to Get to Mars. She has written an online book, Managing Creativity: A Practical Guide to Inventing, Developing and Producing Innovative Products. In February 2004, Donna Shirley was named director of Experience Science Fiction, the world’s first science fiction museum, to oversee creative programs and operations teams. Her life story was recently the subject of a PBS special on the Masters of Technology series.
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