A Great Leader and a Quantum Computer

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A chip constructed by D-Wave Systems Inc.

Quantum computers have the potential to solve problems that would take a classical computer longer than the age of the universe. – Professor David Deutsch, Oxford


As you begin to study tinier and tinier parts of the universe, you will eventually reach a point where the regular rules of physics no longer apply. This is the realm of quantum mechanics. It’s a strange place full of paradoxes and mysteries where absurd sounding statements like “something can be in two different places at the same time” are the norm. A computer that could make use of quantum-mechanical phenomena to solve incredibly complex problems has long been the dream of physicists and science fiction writers alike.


In 2007 a Canadian company called D Wave announced that it had built the first commercial quantum computer. In 2013 the company sold one to Google and one to NASA. A recent interview I watched of D Wave’s founder, Geordie Rose, provided insights into how effective leadership made the dream of the quantum computer become a reality. His story also provides great examples of what we at Sterling Integrators help leaders do: 1.) determine who you are, 2.) find a vision that incorporates your passion, 3.) form the right team to get there, and 4.) lead with conviction.


While an undergraduate, Rose spent an entire year taking only those courses that sounded most interesting to him. These ended up being primarily advanced physics and mathematics courses that were pushing the boundaries of human knowledge. From this experience Rose discovered his passion for theoretical physics and the mathematical tools required to understand and explore that field.


After graduating he applied to numerous PhD programs. But not long after enrollng in one of them he made a sobering discovery: he lacked the kind of mathematical brilliance required to have a shot at becoming a great physicist. Instead of allowing this discovery to cripple him, Rose began to look for an alternative way forward, one that would be propelled by his passion, guided by his strengths, and in light of his weaknesses.


Rose decided to build a quantum computer. Perhaps he could not generate the technological breakthroughs himself, but he resolved to build and lead the team that could. Hiring the best people has almost become a cliché in the business world and often times the idea is ridiculed by cash-strapped business owners. “Of course”, they say, “I’d love to hire the best, but how can I afford them?” D Wave was only a startup at that time and Rose faced the same challenge. His solution was to steal the best talent from lucrative jobs and prestigious research positions by effectively conveying his compelling vision for the future and promoting a job at D Wave as a shot at making history.


Many of those approached by Rose felt constrained by the bureaucratic, stodgy cultures of their existing employers and a job at D Wave represented a place of freedom and autonomy—with the potential for lots of financial upside. After Rose had hired a few of the best minds in the world, getting more to join became much easier. He discovered that many of the best people don’t simply want to work for the place that offers them the biggest paycheck; they want to go somewhere they can feel fulfilled.

Image courtesy of User:Sreejithk2000 via Wikimedia Commons

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