“The clarity and starling nature of what Molina and Rowland came up with–the notion that something you could hold in your hand could affect the entire global environment, not just the room in which you were standing–was extraordinary.”
That’s Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences, paying homage to F. Sherwood Rowland in an obituary in today’s New York Times. Dr. Rowland was the guy who said, way back in 1974, that aerosols could destroy the ozone layer. He’d done the lab work. He had the proof. What did he get for his trouble? Denigration and shunning by “the Academy.” His legitimate findings were derided as “disco-science.” He and his work remained personae non grata for a full two decades before the thinking world caught up with him and he was awarded a Nobel prize in 1995.
This is leadership, people. A story from which we can all take a lesson, particularly those of us who are inveterate crowd-pleasers and line-towers. There’s a place for those values too, but many of us–particularly many of us women–need to cultivate Dr. Rowland’s Zen detachment from others’ esteem. We live in a healthy climate that promotes collaboration and conversation. At the same time, we must be ready to weather the storms of negativity that can arise when we reveal new truths. How interesting that our language even permits me to write “truth” in the plural here and add the modifier “new.” Is there not only “truth,” one truth in the singular? What Dr. Rowland arrived at was not an alternative point of view, but the truth, replacing not other truths but, in fact, as Prince might say, misconceptions-formerly-known-as-truth. Even the most learned among us resort to kindergarten tactics, mudslinging and I-won’t-eat-lunch-at-your-table ostracism, when our sacred cows are threatened. I’m so grateful to be reminded of Dr. Rowland’s story. To remember that someone else’s passionate conviction that I am wrong may be the first indication that I am dead right. And that, per the butterfly effect, whatsoever I might hold in my hand at any scale, from a scientific theory to a household cleanser, will in fact–in fact–be felt around the world.Come join me for a conversation about leadership at the Women’s Power Strategy Conference in Marin County, CA on Saturday March 24. The wonderful artwork above can be found at Joshua Page’s A Sensai’s Journey