Monthly Archives: October 2009

Time Warp…or Memory Wormhole?

I attended my 35-year high school reunion last weekend in San Marcos, Texas. Going back after all these years is like waking up to a world where everything changed overnight. At least, that’s how it felt to me.

People and places are frozen in my memory just as they were in 1974.

We moved to Austin right after high school. Without having my parents as an anchor in town, I rarely had the excuse to go back. Life moved on. Three and a half decades passed. I went to one reunion long ago. I don’t even remember which one it was. 5-year? 10-year?

When I left:

  • Southwest Texas State was a small party college in town.
  • Aquarena Springs was a vibrant vacation spot.
  • The San Marcos River drew tubers from all around Texas.
  • Neighborhoods looked much the same as decades before.
  • First Baptist was a church near downtown.
  • Estrella, the horse, lived next to the Sac ‘n Pac. (I named her for the star in her forehead. I don’t know her real name.)

When I returned:

  • Southwest Texas State is Texas State University.
  • Aquarena Springs belongs to the University and looks like an abandoned property.
  • The San Marcos River is the home of endangered River Rice and looks like a swamp.
  • Texas State ate up neighborhoods, reminiscent of the old Pacman game.
  • First Baptist Church, the building, is now Sanctuary Lofts apartments.
  • Estella’s place is now Palmer’s restaurant.
  • Sac ‘n Pac is still there. Whew! Now that’s a relief. ;)

It’s not like it all happened overnight. Decades passed. I’m sure the changes happened slowly…except in my mind. How odd to be the one coming back telling the stories about what once was. And it was a long time ago, after all. More than a lifetime to many who will read this. Maybe I’m like Rose, the elder version, in the movie, Titanic, when she tells the story of the fateful voyage to the crew who discovered the shipwreck.

Don’t worry. I have no plans of jumping in the San Marcos River at the end of this blog — especially the river rice overgrown part.

Let me jump to work issues for a moment:

How do you think it will feel when humans leave this planet for long durations, then return? Our astronauts live onboard Space Station for six months at a time.

What happens when we venture further out, where the journey takes years and the mission lasts a decade?

What will it be like returning home to Earth? Think about it. I’ll bet they experience the time warp sensation I did upon returning to San Marcos after all these years. People and places will have changed. They themselves will be different. Their journey will change them — just as my life’s journey changed me since I left San Marcos.

Fun to ponder, right?

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a glimpse of some iPhone pics of my high school romps: San Marcos, Wimberley, Austin.

I’ve gotta’ say, though. I really miss Texas. No way to catch up on 35 years of living in one single weekend. That’s where Facebook comes in. I’m thinking we need a San Marcos High School Class of ’74 fan page, where we can all post our stories. (I know, I know…it’s on my to-do list.)

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NASA Tweet-Up: Live Space Link

Today tweeters joined us at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC to chat with Space Station crewmates @astro_Jeff Williams and @astro_Nicole Stott live onorbit. So nice to meet you all!

Former astronaut Tom Jones helped MC the event and answer questions. When the master alarm sounded on Station ending our live interview, Tom stepped in to explain the onorbit process Jeff and Nicole would be following to check out the cause of the alarm. (All is well on Station. Rest assured.)

Our tweeters had great fun with Tom’s name and tweeted names of songs made famous by singer Tom Jones. (I really didn’t get the reference until later. I was busy tweeting on my iPhone. I saw a few strange references flow down the twitterfall screen at the front, but had no idea what they meant. I guess I need a life.)

Adorable astronaut Mike Fincke, veteran of two Station missions, joined us from Houston (via NASA TV feed) to answer questions from tweeters. He absolutely twinkles. Gotta love him. We also heard from NASA Deputy Lori Garver, Space Operations Deputy Lynn Cline, and Space Operations Jacob Keaton. Jacob shared some anecdotes about the node naming contest and our interaction with U2.

Oh, and BTW, we played Star Girl by McFly in space during the downlink. Yay. So excited to engage an enthusiastic new demographic of music fans who may now perk their ears when NASA missions occur. Star Girl and ThankYouNASA both climbed the Twitter Trending chart after the Tweet-Up. Tom Fletcher, mastermind of the #StarGirlinSpace campaign, thanks NASA.

Let’s now talk a bit about the master alarm episode. Quite unsettling. My first thought, how horrific if something were to happen to Station while our Twitter guests sat and watched. My second thought, confirmation, once again, that:

Space is an unforgiving business. What we do is hard.

We make it look easy.

Our astronauts who live and work in space onboard Space Station put their lives on the line EVERY SINGLE DAY. Watching Jeff and Nicole calmly excuse themselves to go check out the source of the alarm, demonstrates our professionalism. Chances were the alarm registered a false reading. Had the reverse occurred, the worst case scenario would send the crew to the Russian Soyuz escape vehicles to abandon ship.

None of this happened. Whew! Our tweeters went home happy. No traumatic scars from that day at NASA Headquarters when “the alarm” sounded. Yay. Hurray. On with the show.

Here are my iPhone pics from the day. Yes, they’re a bit fuzzy. Work with me. (I’ll caption them properly when I’m not sleepy.)

Note: Just so you know, the spacesuit on the stage is “headless” because the helmets are out being refurbished. It’s really not a Halloween statement, as some thought. ;)

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Space: A Waste?

NASA Facebook fans are a chatty bunch. We post something of interest going on at NASA. Fans talk about it. They like it. They dislike it. They have an idea for how to change it. But, for the most part, they’re supportive of our efforts. It is, after all, a “fan” page.

Lately I’ve noticed a few unhappy folks who post little “This is a waste of time” zingers. I really find it fascinating. If the information we’re posting is a waste of their time, why do they spend time on the NASA fan page?

Timbuktu Credit/NASA

Timbuktu Credit/NASA

I’m intrigued by the “waste of time” mentality.

Ok, I admit it. I’ve had similar thoughts about meetings or work products I considered a waste of my time. After all, I work for Uncle Sam…Big Brother…the Feds. I find I’m most frustrated when my time is expended against my willI wouldn’t dream of posting my time-waster list…well, maybe I might. ;)

Back to the point. When someone writes “This is a waste of time” on NASA’s Facebook wall about the Timbuktu image above, I have to wonder…as compared to what? Their frame of reference would be so telling. Wouldn’t it? For instance:

  • Reading a book is a waste of time when you could be fishing.
  • Fishing is a waste of time when you could be working.
  • Working is such a waste of time when you could be spending time with family.
  • Family time is such a waste when you could be traveling.
  • Traveling is such a waste of time when you could be volunteering.
  • Volunteering is such a waste of time when you could be making money to donate.

Look at the context in these examples. One choice is pitted against another. We tend to do that, don’t we?

Don’t we make judgments about choices others make based on our own value-based choices?

Here’s what I notice: we humans often expect others to share our views and values. If they don’t, we like to cast them as our enemy. We’re good. They’re bad. That simple.

But really, it’s not simple at all. Just because I value something doesn’t mean you have to value it too. Yes, I’d LOVE everyone to agree with me on EVERYthing. But, I’m no less valid in my choices or opinions than you are in yours. (You’re probably shaking your head right now, thinking how I’m idealistic and unrealistic I am.  You won’t be the first to think it.) Hear what I’m saying.

Life is all about balance.

We each bring to the table different and unique attributes for the greater whole. Synergy! The same goes for NASA. So, let’s explore how the federal government works, shall we?

Civics 101: The government exists to provide the public good. We fill the gap between:

  1. the needs of the common man, and
  2. profitably ventures attractive to commercial entities.

The pursuit of knowledge (i.e. NASA endeavors or basic science) isn’t profitable. But once we pursue the unknown, gain knowledge, and share what we’ve learned, THEN the opportunity exists for someone to take it and run all the way to the bank.

For instance, what we’re learning about humans existing in long-duration space onboard Space Station may help address the debilitating effects of osteoporosis on here on Earth. A drug company MAY use this information to manufacture and sell an “antidote” to brittle bones.  Yay for them!

We discover knowledge that leads to a product that meets a need someone is willing to pay for. Or, IF the need is worthy and a commercial entity can’t make a profit, we’re back to the government providing it. The cycle circles back on itself.

Society = balance of public good + commerce.

In reality, the argument boils down to managing the appropriate balance among the nations’ priorities to best bring about public good.

Civics 101, Part 2: The White House and Congress determine the nation’s priorities.

  1. The White House sets the agenda, and
  2. Congress holds the purse strings.

NASA receives less than 1% of the federal budget. Even if I do say so myself, we accomplish aMAZing feats with that partial penny on every dollar given us by Congress.

What can YOU do with less than a penny?

So back to the question, is space a waste? Again I ask: as compared to what?

Personally, I feel the time and energy I spend exploring unknown places or books or foods or experiences is never wasted. Every time I learn something new, I know more than I did the moment before. Even when the experiences are painful, I’m still wiser than before. Can that knowledge ever be wasted?

What if I share what I learned with you, and it:

  • saves you time,
  • streamlines your effort,
  • prevents harm, or
  • gives you insight on places or people you’ll never see?

What we discover at NASA changes textbooks! Generations upon generations of humans will benefit from the sacrifice our nation made to fund the space program, in an effort to learn what we don’t know. In the meantime, our government also took care of housing for the homeless, education for students, subsidies for farmers, benefits for veterans, security of our borders, and so much more. We can debate the balance of funds distributed, but it was ALL in an effort to bring about the public good…as determined by the White House and Congress.

Civics 101, Part 3: Citizens, if you disagree with how your tax dollars are spent, you speak loudest through your right to vote (as opposed to a fan page on the internet).

In the meantime, I’ll see you on Facebook! :-D

Crosspost on openNASA.

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NASA: Cultural Dust Storm

When everyone was looking for moondust from the LCROSS mission to crash land into the moon, I noticed something else — a cultural dust storm inside the agency. Did you see it too?

We heavily publicized the “moon landing” prior to Friday’s event. In Washington DC, the Newseum hosted our “Let’s Kick Up Some Moon Dust” party. (Even my mother received an email from NASA inviting her to attend. Not sure exactly how THAT happened. No matter.)

Moon Dust Invitation

I was off work on “LCROSS day,” so I logged onto NASA TV to watch the lunar impact. I mean, really. Who DOESn’t want to see moon dust? Watching the mission coverage, though, took me by surprise.

Stop! Before I go any further, I must in all fairness disclose that I work the “human space flight” side of the house at NASA. I say this only to put in context my perspective. I’m accustomed to years upon years (yes decades even) of Space Shuttle launch and Space Station on-orbit coverage — the hushed, almost flat voices of our Public Affairs folks doing commentary, the CapCom astronaut speaking to the crew, and crew responses. Calm. Even. Almost hypnotic. (No offense guys. I’m just trying to frame my point.)

Back to LCROSS coverage. I listened to chatter between the console folks — camera commands, I believe. Some of the voices struck me as jarring. Maybe it was early in the morning, but I found myself reacting to the sound of the voices. (InCREdibly petty. I know. I know. Who cares what they sound like, right? It’s the mission that’s important! Yes, I get it. Really I do. I’m merely describing my reaction.)

I watched the tiny NASA TV window on my laptop as the spacecraft rocketed closer and closer. I listened to the Go/No Go count and wondered about the spacecraft barreling toward the moon. Could we even turn it around if someone voted “no-go?” Hmmm. Not my mission.

I captured screenshots and posted them on Twitpic. I personally love this near-infrared shot below. I think it would make cool Moon art.

Lunar Surface prior to Impact

Impact! We hit the moon, didn’t we?

Yes, the announcer confirmed “contact”…as in crash landing. I was a bit confused. My little NASA TV screen only showed gray fuzziness. The announcer revealed a second impact. Hard to tell. I was still watching blurry images on my computer.

Further confirmation: NASA TV switched to images of arm slapping/hand shaking in the control room, then camera views somewhere outside where we could see happy people in lawn chairs. Then, back to the Control Room:

The Flight Director stood up, put his hands on his hips, and looked directly into the camera. Odd.

Twitter lit up with Moon Dust…or lack thereof…chatter. Some out in the vast twitterverse cheered the achievement. Some expressed anger at NASA for “bombing” a gentle giant. Some voiced confusion about what happened (mirroring my reaction). Some made fun of the coverage.

The social media world joined in for a global conversation about space. Differing opinions, some unflattering, but conversation none-the-less.

I’ve been thinking about my reaction to mission coverage and wondering what it says about me. I’ll be honest, compared to a Shuttle launch, LCROSS felt like the minor leagues. Does that mean I’m arrogant? I’ve really struggled over the weekend to understand WHY I felt underwhelmed by the “Kick Up Some Moon Dust” experience (other than the fact that we didn’t witness a massive cloud of dust — which may mean water).

Here’s what hit me last night: the culture clash between human vs. robotic, engineering vs. science.

I’ve noticed, through my many years at NASA, that our engineers want to tweak perfection, while our scientists want gather more data, to ask one more question, try one more approach. The LCROSS mission is a success because it’s one more approach to asking another question so that we better understand what questions to ask. Their scientific mission is just beginning with lunar impact. Our human space flight missions, in contrast, end upon touchdown or docking — when we safely arrive at our destinations.

We’ve been doing this Shuttle thing for quite some time. The culture of how we do what and what is acceptable is quite ingrained. Launch coverage and mission control cultural norms rule. I fell victim to my human space flight cultural heritage when I subconsciously compared “our” launch coverage with “their” launch coverage…and giggled. Yes, I admit. I giggled — which is not fair to the serious work behind the mission. I feel very rude. Scientific, robotic missions are ruled by different cultural norms.

Look no further than the contrast between the Houston Mission Control “flat-top” and the California “flip-flop” mentality. Both approaches get the job done — just differently.

Now that I’ve had a few days to process, I apologize to all you LCROSS folks. I let my cultural bias cloud (moon dust?) my perception of your mission coverage. Though, I do hope your Hi-5 guy gets a shot at the late-night comedy shows. He deserves a shout out!

Bravo LCROSS. Ignore NASA’s cultural dust storm. We expect your results to “water” it down.

Cross post on OpenNASA.

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How Space Travel is like Trip to Ikea

I was off work yesterday. I took advantage of light Friday morning traffic and headed out to Ikea for a bit of shopping. When I returned home and tried to assemble my new purchase, I thought of the crew on Space Station assembling the C.O.L.B.E.R.T. treadmill.

I starting thinking how much space travel is like a trip to Ikea.

Think about it. We have teams of people around the world designing equipment to be

  • lightweight (as much as humanly possible),
  • efficiently packaged to use every ounce of space,
  • complete with detailed assembly instructions,
  • and special assembly tools.

Just like Ikea products…. (For those of you who shop at Ethan Allen, just trust me on this.)

Our astronauts have worked all week assembling the C.O.L.B.E.R.T.

COLBERT treadmill patch

COLBERT treadmill patch

Note: You may recall the kerfuffle (don’t you just LUV that word?) when Stephen Colbert won the write-in vote for the online contest to name a Space Station node. Alas, we named the node Tranquility and devised this wonderful acronym as a consolation prize: Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill. He’s a good sport. Here is Stephen Colbert’s YouTube video message to NASA when we launched the treadmill.

Astronaut Nicole Stott tried out the treadmill for the first time yesterday. Evidently they put all the parts in the right place. It worked. YAY! (You can follow Nicole’s Space Station adventure on Twitter.)

Even bigger than the treadmill, our astronauts and international crewmates, assembled the ENTIRE orbital outpost OUT IN  SPACE — piece by piece, tool by tool, complete with instructions and remote service help from Mission Control. For 10 years we’ve been piecing together our technological marvel that orbits 24/7 over our heads every 90 minutes at a neck-breaking speed of 17,500 mph. Pretty aMAZing, if you think about it.

So, next time you shop at Ikea, lug home your purchases, and contemplate assembly, I challenge you to do this:

imagine yourself floating weightless.

Can you put together your products while floating free? Consider all the steps. Here are a few to consider.

  1. Unpack the boxes from your car or truck
  2. Clear a work space (if you haven’t already).
  3. Transfer the containers to your work space.
  4. Open each container.
  5. Sort out the pieces and parts.
  6. Open your little packages of different-sized screws.
  7. Maneuver with specially-adapted tools to connect the parts.

Ok, now that you’ve finished creating your pretty new bookshelves and dressers, kitchens and bathrooms, and you’ve placed your newly assembled furniture or equipment where it belongs, you may want to do this next:

Go outside. Look up to the skies. Marvel at what we’ve accomplished peacefully in space.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like clapping.

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Telework: Lovefest!

Yesterday, I worked from home — my day to take part in NASA’s scheduled emergency procedure exercise. Thanks EVA.com for posting a feature about it. We’re testing to see if we crash our systems with all of us logging on remotely. After enduring the nightmare traffic commutes following the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, I began to wonder why we couldn’t simply work from home on days of horrific traffic or bad weather. I’m glad we’re testing it out, office by office.

We have the technology to work from space on a daily basis with our six international crew members. Why not model it here on Earth?

"Space: Ultimate Telework" by NASA Cartoonist Jim @JimEHull

"Space: Ultimate Telework" by NASA Cartoonist Jim @JimEHull

Think about the impact on our planet if fewer of us hit the roads every day to go sit at a desk. I’m specifically talking office work. Landscapers would clearly need to show up at the worksite — that is, until we have little landscape-robots that can plant via remote directions, like we use with NASA’s Robonaut. Even doctors can practice medicine remotely through technology. We demonstrate that daily on our orbiting outpost, Space Station, as well.

We can debate the merits of telework. I’d really rather just share a list of what I LOVE about working from home. I’m sure you have your own pro/con list.

I have to admit, though, the only downside to telework in my opinion: not ENOUGH opportunities to work from home!

Reasons I LOVE  teleworking:

#1 Commute = 20 steps to my computer. No traffic. ‘Nuff said!

#2 Comfy clothes. PJs, if I want. Ah the luxury of NOT getting dressed for work — no makeup, no flat iron. I can EVEN save the PLANET by NOT wasting water on a shower. And NO office mates close enough to me to complain. :-D

#3 Windows in EVERY room!!!!! Woo Hoo! I can see green everywhere I look. (Green as in grass, not money.) But then again, I AM saving gas money. See #8 below.

View from my Executive Office Suite

View from my Executive Office Suite

#4 Silence…other than the birds chirping outside. Concentrating in a cubicle environment can be difficult. I get where the cubicle concept came from. Someone somewhere wanted to ensure office workers shared information with one another. The answer: create a maze-like office environment with walls that offer visual privacy but stereo sound. Every conversation can be heard by everyone. Office mates talk through the cubicle walls, without knowing if anyone is listening. Let’s not even touch the subject of coughing and sneezing in a cubicle environment….

My office garden at home.

My office garden at home.

#5 Brightly-colored walls, if I stay inside. My office is painted Garden Green. My daughters will attest to the fact that I can hardly STAND to be indoors. When I’m inside, I surround myself with Spring colors all year round. I really think that’s the hardest part about working inside the padded gray walls of my office cube. Note: I always wanted to create a musical theater production called, “Inside My Padded Cell.” Hey, if Phantom of the Opera can have a musical, so can a crazy government employee trapped inside cubicle walls day in and day out. Right? ;)

#6 Vitamin D (as in good ole’ sunshine) — only a few steps from my computer. I can even take my laptop outside if the weather is nice. Most days in the office, I never see the light of day — literally. During the winter, I drive to work in the dark, park in the garage, take the elevator up to our floor, work, take the elevator back down to the garage, and drive home in the dark. Unless I make a trip across the street to Starbucks, I may never get out of the building. Real Vitamin D from the sun is SO much more satisfying than taking a Vitamin D horse pill.

Coco all snuggled up next to my office chair.

Coco all snuggled up next to my office chair.

#7 Creature Comforts. All the critters hang out at my house. My cat Coconut (Coco for short) prefers my lap, but moves to her window bed if my lap is taken (laptop).  Longtime chipmunk neighbor, Chippy Stumptail, lives under my kitchen window and hangs out on my porch steps. He lost half his tail years ago, but I’m happy to report it’s growing back — almost 1/2 inch of it. All kinds of birds — finches, woodpeckers and at least one hawk — swoop around in my yard. Sometimes hummingbirds, too.

#8 Cost savings. I save TONS of money when I’m not running down to the deli in our building for snacks or lunch. Supply and demand forces RULE. The demand outweighs the supply and we pay a high price for it. Yes, I know, I can bring my lunch to save money. But how much nicer to make my lunch at home while I’m teleworking. (Ok, I’m sure my water bill and electricity go up from working at home…but somehow the price of gas and cost for food seems higher.)

#9 Decreased stress. Speaks for itself, I think.

#10 Increased productivity. I need quiet to write. My home office TOTally fits the bill. I get TONS done at home. See #4 Silence.

Bravo NASA for making sure every Headquarters employee has the equipment and understanding of how to work from home in case we have an emergency in the area.

Hands up for all those who want to “test it out” on a more regular basis. Yes, I see yours. And yours too. ;)

My buddy Jim Hull sent me this today. He SO nailed it!

Illustration by NASA's resident cartoonist Jim Hull.

Illustration by NASA's resident cartoonist Jim Hull.

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NASA: Cultural Trap Doors

This week, NASA’s Deputy Lori Garver hosted a Town Hall meeting at NASA Headquarters. She set aside time to answer questions from employees. NASA TV aired the Town Hall live so that NASA employees could benefit from the conversation remotely.

I asked a question about managing the complex issue of astronaut appearances, and offered a potential solution — astronaut career assignments in NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs and Office of Legislative Affairs. If you’re interested, you can read a previous post.

Lori’s response: NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, former astronaut, would call the shots on how the Astronaut Corps operates. She mentioned that Charlie met with the new 2009 Astronaut Class, and encouraged them  to act as Space Ambassadors (my paraphrase of her answer) during the many years before they fly a space mission. Appropriate response to the question.

Now let’s focus on the reaction among my NASA colleagues following the Town Hall meeting. Here’s a sample of what I heard the rest of the week:

I can’t believe you asked a question. (Shock)

I can’t believe you got away with asking a question. (More shock.)

I can’t believe you got away with asking THAT question. (Even greater shock.)

Did you get in trouble for asking a question? (Worried.)

Did you get in trouble for asking THAT question? (Expectation of trouble ahead.)

What happened after you asked that question? (Assumed reprimand.)

Do you know what’s going to happen to you? (Expectation of reprimand.)

Did anyone say anything to you after you asked that question? (Missing word: yet.)

I heard YOU asked a question. (Wink Wink, as in “same ole’ Beth.”)

I HEARD you asked a question. (Raised eyebrow-disapproval.)

I heard from SEVERAL people you asked a question. (Expectation of disciplinary action.)

I’d have been in SO much trouble if I’d asked a question. (I can’t believe you AREN’T.)

I’m glad you asked that question. (Support.)

That was a really good suggestion. (Validation.)

Do any of these comments surprise you? Do you find yourself most surprised that I would a question at all — much less in front of TV cameras. If so, let’s talk about our culture.

Whether we like it or not, we’ve all been socialized by the organizational culture we exist in.

I can’t begin to touch socialization resulting from childhood or society-at-large. I only want to explore organizational culture — where your paycheck comes from. We learn how to survive by watching those around us reap reward or punishment. We emulate the habits and patterns of those who look successful in our eyes.

Let’s be honest, how many UNsuccessful people do you look up to?

Look at the comments above. Most comments expose underlying assumptions of our organizational culture. Can you see them? Here’s what I see:

  • keep quiet,
  • fly below the radar,
  • hunker down,
  • do as you’re told,
  • don’t make waves.

Depending on your perspective within your own cultural environment, you could easily make assumptions about me based on the fact that I…

  • asked a question
  • in a Town Hall meeting
  • with a new Deputy
  • in front of TV cameras.

I’ll just get creative and list a possible range of value statements you might tell yourself about me. I’m sure I haven’t captured everything, but for the sake of discussion I’ll start with these:

  1. Arrogant.
  2. Attention-seeker.
  3. Careless.
  4. Clueless.
  5. Naive.
  6. Undisciplined.
  7. Trouble-maker.
  8. Time-waster.
  9. Change agent.
  10. Problem-solver.

I prefer #9-10. You don’t have to agree. And…many don’t. Side note: I hear “trouble-maker” used to describe me quite often. But, then again, I tend to unsettle those who find change uncomfortable. ;)

What do YOU think about someone who asks a question in a public forum — even though questions are actively solicited? Doesn’t the answer depend on how you’ve learned to survive or thrive within your organization?

But your real question may be, “Who cares?”

This is not just my story. This story is a symptom of a problem. I use it only for illustration purposes. It’s a story about assumptions we make about appropriate/acceptable behavior  — whether we know it or not. Don’t we assess motive and value about our colleagues’ contributions based on our personal perceptions?

I like to call our everyday assumptions: Cultural Trap Doors.

Let’s face it, aren’t our assumptions molded by years upon years of organizational pressure? If you think about it, we’re like cultural fossils with stripes and layers shaped under the weight of our experiences. Let’s at least examine what formed the patterns we fall into. I wish I could tell you the story of how everyone buzzed about the great ideas generated during the Town Hall discussion, or how eager we were for more conversations like this.

I’m not saying we don’t share ideas at NASA. We do. I’m only noticing, from this experience, that many of my colleagues feared for my “career” based on one simple question in a Town Hall meeting. Fear shouldn’t exist within a healthy organization — in my humble opinion. I see it differently:

In an open culture, individuals feel safe speaking out, sharing their ideas, and offering solutions.

Bravo NASA for having an open Town Hall meeting! What we need, though, is a safety net for those participating in the discussion. Cultural trap doors open up when we least expect them.

We can only get rid of the trap doors if we know where they are. If we want a truly open culture, let’s start the hunt!

"Cultural Trap Doors" by NASA's Resident Cartoonist Jim Hull

"Cultural Trap Doors" by NASA's Resident Cartoonist Jim Hull

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