Monthly Archives: July 2009

Culture: Straitjacket or Springboard?

I’m thrilled to be featured as a Gov 2.0 Hero on GovFresh.com. I received Luke Fretwell’s request while I was in the Orlando Airport, returning home from a previous scrubbed STS-127 mission. Made my day. (THANKS Luke!!) How cool that he thought of me — one of the many fish swimming around in the huge, vast ocean we call the federal government. My initial reaction:

Do I get a cape? I mean really. Don’t all hero’s wear capes?

Luke sent me a list of questions for the profile:

  1. What was your path to Gov 2.0?
  2. What area of government offers the biggest opportunity for improvement via Web 2.0 tools?
  3. What’s the killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm instead of the exception.
  4. What part of Gov 2.0 most excites you?

What is Gov 2.0? Easiest explanation: mash-up of Web 2.0/social media tools in government processes. For starters, agencies finding creative ways to “do business” through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, etc.

As I answered the questions, I kept coming back to the same sticking point — culture. An organization’s culture dictates its aptitude for “picking up” new technology to meet daily challenges. Hmm, cultural aptitude tests. Might be incredibly telling.

My buddy, Mike Boon, describes culture in his book, The African Way: The Power of Interactive Leadership,

“Culture is not an independent thing. It is what we are as people. Our culture guides us in how to behave, and it is the expression of our values and beliefs.”

Luke’s Gov 2.o Hero profile questions focus on what technologies exist to transform government. Transparency is the current buzzword with our new President. Transparency is the underpinning of the Gov 2.0 movement — to make what we do inside the government freely and easily available to all those outside the government.

Personally, I love it. But not everyone does.

Transparency can be quite threatening, especially if one’s power base is built on insider knowledge that is closely held and doled out like currency to buy more power.

Will even the most “killer app” technology transform our federal government overnight. Probably not. We are Uncle Sam, after all. Uncle Sam isn’t known for being quick on his feet, now is he? But, what about Aunt Samantha? She just might be a fast-talkin’ two-steppin’ little whipper-snapper who runs circles around ole’ Sam. (Yes, I’m from Texas. Can you tell?)

Do I think new technology will change how we do business in the federal government? Do I think Web 2.0 will transform our decision-making processes from muddy to clear? Actually, I do. But it totally depends on the leadership and culture of the organization.

A risk-averse culture views change with suspicion and animosity.

A risk-averse organization is unlikely to leap into the arms of new technology. More likely, I picture the “concrete boots” reaction. Perhaps we need a VUKA! intervention to shake up our more entrenched organizations. Vuka is a Nguni word that means: ‘to come alive’, ‘resurrect’, ‘bring to life’, ‘wake up’.

Quick note: I’m traveling with family to South Africa and Zambia. In South Africa, we’ll spend some time with Mike Boon and his family. I know Mike from high school. He was a Rotary Exchange student. Amazingly, we’ve kept in touch ALL these years. Mike’s company, Vulindlela, specializes in organizational interventions. We will accompany him to an event in Soweto, outside Johannesburg, to see how this works. Here’s a quote from his website:

VUKA! is dependent on an organisation’s willingness to build in processes that ensure the sustainability of the change that will definitely have occurred in each individual!

Maybe I’ll learn something about VUKA! to bring back to the job to help jump-start Gov 2.0 within our organizations. But even without intervention, we have pockets of open culture within our government already. I work with some amazingly creative, intelligent, secure, energetic, enthusiastic folks at NASA who are chomping at the bit to gallop into the future.

What can I do?  Open doors, supply tools for the journey, and get out of the way as the stampede rushes past!

Does this make me a Gov 2.0 hero? Unlikely. But, hey. I’ll take the title! I wonder what I’ll look like in a cape? ;)

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Filed under federal government, Gov 2.0, leadership, NASA

Honor Past but Celebrate Future, PLEASE!

Apollo 40th Logo

Apollo 40th Logo

These next few days portend a frenzy of Apollo anniversary activities.  Let’s see what we’ve got on the agenda:

Saturday, July 18:

Sunday, July 19:

  • John Glenn Lecture Series at the National Air and Space Museum will feature the Apollo 11 crew and legendary former Johnson Space Center Director Chris Kraft. Charlie and Lori are invited, as well.

Monday, July 20:

  • Various media events for the Apollo astronauts,n and a private lunch.
  • Newseum 40th Anniversary Educational Forum featuring hunky George Clooney’s dad, Nick, as moderator. Panelists include: Apollo astronauts @TheRealBuzz Aldrin, Charles Duke and Alan Bean, along with STS-125 crewmember John Grunsfeld and Goddard’s Dr. Laurie Leshin.
  • Evening Reception at the National Air and Space Museum. Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson will MC the event honoring Apollo astronauts and former Apollo employees — of whom we have a handful still working at NASA Headquarters. Plus, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend will accept the Ambassador of Exploration Award on behalf of the late President John F. Kennedy.
Apollo Employees @ HQ

Apollo Employees @ HQ

Tuesday, July 21

  • Capitol Hill Congressional Gold Medal Presentation to Apollo 11 crew.
  • Appreciation Social with NASA Headquarters employees to honor Apollo astronauts.

This list is the tip of the iceberg. I can’t begin to list all the Apollo celebration events hosted at the NASA field centers.

Yes, we have much to celebrate at NASA. We’ve done some amazing things never thought possible four decades ago. We have every right, and responsibility, to reflect and honor the courage, dedication, daring, and engineering genius that lofted humans to the heavens. How boldly incredible is this accomplishment? Really! Bravo to all who played a part in the foundation of our space program.

But, here’s my quandary: We’ve spent a great deal of time planning for this anniversary. Just like we did for NASA’s 50th birthday. Meetings, telecons, vidcons, brain-storm sessions, product prep, website creation, and much, much MORE to pull together a respectable list of things to do.

Some part of me can’t quite reconcile all this activity. Does an agency retrospective propel us where we want to go tomorrow?

I pose this merely as a question, rather than a conclusion. Believe me, I get that we need to honor those who got us here. I understand the need to look back and marvel at our greatness. It’s our culture. If reliving these momentous achievements (which they TOTally were) makes us smarter for the difficult endeavors we face in current and future programs, then YAY!

But, here’s what I’d like to see: NASA expending the same effort showcasing all the amazing things we’re doing now, and will be doing in the future. For instance:

  • Clean Water challenges to replicate waste water recycling like we practice in space. We are pioneers in sustainable living. Our technology enables crewmembers on Space Station conserve and reuse every drop possible.
  • Orbital 365 events around the globe for every additional year we live/work/play on our incredibly complex orbital outpost — International Space Station.
  • Light the Candle community celebrations held EVERY remaining Space Shuttle launch, AND for significant engine test firings for new vehicle development.
  • Light Gardens created from home-made solar collectors to remind us how delicate and fragile the balance is between creation and consumption of energy, as our international crew of six onboard Station can attest every day in orbit 220 miles over our heads.
  • Star-gazing festivals where we turn out the city lights and look to the skies together. Our brightest star might just be Station zipping across the horizon.
  • Ticker Tape Parade

    Ticker Tape Parade

    Ticker tape parades for all Earthlings returning to the home planet. (Wait! Who even knows what “ticker tape” is? At least I can show you what it looks like in this picture.) So, in keeping with the times, how ’bout virtual confetti blasts synchronized through an iPhone app?)

I’m merely suggesting ideas to spark your imagination and get the conversation going. I’m not saying these celebrations would even work. But, then again, you never know ’till you try. Right?

Let’s face it, looking back is SO much easier than looking forward — which involves peering into the unknown. Though…that whole “unknown” thing is something NASA is particularly good at. ;)

So, what’s stopping us? Come on! Let’s “pay it forward.”  Tap into that amazing creative energy we have. Celebrate NASA’s today and tomorrow, while we honor the past.

Happy Apollo 11 anniversary!

First step for man...

First step for man...

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Filed under federal government, leadership, NASA, space

Brain Food and Writer’s Cramp

Of all the amazing people I met at the Southampton Writers’ Conference, the highlight for me, BY FAR, was seeing:

Julie Andrews!

Yep. Sound of Music. Mary Poppins. Princess Diaries. That Julie Andrews! In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit the Sound of Music is my favorite movie OF ALL TIME. I come from a musical family and grew up with a bucket-load of cousins. We wrote plays and adapted musicals to perform at family gatherings at Grandma’s house in Austin, Texas. We often pretended to be the Von Trapp family singers.

Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton read from their new poetry anthology: Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies. Made me fall in love with poetry again. I kept thinking of  the poetry book from my childhood sitting on my bookshelf STILL after all these years, A Treasure Chest of Poetry. Mother gave it to me WAY back forever ago when I was in 3rd grade. The pages are dog-eared. Listening to Emma and her mother on stage brought back so many memories of times my mother read aloud to me. She cherished books, and so do I.

Maybe that’s why I write.

This was my first experience at the Stony Brook Southampton conference. The program offered MUCH more than writer’s cramp — though I have the aching wrist to prove they’ve put us to work. (I finally located all the outlets to plug in my computer. Ahhhh.)

This conference exposed us to the art and creators of fiction in its many delightful forms: books, illustrations, TV shows, drama, poetry, music.

Allow me to name drop:

Cindy Kane:

My instructor for the conference. Cindy edited childrens’ trade book for over 20 years at Bantam Books for Young Readers, Four Winds Press, and Dial Books for Young Readers. She edited the 2001 Newbery Medal winner, A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck; and wrote a middle-grade fantasy novel, The Genie in the Book, under her married name, Cindy Trumbore.

Mitchell Kriegman of Wainscott Studios:

Emmy award winning writer, director and creator who worked with legendary Jim Henson, and created a number of successful kid’s shows, including Clarissa, Rugrats, Ren and Stimpy, Doug, and more. Currently he’s working on PBSKids series It’s a Big Big World.

We visited Mitchell Kriegman’s studio, met with his team of magicians, and watched filming for the Purple Berry episode. I sang the Purple Berry song the rest of the day. Yes, it’s still stuck in my head, painting it berry-colored purple from the inside out.

Marsha Norman:

Playwright, Pulitzer Prize winner, The Secret Garden Stage Adaptation, Broadway’s The Color PurplePublished work: Four Plays, novel The Fortune Teller.

Tim McDonald:

Playwright, director: Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, Ant and the Elephant, Musical Adventures of Flat StanleyPhantom Tollbooth.

Emma Walton Hamilton:

Best-selling children’s book author, freelance editor, speaker, arts educator, and daughter of Julie Andrews! She’s the Co-Founder of the Bay Street Theatre. She co-authored 16 books for children and young adults, making it to the NY Times Bestseller list four times. Her latest book is Raising Bookworms.

Margaret McMullen

Award-winning author of In My Mother’s House, How I Found the Strong, Cashay, and When I Crossed No-Bob. We can look forward to new work coming out in 2010 for Houghton Mifflin.

Tor Seidler

Author of The Dulcimer Boy, A Rat’s TaleThe Wainscott Weasel, an ALA Notable Book, Terpin, and 1997 National Book Award finalist, Mean Margaret.

Gahan Wilson

Author, cartoonist, and illustrator. You’ve seen his work in the The New Yorker and National Lampoon. His books: Harry, the Fat Bear SpyHarry and the Sea Serpent, Harry and the Snow Melting Ray, and Spooky Stories for a Dark and Stormy Night.

Along with the many panel discussions and artist presenations, we enjoyed a wonderful theater reading  by most of the original cast of The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley.

Here are a few iPhone pics of our adventures in Southampton.

Inspired by the Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies, I leave you with a poem I loved as a child:

A Name in the Sand by Hannah Flagg Gould

Alone I walked the ocean strand;

A pearly shell was is my hand;

I stooped and wrote upon the sand

My name — the year — the day.

As onward from the spot I passed,

One lingering look behind I cast;

A wave came rolling high and fast,

And washed my lines away.

And so, methought, ’twill shortly be

With every mark on earth from me:

A wave of dark oblivion’s sea

Will sweep across the place

Where I have trod the sandy shore

Of time, and been, to be no more,

Of me — my day — the name I bore,

To leave nor track nor trace.

And yet, with Him who counts the sands

And hold the waters in His hands,

I know a lasting record stands

Inscribed against my name,

Of all this mortal part has wrought,

Of all this thinking soul has thought,

And from these fleeting moments caught

For glory or for shame.


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Filed under artists, NASA, space, writers

Work Space: Is Yours Out of This World?

Quick Post. I’m on my way to a creative writing course for a few days. I wanted to share these thoughts before I go.

I attended a Google DC Talk yesterday with Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson on his new book, “FREE, the Future of a Radical Price.” (Thanks Jesse Thomas of Jess3 for the invite!)

Google DC is located north of the White House, not far from the new DC Convention Center, only a short distance from NASA Headquarters. Though Google DC is close by, it felt light years away in culture.

The offices are open and colorful with fun, funky furniture. I felt at home right away.

Side note: You should see my house. My home office is painted lime green. Yes, I know. You’ve raised your eyebrows at that. But really. If you stepped inside, you’d feel hopeful, energetic, renewed. Color makes a HUGE difference — at least in my life.

So my quick thought before I head out the door.

I’ve wanted for years to RE-decorate some NASA “creative spaces” at Headquarters with fun, colorful, spacey decor since WAY back in the 90’s when our new Deputy-to-be Lori Garver was running Policy and Plans. At the time, I proposed we re-model our Concourse break room after the Motley Fool model — the first business I’d seen at the time decorated with LOADS of color, as well as ping pong and pinball machines for stress release and team building. I was told we couldn’t because we only lease the building. Bummer.

But I haven’t given up the idea. I’ve simply changed my focus.

We have deadzone hallways in the center of the building on every floor (already equipped with sink, refrigerator, soda machine) that could be creative spaces. All we need to add are funky chairs, PAINT, and a self-serve coffee bar.

A place where employees could chat over ideas, unwind, recharge, and build community.

I met this week with Loraine Bjorendahl, Events Coordinator at Origo, to discuss an upcoming project (really aMAZingly cool project that you’ll go CRAZY about) that we’re planning. She mentioned the Swedish tradition of “Fika,” or coffee break, which is a time where they break the day, gather together, and share thoughts. She described Fika as a time of relaxed reflection where the best ideas flow.

So, here’s what I’m thinking:

Create “Fika Space” at NASA, a space where we can gather together to “share ideas” in a caffeine-charged color-soaked funky-chair inspired environment.

What say you? Are you with me? Arm yourselves with paint brushes. CHARGE!!!

:-D

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Filed under NASA, space

EarthShip NASA: Exploring the American Pioneering Spirit

I was looking for a file on my computer and found this proposal I wrote (WAY back when) to send out a traveling crew to connect NASA‘s can-do pioneering spirit with folks out in the heartland who do the very same thing…but for their families and communities.

I hoped to ignite passion in Earth-bound citizens of this planet, to push them to the next level in their personal lives…stretch…dream…reach for the impossible. In my mind, I envisioned space gardens and space murals and community space festivals across the country.

Note: Podcasting was new back then. Twitter and YouTube didn’t exist. (I inserted those features after -the-fact.)

At the time I proposed this idea, NASA’s chief of Strategic Communications didn’t believe in traveling shows. He didn’t think NASA should expend our efforts on Earth in this way.  He had a point. But I see things differently. I believe our job is to share what we do best:

we’re the dreamers, the curious, the problem-solvers, the doers.

Yes, we build spaceships and scientific instruments. I get that. But if you think of NASA like a “reduction sauce” in the show, Top Chef, boil down what we do at NASA and you get this:

we make things happen against all odds.

I believe we need to ignite that spark in other Earthlings — the desire to push out the boundaries of what we know. We need generations-to-come of planetary citizens to celebrate the can-do spirit, right where they live…even if their feet never leave this planet.

We have new leadership coming to NASA with the Senate confirmation hearings this week for Charlie Bolden and Lori Garver to come take the helm. Culture can change. Policies can take different directions. Who knows, maybe this kooky idea will take hold with new folks coming in. Ideas that lay dormant can take root…with a little care and feeding. Really. I’ve seen it happen. (Remember, I’ve been around NASA for a LONG time.)

I have a more polished proposal at work, but I thought I’d share the one I cranked out on a flight home from the OshKosh airshow, where the inspiration first hit me.

EarthShip NASA

Mission:

365-Day Mission to explore and celebrate the pioneering spirit deep in the heartland of our country from small towns to urban regions.

Purpose:

Ignite passion for exploration and cultivate the pioneering spirit – whether at home or off our planet.

NASA relies on individuals with curiosity for the unknown to explore unconquered territory outside the boundaries of our knowledge.

Definition:

A pioneer is someone who claims the “first” of any category — the first to attend college in the family, the first to grow a pumpkin patch in the neighborhood, the first to build a playground for handicapped children, the first to study read 50 books during summer, the first to paint a mural with glue, etc.

Logistics:

NASA “terra-naut” team will be composed of five NASA employees from different ethnic backgrounds and ages (including one astronaut, if possible) who will commit to 365 days on the road.  Terranauts will blog/tweet and post video/pictures from the road, celebrating “pioneers” in every stop along the way.

NASA Terranauts will feature the local pioneers on video segments for NASA TV, blogs, and podcasts (plus YouTube, Twitter, GovLoop, and all the new social media tools).

An advance team will plot the cross country course and work with the community leaders to prepare for EarthShip’s arrival — identifying playgrounds to be cleaned up or space gardens to be planted, murals painted on school walls, etc.  The EarthShip team will arrive to set up camp and prepare for the Pioneer Festival.  NASA will offer a portable “Space Fair” in the community, and hold contests for Pioneering awards for all ages and categories.  The Advance Team will work with the community of culture-specific categories.

The EarthShip will consist of a converted Winnebago outfitted to look like a spaceship, and complete with “dorm rooms” for the Terranauts.  Perhaps we can work with Winnebago to provide our transportation, and Mobil/Exxon or Shell to provide gas, in exchange for sponsorship recognition.  Perhaps Good Morning America might team with us to provide once-a-week coverage of our progress, along with live coverage from NASA TV – to allow the public insight on where the EarthShip is going and who we’ve encountered on the way. (BTW, I’m a HUGE GMA fan!!! Yay Chris, Diane, Robin, and Sam!)

A lean support team composed of camera crew (or hand-held vid-cams), exhibit technician, and social media expert will help the EarthShip crew of Terranauts keep up with their postings.  Perhaps we can fly in “Max Q,” the astronaut band to perform at some of stops along the way.  One trailer will house the NASA exhibit material, which will include outside and inside material — weather-specific.

One slot for the EarthShip crew might be reserved for contest winners to travel for one month at a time, learning about NASA and taking the information back to their communities.

So, what do you think?

Crazy, huh? Yeah, I know. I get that all the time. But, still….

:-D

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Filed under Earth, federal government, leadership, NASA, space