What Does Teaching Robots to Walk Teach Us About Being a Better Leader?

Close up of feet walking on rocks at lake shoreline

Robots have been with us for a long time and they do many thing for us already. They build cars, pack your breakfast cereal box, pick and sort your Amazon.com order, etc. In fact, if you live in a developed society there’s virtually no chance you do not interact with a robotic device directly or indirectly every day. Restaurants, medical services, schools, cities, and more all use robots. As capable and helpful as robots are, teaching them to walk like humans is one of the great unrealized quests of robotics engineering.

Jonathan Hurst, CTO of Ability Robotics said that getting bipedal robots to walk is “a very deep and complex problem.” The problem involves research in motion, balance, power, sensors, transfers of power between “legs,” phases of activation and release during and between steps, and so on. All of those machine factors interact with a vast array of environmental factors: angles of motion and ascent, uneven surfaces, shifting and unstable surfaces, slippery surfaces, dynamic external forces (wind, being pushed or hit, sources of interference), and more.

Hurst said, “People assume that walking and running is relatively simple or straightforward simply because it’s common.” As you can see, what most of us take for granted is an amazingly complex issue. When you wake up in the morning and take that first step, you do not think about the coordination and control required to make that “simple” motion happen: feet (comprised of 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments), ankles, hips, core (also very, very complex), arms, neck, and head (which houses the brain—a supercomputer that manages all of this).

In fact, “it’s never been completely clear how human beings accomplish the routine, taken-for-granted miracle we call walking, let alone running” wrote David Stauth at Phys.org.

Walking is common but that doesn’t mean it is easy to do!

Leadership is like that, too. We see leadership, influencing people toward a goal or purpose, everyday, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to do.

Millions of dollars are invested and people like Hurst work every day to solve the problem of getting robots to walk like humans. And, with deep respect for their work and passion … it’s just robots!

What about your leadership skill? Do you work every day to be a better leader? Do you measure results? Do you assess the data? Do you research better solutions? Do you invest in your skills? Do you work with fellow leaders to sharpen your skills?

There is a difference between you and Hurst. For Hurst, the central purpose of his work is to solve the robot-walking challenge. For you, the central purpose of your work is not to be a better leader. Being a better leader facilitates the primary mission and goal of your organization.

Nevertheless, leading is the most important tool you have in succeeding in that mission. Leadership may not be your main mission, but it is your main tool. If you do one thing every day to improve your leadership, there will be a dramatic impact on your mission and goal.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Photo by Tamara Menzi. Photo available at Unsplash under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

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