image title

Bob Bowman uses Michael Phelps to explain how to achieve excellence

ASU swim coach: Development is imagination, challenge and high performance.
ASU swim coach Bob Bowman helped lead Michael Phelps to 28 Olympic medals.
January 30, 2017

ASU swim coach reveals success secrets of his most famous pupil to crowd of hundreds of students at First-Year Success Center talk

Michael Phelps had a dream of winning Olympic gold medals, so when he dove into the pool in one race in Beijing and his goggles filled with water, blinding him, he still managed to set a world record.

It happened because he spent years on the small details of training and learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, according to Bob Bowman, his coach.

“There can be no growth without discontent,” said Bowman, who now is the head coach of the Arizona State University swim and dive team.

“Michael learned skills so that under pressure, he could perform. Don’t try to make everything perfect for yourself — be tough on yourself.”

On Monday, Bowman addressed several hundred students on how they can work toward achieving excellence in a talk sponsored by ASU’s First-Year Success Center. He frequently used Phelps as an example of someone who embodied excellence through planning and hard work — plus talent. Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, with 28 medals. Besides coaching Phelps, Bowman also was the men’s coach for the U.S. National swim team at the Rio Olympics in 2016, and was the assistant coach for the American men in the 2012 Olympics in London. He also has coached at the University of Michigan and the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.

“It isn’t a straight line to success,” Bowman said of his collaboration with Phelps, whom he coached since he was 10 years old. “We didn’t just have an idea, a dream, and then just go directly toward it. Success has a lot of ups and down, backward and forward. Over time, you move in the direction you want to be.”

Bowman said the three phases of personal development are imagination, challenge and high performance.

“Imagination is where you use your noggin and heart to come up with something that drives you,” he said.

Dreams are emotional and should be the catalyst for the hours of sometimes excruciating work that’s needed for success, he said. Then you set short-, medium- and long-term goals with clearly defined time frames.

“Write down your specific target. If you write something down, it’s more meaningful,” he said. “You don’t have to post it on Facebook. It can be very private.”

A crucial part of goal setting is visualizing success, in which you see yourself in a different place.

“You’re running a movie in your head of yourself attaining your goals,” he said. It’s a powerful tool he uses with his athletes.

“I want them to visualize in the most vivid way possible. I want them to smell the chlorine and see themselves swimming exactly the way they want to. Because the brain cannot distinguish between something that’s vividly imagined and something that is real.”

Phelps was so adept at visualization that he would have recurring dreams predicting his success, Bowman said.

The challenge phase is about the process — the daily practice and refinement of details.

In one Olympic race, Phelps was behind another swimmer, but ended up winning the gold medal by one-hundredth of a second because he had his palm outstretched and touched the wall before his opponent, whose hand was flexed. It was a detail that Phelps had practiced endlessly.

“Details matter. He went back to 12 years of me yelling at him about his finish,” Bowman said.

The high-performance phase is a natural outcome of the process that led up to it, Bowman said, and includes attitude and the ability to work through adversity, including the example of Phelps winning the gold with his eyes full of water, which he did by counting his strokes so he knew when to flip at the pool wall.

“You’ll have to adjust your plan,” he said, and that’s why coaches are important.

“The journey will be circuitous. It won’t be what you mapped out, but your coach is your GPS,” he said.

The freshmen and sophomores in the First-Year Success Center are assigned peer coaches to help them adjust to college life, excel in their classes, get involved in activities and clubs and find out about financial aid. Seventy-five upperclassmen and graduate students serve as the peer coaches.

Bowman told the peer coaches in the room to personalize their approaches.

“When I first started coaching, I only had a hammer so everything looked like a nail. That is incredibly effective, but it will wear you out. You cannot be other people’s motivation,” he said.

“I now have hammer, but I also have logic, I have a pat on the back, and I have empathy. So you want to add to your toolbox because it takes different tools to reach different people.”

Now in its fifth year, the free program works on all four campuses, according to Marisel Herrera, director of the First-Year Success Center.

“What we know from the coaching profession, whether it’s life coaching or athletic coaching, is that highly successful people in every walk of life employ coaches,” Herrera said. “It’s the smart thing to do. Celebrities do it, athletes do it, and we do it here at ASU.”

Top photo: Sun Devil Athletics head swimming coach Bob Bowman talks about how to achieve world-class excellence at a First-Year Success Center talk before more than 250 freshmen and sophomores at the Memorial Union on Monday. He gave insight into the mental game that gave his protégé Michael Phelps the ability to become the best Olympic swimmer. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


image title

ASU excels at DARPA-style problem solving

ASU ranks top 10 for DARPA Young Faculty Awards, ahead of Columbia, others.
'Managed research' concept expands through government, private companies.
January 30, 2017

University researchers leverage concept known as 'managed research' to drive innovation and development

During World War II, the government assembled the nation’s top scientists and tasked them with solving problems to win the war. The most famous result is the Manhattan Project, which created nuclear weapons on a windswept plateau in New Mexico.

Fast forward to the late 1950s. The Soviets launched Sputnik, catching the U.S. flat-footed. The government decided that couldn’t happen again. In response, Eisenhower created the Advanced Research Projects Agency. The object: to create and prevent strategic surprise.

In the years since, the agency has created the internet, GPS, drones and stealth technologies, among many other innovations that have trickled down to domestic use. Now called the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, it's the American version of James Bond’s Q branch.

The concept is called managed research, and Arizona State University has leveraged it as well as anybody. Faculty members are working on 23 DARPA projects. Six faculty in the past three years have won the DARPA Young Faculty Awards, bestowed on rising research stars in junior faculty positions at universities. ASU is eighth out of 115 universities — MIT is No. 1, with ASU coming in ahead of such institutions as Columbia and University of California-Berkeley — with the number of awards.

DARPA projects at ASU include a brain-drone swarm control interface created by Panagiotis Artemiadis (pictured above), an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Engineering professor Tom Sugar has created five wearable exo suits, including a jet pack that helps wearers run faster. Spring Berman, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is working on a way for average people to tell a robot insect swarm to perform a task in unpredictable environments where comms and GPS don’t work well.

A student wears a jetpack while running.

An ASU student demonstrates his speed using the jet pack from professor Tom Sugar’s Robotics Lab on the Polytechnic campus. The jet pack is designed to allow a person to run much faster for a relatively short period of time. Sugar concentrates on wearable robotics to enhance the person’s mobility, many projects of which are DARPA-related. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

DARPA operates on tight timelines, towards tightly defined goalsCurrent projects include exoskeletons for humans to carry heavy loads, a system to store payloads on the ocean floor and retrieve them when necessary, an air-launched hypersonic boost glide missile, and a robot like an earthworm.. They basically hire expert scientists to solve specific problems. If projects don’t pan out, they get canned.

The method is spreading across government and industry, including tech giants. Google has ATAP, the Advanced Technology and Projects group. Facebook has created Building 8, a similar tech incubator. (ASU in December announced it is partnering with Facebook to supply brainpower to the Building 8 project.)

Jamie Winterton is director of strategy for the Global Security Initiative, ASU’s primary interface to the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. She also chairs the university's DARPA Working Group, matching researchers with projects and shepherding them through the application process.

DARPA is high-risk, high-reward, Winterton said. “They’re not afraid of failure like a lot of the other government agencies or industry would be,” she said.

Managed research at ASU

“Sponsored research,” as it is dubbed at ASU, is an external entity with goals a university researcher is a likely candidate to solve. The client compensates the scientist to do the research. It has to be a realistic goal, with a good chance of completing the work in the allotted time frame.

Jamie Winterton

“Managed research is a good way to get money and time for things we might not be able to do on our own,” Winterton said. “Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Fundamentally you have to have a good match between the sponsor and the researchers. You have to have the same goal. If the sponsor’s goal is, ‘We want to make 50 percent more widgets,’ that’s not a good match for university researchers. That’s not the kind of basic research we do here.”

Dan Bliss, an associate professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, studies wireless communications, including how radio and radar can work together. He is a managed research veteran, involved with three DARPA projects and a recently completed Google ATAP project.

Managed research “is really, really effective,” Bliss said. “It’s very good at technology developments. It’s very good at getting you from ‘Gee, we need to solve this problem,’ to actually getting it done. It’s not as good at solving the problem of ‘What’s out there?’ Basic science is often about fumbling around, so it doesn’t necessarily work as well for that.”

Daniel Sarewitz, professor of science and society in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and co-director and co-founder of the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes, published an article in The New Atlantis in August about managed research.

He cited digital computers, jet aircraft, cellphones, the internet, lasers, satellites, GPS, digital imagery, nuclear and solar power, all of which came not from “the free play of free intellects,” but from the leashing of scientific creativity to the technological needs of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Of the 13 technological advances essential to the development of the iPhone, 11 — including the microprocessor, GPS and the internet — can be traced back to military research investments.

Managed research is not telling scientists how to do their science, however.

“I think there’s a continuum,” Sarewitz said. “What I really have in mind and was trying to explain in the article is the key point of managed research is accountability to end users for the work that’s being done.”

Government agencies outside of Defense are copying the DARPA model. Intelligence has IARPA. The Department of Energy has EARPA. It’s no accident tech is turning to the model.

“People have recognized how effective it is as a research organization and have tried to mimic in both inside the government and in the corporate environment,” Bliss said.

Fundamental research

Tech giants are seeing things they can do that rely on fundamental research, the kind that universities are really good at, Winterton said. 

“It would be cost-prohibitive, even for one of the big tech companies, to retain all these people to work on projects that may or may not come to fruition,” Winterton said. “So they come to us.

Facebook and Google are recognizing they need to get things done, Sarewitz said. Traditionally, the world has George Washington Carver expectations of science. Shut the scientist alone in their lab, and they will produce solutions.

Sometimes it works, but for the most part, Sarewitz says, it’s “a beautiful lie.”

“Historically, we know it’s not true,” he said. “When you leave science alone, there’s no way to hold it accountable.”

The high risk and tight timelines aren’t applicable to all science.

“If we only had the DARPA model, that wouldn’t be a good thing,” Sarewtiz said. “You want some ability for scientists to not make quick progress. It’s an irony in the academic system that the pressure to publish so fast has the worst incentives of all, because productivity is justified only by more productivity. In the service of what?”

ASU engineer posing with bio-inspired robots

ASU engineer Spring Berman's work includes developing robotic technology to perform security surveillance, search-and-rescue missions, and detection of chemical, biological and nuclear materials — supported by a grant from DARPA. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

The pressure can be intense to produce, Bliss said. He recalled working on a Google ATAP project.

“It was like trying to do six years of research in two years,” Bliss said. “We accomplished a lot, but it was a little stressful. We had program reviews every two months. It was intense.” He laughed.

“The model is aggressive, and it makes a professor like me a little crazy,” he said. “In a perfect world, I have a four-year grant I can sign up to, and I can hire a grad student and fund them, and I’m stable and I have no one looking over my shoulder. The problem with the DARPA model is that the program manager basically has to resell the program every year to their boss. If things aren’t going well, they’ll kill the program. There is a lot of pressure.”

Bliss has two reasons why managed research is becoming more widespread: It works, and corporate research labs have been cut.

“It seems like over the last 20 years there has been a de-emphasis on the corporate research lab,” Bliss said. “As a consequence, they need to bring in technologies from the outside, because they’re not building them as quickly on the inside.”

You either buy into small companies, or you go to universities and ask them to be a little bit more applied, and they do your research, Bliss said.

“You can see how you take a little bit of the DARPA model, which is very problem-centric, and you bring it into companies, and you do that,” he said. “Google and Facebook have both done this. Other organizations in different ways have done this.”

Bliss anticipates the model spreading. He pointed to former DARPA director Regina Dugan moving from Motorola to Google to Facebook. (“Celebrate impatience,” Dugan said at Google.)

“She champions this sort of approach, and for a lot of applications it works really well,” Bliss said.

We wouldn’t want all science to be like that, Sarewitz said.

“It’s important to keep in mind all public science is justified in trying to achieve something or another,” he said. “But you can do science that’s both patient and accountable to the end user. … The story I want to tell is that this is an empowering thing for science. It will make science better.”

Top photo: ASU assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Panagiotis Artemiadis, shown with drones from his laboratory, is the director of the Human-Oriented Robotics and Control Lab at ASU's Tempe campus. He has created a brain-drone swarm control interface. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News