Stephen Hawking "didn't make the cut"

22 March 2018 12:54

Stephen William Hawking died on Friday the 14th March 2018 at the age of 76. He died on π (Pi) Day and the anniversary of Albert Einstein's birthday. One could say that it looks like all his stars were aligned.


It wasn't all plain sailing for Hawking though. When he was accepted into Cambridge to do his PhD, his preferred tutor wasn't available. Fred Hoyle was the UK's most famous astrophysicist but already had a full compliment of students. Hawking just didn't make the cut!

I'm sure we can all empathise with this; aiming for something and not quite getting it. But the difference between successful people and people who fail is how they recover from a setback. Successful people fail more times than failures!

So Hawking ended up with a tutor he knew nothing about, Dennis Sciama. And this was his breakthrough! Hoyle was so famous that he was in demand to speak globally and so was not around much for his students.

Sciama, just like a good leadership coach, enjoyed talking with Hawking about his theories. He encouraged him to explore the beginning of time. Whereas Hoyle disagreed with Hawking's theory to such an extent that he mockingly called it the "big bang theory". Looks like Hawking got the last laugh there.


And that was another trait that Hawking had in abundance - a sense of humour. Apparently he was doing an interview on television and the lighting engineer unplugged a lamp. Hawking slumped forward in his wheelchair. The engineer froze to the spot. When someone went to check on Hawking they could hear him in hysterics.

In business, people are often warned against trying to be funny. You can see why Human Resources are petrified of humour in the workplace. But a self-deprecating humour, when you laugh at yourself and not at the expense of others, will never offend.


And the third leadership trait that Hawking had in abundance was the humility to change his mind. If he hadn't been able to change his mind, he would never had discovered Hawking Radiation (where he mathematically proved that black holes radiate heat).

It was noted that Hawking's ability to change his mind was not done in a humble way but in a flurry of theatrics. However, he was confident in himself to change his mind about a previous decision. 

In summary, what the business world can learn from Stephen Hawking is:

  1. Resilience - don't let a knock back deter you from your end goal.
  2. Humour - laugh at yourself and the world laughs with you. This will gain you respect.
  3. Humility - be big enough to change your mind and admit you were wrong.
And I haven't even touched on his ability to be continually inquisitive about something that has never physically been seen!

My little brain is far too small to even understand 90% of what Stephen Hawking contributed to science. I do know though that his leadership pushed science into the mainstream, promoted it in schools and made the world a better place for his being here.

May he rest in peace and now know all the answers after his brief history in our time.

By Christopher Brooks

Director, Leadership & Learning

Bedtime Reading and Watching

If you want some light reading, then try this New Scientist article on Hawking's Legacy of Paradox. Even I was able to understand it - well, most of it!

And if you prefer watching moving images, then try Stephen Hawking's introduction to the London 2012 Paralympics

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