Tag Archives: leadership

LAUNCH: Culture of Collaboration

My NASA colleague Diane Powell and I spoke to the DC campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology about the collaborative principles of LAUNCH. LAUNCH is a public/private partnership with USAID, State Department, and NIKE. The PhD students, including my daughter Steph, are exploring ways to collaborate with international organizations in culturally sensitive ways. They wanted to learn two things from the LAUNCH experience: how does collaboration work, and how do we address international and cultural differences to get the best results.

Diane gave an overview of LAUNCH as a program. I talked about the culture of collaboration, based on our experiences creating and managing LAUNCH.

Key takeaway: Collaboration is messy. 

But well worth it, in my estimation. Anyone interested in engaging in a collaborative enterprise, of any kind, should assume a bit of craziness. To expect otherwise might lead to disappointment. In other words, we should be realistic in our expectations of fellow collaborators. After all, we humans see the world differently. And that’s ok. That’s what makes the human experience so rich…and complicated. Here are a few observations about why collaboration may require us to step outside our comfort zone.

Barriers to Collaboration:

  • We don’t speak the same language — whether English, Russian, Afrikaans; rules-oriented vs. free-spirited; public sector, private industry, NGO or faith-based.
  • We don’t share the same work ethic — good enough vs. perfection…or somewhere in between.
  • We don’t look the same — clean cut or eclectic; round or square; purple, green, or polkadot.
  • We don’t share the same values or focus — public good or profit; community, state, national interest; childhood or adult issues; male or female-oriented.
  • We prefer different styles of authority — collegial, authoritarian, dictatorial.
  • We often assess motives of others based on our own assumptions or experiences.

You get the picture. We all approach issues, problems, solutions from our own unique perspective. Valuing different perspectives helps foster a collaborative frame of mind.

Western solutions to the world’s problems:

The PhD students are assessing how to appropriately apply western approaches to international professional psychology. From my perspective, the “do no harm” Star Trek Prime Directive may be relevant for the discussion.

Star Trek Enterprise

Star Trek Enterprise

Jean-Luc Picard

Jean-Luc Picard

“The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules. It is a philosophy, and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.”—Jean-Luc Picard, Symbiosis

At our LAUNCH: Big Think, I was chatting with Deborah Alvarez-Rodriguez, CEO, Goodwill Industries San Francisco. We talked about how “helping” organizations are accused of disrupting traditional cultures and communities. Her response:

“We live in an ever-evolving cultural eco-system.”

Her point is that we can’t stop helping less fortunate individuals and communities for fear we might introduce disruption. In fact, we want to interrupt the downward spiral. The good news: new businesses grow up around change. Those who don’t change with the needs of society die off. Just look at Kodak, for example. Digital film left the company in the past.

Any change we introduce into a cultural eco-system will alter the flow. We can’t expect the world to stay the same. LAUNCH is all about disruptive innovation to bring about solutions to the world’s most intractable sustainability problems. But, in order to avoid Sociologist Robert Merton’s Law of Unintended Consequences, we need to look at downstream consequences – not just point-of-disruption solutions — to understand the full impact of any change we introduce.

Here are a few tips on how to affect positive change in a culturally sensitive way.

  1. Askwhat are the issues, needs, barriers; how can we help.
  2. Absorb listen and hear objectively, remove personal filters from what we think the issues are.
  3. Adapt find creative ways to apply “our” solutions to their needs.
  4. Adopt success means the end user takes ownership, internalizes solutions.

End goal: Learn to be culturally relevant so that our innovative solutions take root in society. If we do it right, we can all…

Star Trek: Spock

Star Trek: Spock

…“Live Long and Prosper”
Spock

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Filed under culture, innovation, LAUNCH, social entrepreneurship

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

NASA: Thoughts on New Beginnings

With former Astronaut Charlie Bolden poised to take the helm at NASA, and Lori Garver as Deputy, I dusted off a letter of mine published in SpaceNews, January 21, 2002. Much of it still applies. I offer a partial reprint.

NASA exists as a paradox, a quandary, a political dilemma.

Unparalleled in the federal government, NASA’s mission is bounded only by the expanses of the heavens and limited only by the human imagination. Our inability to consistently communicate the wonder and magic of space to decision-makers who hold our purse strings stifles our progress.

NASA personifies the innate, never-say-die human spirit that conquers barriers and pushes beyond limitations. NASA ignites the spark that flames the human desire to improve, to learn, to grow. NASA embodies the pursuit of knowledge in unexplored regions of the universe, as well as the universe of the mind.

NASA is a uniquely American icon.

The public absorbs NASA images each day from TV and print advertisements, motivational posters, books, television programs and movies. NASA symbols adorn T-shirts, toys and trinkets. As a brand name, NASA evokes awe and wonder and delight beyond the borders of our nation, yet carries little leverage with political heavyweights with the confines of the beltway.

NASA may boast of a constituent base as broad as the world community or as narrow as the astronaut corps, or scientific investigators tied to a specific mission.

Private industry may applaud NASA for opening the frontier of space and awarding large aerospace contracts or complain bitterly to Congress that we prevent entrepreneurs from gaining affordable access to space.

NASA may appear an untapped reservoir of risk-takers who dream of barriers yet to be broken or an aging agency run by risk-averse, pocket protector-wearing bureaucrats. 

So I offer a few thoughts to our Next Administrator:

You have the power to contradict the contradictions. You bring new eyes to NASA. Yes, you’ve been here before, but you will ask new questions at this new beginning. You will mark this agency with priorities unique to your interests. This part of the dance can be quite uncomfortable to those unused to dancing.

Change of any kind can be unsettling to those wedded to the security of the status quo.

Douglas Adams once said, “There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something more bizarre and inexplicable.

I’ve never met you, but those who have speak highly of you. I listen with great encouragement. If you were to ask me what I want for you, it would be this:

Vision

To recognize all that’s wrong with NASA, yet behold an uncut diamond ready to be shaped and polished with steady, skilled hands.

Wisdom

To hear from opposing viewpoints both inside and outside the power structure, season them with common sense and insight, and form fair judgments.

Discernment

To detect deception when presented as truth, to distinguish between public good and personal gain, and recognize the strings attached to any good deals.

Integrity

To say what you mean and mean what you say, stand by your word, and create an environment of trust.

Patience 

To allow time to develop the correct solution rather than the fastest answer, and withhold judgments until the facts are clear.

Courage

To walk the narrow path and stand for what is right, not what is easy; to stretch yourself and others beyond the comfort zone.

Humor

To take yourself lightly and laugh easily.

I welcome your fresh look at who we are and what NASA has become in the years since you were here last, and assume you’ll bring a healthy skepticism about what we take for granted. I welcome your genuine concern for shaping NASA into a nimble and responsive federal agency.

I look forward to probing questions, which force us to look honestly at ourselves.

Yes, you will bring change, and change can be unnerving. Will you wield a scalpel? Will we feel the pain of incision? I, for one, prefer the pain of incision to the malignancy of indecision.

 Welcome home to both you and Lori! Best wishes as you navigate the confirmation process in the next few weeks.

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Filed under NASA, space

Go-No Go and the Black Hole between

As we face the pending landing of our successful STS-125 Space Shuttle Atlantis Hubble repair mission, I’m struck by the “Go-No Go” mentality of NASA’s can-do Mission Control teams at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Think about it. “Go-No Go” translates into, “We’re going forward until we tell you to stop.” Success-oriented thinking. A “Go-No Go-er” manages risk by assessing potential outcomes and making reasoned decisions based on the probability for success. If new information comes, reassess and alter direction.

Now, let’s consider the reverse: “No Go-Go,” which means “Do nothing until you’re told to do something.” A “No Go-Go-er” is risk-averse, because risk may lead to that dreaded thing: failure.

Let’s face it: You can NEVER be wrong if you NEVER make a decision.

Think about the people around you: workmates, family, friends. How many do you know who operate in a holding pattern until they get a green light? Far too many, I expect. I call it the “Black Hole of In-Between” – the never-never-land spent waiting for something to happen or someone to give direction.

Often, I’ve observed, that we may be waiting for someone to make a decision and, all the while, he/she may be caught in the Black Hole of not knowing what decision to make. My suggestion: throw them a rope! Get busy and develop solutions to present to your leadership. Be the “Go-No Go-er” who gets things moving. Make a decision. It’s worth the risk. Really!

But then again, you take a risk following my advice. I’m the “protruding stake.” (Refer to About Beth page for Chinese proverb.) ;-D

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Filed under NASA, space

NASA Leadership

Get-OUT-of-this-World Leader

All the NASA-verse is a-Twitter with speculation about a new NASA Administrator. Social media allows us to spread rumors beyond the traditional NASA hall-talk and space media club to every-day-man, who picks up the buzz on blogs and Twitter. With Twitterfall, Tweetgrid,Tweetmeme and others trending agents, we can easily track the chatter.

A recent tweet that caught my attention. The writer wondered why the space community seemed so pleased with the rumored selection of former astronaut Charlie Bolden. Here’s my answer: Charlie Bolden is a known quantity.

NASA engineers and scientists, though forever searching for the answers to the unknown, like to deal in ‘knowns’ whenever possible. What, you say? It’s logical, really. We seek what we don’t know by leveraging what we know.

We pride ourselves at NASA in thoroughly mapping strategy to address every contingency that could EVER conceivably happen, then rethink it over and again. We have contingency procedures for every step along the way. We want to manage the risk and operate in a world of known quantities. If we don’t know, we test and test and test again until we build up a database of knowns.

Same with leadership. We find comfort in the known – even if we don’t like what is presented to us. At least we know what to expect and can adjust accordingly. Known=good, unknown=bad. That simple.

Charlie Bolden comes from the human spaceflight world. Heck, he flew in space. He’s one of us. Known=good. 

The President will make a choice for the next Administrator of NASA.  Whoever that man or woman may be, we desperately need a natural born leader with humility, integrity and good sense. 

Here’s my definition of leadership: 

A leader is NOT the one who steps to the front of the line, but one who INSPIRES a long line of followers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under NASA, space