Category Archives: culture

5th Dimension: Imagination Space

There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone—Rod Serling

Star Trek: Borg spacecraft

Star Trek: Borg Cube

In physics, the fifth dimension exists outside the space-time continuum, which is the three-dimensional space (up-down, backward-forward, right-left) plus the fourth dimension of time. I’ll stick with Rod Serling’s version of the fifth dimension as the space where imagination lives.

Looking at the fifth dimension from a math point of view, five-dimensional geometry features a 5-cube, part of the hypercube family (which makes me think of the Star Trek Borg connection.) Look at the series of geometric figures below, each generated from a 5-cube. What do you see? I see a visual representation of the 5th Dimension Imagination Space — a constellation of ideas and solutions that can be generated from 5 points of reference.


Idea generation (or…31 uniform polytera generated from 5-cube)

So how can we harness the 5th Dimension Imagination Space?

That question drives my PhD dissertation research on the topic of Social Intrapreneurship — individuals from the 5th Dimension who leverage the mission and capabilities of their organizations to provide social good. I’m looking at the characteristics  and skills of change-makers, their idea generation/implementation process, and the organizations capacity to allow entrepreneurial activities to exist and flourish. I’m specifically interested in the disruptive thinking process that can shift the status quo and bring about social change.

Here are a few tidbits of wisdom from three books I’ve read recently.

1. “Change By Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation,” by Tim Brown.

Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO offers three dimensions to define the creation space:

  1. inspiration space, where insights are harvested;
  2. ideation space, where insights become ideas; and
  3. implementation space, where action plans are created from the best ideas (p. 64).

He divides the creation process into “four mental states” — divergent and convergent thinking, followed by analysis and synthesis (p. 66-70). Divergent thinking is all about creating choices, where convergent thinking leads to making choices (p. 82). The process of brainstorming is a “structured way of breaking out of structure (p. 78).”

 “Every design process cycles through foggy periods of seemingly unstructured experimentation and bursts of intense clarity, periods of grappling with the Big Idea and long stretches during which all attention focuses on the details.” — Tim Brown

My favorite part of the book was his story about working on a kid’s product for NIKE (our partner). They asked a group of kids, aged eight to ten, to come up with a product ideas — then divided the girls from the boys. The girls came up with over 200 ideas by leap-frogging each other’s ideas. The boys compiled 50 ideas. Hmmm. Why, you may ask. The author explains that the boys were so busy trying to sell their own ideas that they paid little attention to anyone else’s ideas (p. 79).

2. “How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas,” by David Bornstein

Bornstein explores what makes a social entrepreneur and looks for ways to identify them before they become well known. “Social entrepreneurs rarely announce themselves when they walk in the door.” He points out Ashoka’s criteria — vision, determination, and ethics (p. 120-201). He points to the difference between having an idea and being able to implement it (p. 123).

“What fascinates me most about the social entrepreneurs, at a personal level, is the way they hold to an internal vision no matter how many disruptive forces surround them. Somehow they find ways to construct meanings for themselves and hold to those meanings. On a daily basis, they manage to align their interests, abilities, beliefs, while acting to produce changes that accord with their deepest convictions (p. 288).” — David Bornstein

Bornstein identifies six qualities to look for in social entrepreneurs:

  1. willingness to self-correct,
  2. willingness to share credit,
  3. willingness to break free of established structures,
  4. willingness to cross disciplinary boundaries,
  5. willingness to work quietly, and
  6. strong ethical impetus (p. 238-46).

3. “The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets that Change the World” by John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan

“Being unreasonable is not just a state of mind. It is also a process by which older, outdated forms of reasoning are jettisoned and new ones conceived and evolved (p. 1).” — Elkington and Hartigan

The authors investigated the roots of unreason in successful social entrepreneurs to determine how their bring about change. From the outside, these individuals seek “outlandish goals” by attacking intractable problems. They force others to “look beyond the edge of what is possible.” The authors wanted to understand how they approach value creation, as well as common models of leadership and business.

Social entrepreneurs are in demand from global corporations who are looking for “market intelligence” since entrepreneurs serve as “sensitive barometers for detecting market risk and opportunities (p. 2).” What sets social entrepreneurs apart from their business entrepreneur counterparts is their sense of the long-term solutions to problem, rather than short term gain from selling the idea.

How do we populate the 5th Dimension Imagination Space with divergent, disruptive thinkers, who have the freedom to create the maximum number of choices for optimum implementation?

I’ll let you know when I finish my dissertation. And, I hope I don’t find myself somewhere out in the Twilight Zone. 😉

Twilight Zone

Rod Serling: Twilight Zone

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Filed under culture, innovation, social entrepreneurship, space

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”


Filed under culture, innovation, LAUNCH, social entrepreneurship

Think UNthinkable Thoughts

“To achieve the impossible, it is PRECISELY the UNthinkable that MUST be thought.” Tim Robbins

How many times have you shared an idea, only to be told it would never work? While you’re busy counting, I can tell you I lost count several lifetimes ago.

Visionaries “envision” the end product in their heads. Realizing that vision, now that’s the heart of the adventure. The barriers to success are built upon layers of “no way” or “you’re crazy” or “not on my watch.”

Think about the dreamers who designed the magnificent reusable space vehicle we know as the Space Shuttle. Though they believed winged flight from space back to Earth was possible, could they ever have imagined 30 years of reliable service? Yes, we’ve experienced two tragedies, but we’ve also witnessed 20,952 orbits around Earth by the fleet — prior to next week’s final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Time in space for 134 flights: 1,320 days, one hour, 32 minutes, 44 seconds.

Space Shuttle Atlantis rolling out to the launch pad for her final flight. NASA/Bill Ingalls

Space Shuttle Atlantis rolling out to the launch pad for her final flight. NASA/Bill Ingalls

Prior to the final mission, STS-135, the five Orbiters traveled 537,114,016 miles.

  • Columbia was the first to fly into orbit carrying John Young and Bob Crippen on April 12, 1981. She flew 27 complete missions for 121,696,993 miles and 300 days in space. The vehicle and crew were lost at the end of the STS-107, her 28th mission. (My personal story: I worked at NASA Headquarters in DC, but was in Texas with my daughter Steph for a college visit at The University of Texas. My sister lived north of Dallas. One of her friends from JSC called to ask us to go outside and look for the Orbiter in the sky. They had lost contact. Horror of horror. We only saw contrails.)
  • Challenger‘s maiden flight was STS-6 on April 4, 1983. She flew nine complete missions for 995 miles and 62 days in space, before exploding at lift off on her 10th mission, STS-51L, carrying Christa McAuliffe, our first Teacher in Space. (My story: I was on maternity leave from the Johnson Space Center after the birth of baby daughter Steph. I saw the story on the news. I attended the Memorial Service with President Reagan. I came back from maternity leave to the accident investigation.) 
  • Discovery flew her maiden voyage in August 1984 with STS-41D. She served as the Return to Flight missions after both accidents. She flew 148,221,675 miles, 39 flights, and 365 days (ONE FULL YEAR) in space. As the most seasoned Orbiter, Discovery retired first following the STS-133 mission.
  • Endeavour is the baby of the fleet. She was the last built, ordered to replace Challenger. She flew her first mission, STS-49, in May, 1992. She retired second after flying 122,883,151 miles and 25 missions and 299 days in space through her final mission, STS-134.
  • Atlantis flew first on October 3, 1985 during the STS-51J mission. She is the last operational vehicle in the Space Shuttle fleet. Prior to this final mission, she’s completed 32 flights and 120,650,907 miles and 293 days in space.

Over the last 30 years, the five Orbiters carried human cargo to space and back: 848 before this final flight of Atlantis, which carries a crew of four: Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus and Rex Wilheim. At the end of the Space Shuttle program, 852 humans can boast about riding a rocket to space and glider back to planet Earth. Think about the stories they’ll tell their grandchildren and great grandchildren — about a time when humans allowed themselves to think unthinkable thoughts. And when they did, they created something amazingly awesome: a reusable winged space plane.

STS-135 Space Shuttle Atlantis on launch pad. Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach

STS-135 Space Shuttle Atlantis on launch pad. Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach

If we keep thinking unthinkable thoughts, we can do unimaginable things and go unforeseenable [yes, I know this is not a word, but I like it] places. 

But it takes work:

  • Parents, believe your kids can do more than seems possible. Give them a leg up: support them even if it means sacrifice on your part.
  • Teachers, open your students’ eyes to the wonder of the universe. One of them may be the first to build a personal spacecraft or step on Mars without the need for a bulky spacesuit.
  • Bosses, give your employees an opportunity to create new products and processes. Allow them the flexibility to think outside the box without fear of retribution.

Even as we close out the Space Shuttle program, tomorrow holds great promise if we dare to dream it. So, let’s get to it!


Filed under astronaut, culture, Earth, innovation, NASA, space, technology, tweet-up

Tips for Anthony Rotolo’s Students

Professor Anthony Rotolo asked me to skype with his social media class. They want to talk about how students can be effective out in the workforce through the use of social media. I’m not sure social media will be the coolest, hippest thing around town by the time they get established in new jobs. It might be. Or the next coolest thing might be what they offer to their new employers.

So instead, I offer a few tips on how to affect change in organizations, which I think is the real question.

Get to know your new organization’s culture.

Ask questions:

  • What do you want to see changed?
  • What does change look like?
  • What does success look like?
  • What stands in your way?

Sometimes knowledge stands between status quo and success. Sometimes technology stands in the gap. Most of the time, culture creates the divide.

Explore your organization to understand its culture:

  • Status quo.
  • Incremental change.
  • Innovation.
  • Some combination of the above.

Your recommendations should reflect the organization’s ability to receive them.

For instance, if the organization is conservative and status quo-oriented, your eagerness to offer change may overwhelm them, causing the organization to shut down the conversation, or worse, shut you out and keep talking with other like-minded folks.

Your goal should be to keep the conversation alive, and to expose them to small doses of change at a time, if that’s all they can absorb.

Always give options:

  • Option 1: looks and feels familiar.
  • Option 2: feels like home but offers new capabilities.
  • Option 3: new look and feel.

Let the organization pick and choose among the options to craft what makes them happy.

Always offer something uncomfortable. If you offer a range from 1-3, the most they can stretch to is #3. If you offer #1-10, #10 may seem so outrageous that they actually pick #6 because it feels so much safer than #10.  But they’ve moved twice as far as they would have had the options been safer.

And now, we can talk specifically about social media. Fire away with questions.



Maren Gause from Professor Rotolo’s class posted this blog after class: Social Media in SPAAAACE.

Professor Rotolo’s Blog: @Rotolo Blog: Galactic Guest Appearance


Filed under culture, federal government, innovation, NASA, social media

When Old Hinders New

I’ve been working on my taxes all day. Ug. As I sort through receipts and tax forms, my eyes wander out the window to my garden. I see daffodil and tulip bulbs breaking ground. Wow! Spring is coming!

But wait, I also notice all the old flowers shriveled and brown, impeding the new growth.

I decide to head out into the yard and clip back the dead growth. I really don’t want anything getting in the way of those gorgeous Spring flowers. They shouldn’t have to fight their way to the surface. They need my help. And yes, I’m procrastinating. Taxes can wait. Tulips can’t!

While I’m outside freezing my fingers off clipping back mums and lavender and sweet potato vines (snow is coming tonight), I realize how much of life is like my garden.

It’s really hard to start fresh when old, dead growth stifles our progress.

I think of work and all that we do (as a federal bureaucracy) that is merely a relic of the past — just because we’ve always done things a certain way. We stamp the same forms with the same stamp the person before us used. Heaven forbid using an electronic stamp. Or quit stamping all together. We don’t know what to do with change, and yet when it’s forced upon us, we eventually get used to it. We may even grow to like it.

If we clip away the past, innovation might just have a chance.

Shuttle Stack

Shuttle Stack

Take, for example, the Space Shuttle program. We made the decision to pave the way for future space transportation by closing out this chapter in our nation’s space program. We couldn’t move forward as long as we were busy taking care of what we had. Though we don’t have an American transportation solution worked out yet, who knows what might spring up now that the Shuttle (sadly) will no longer be our vehicle of choice. Commercial space has a chance to take off, so to speak.

We’ve cleared a path for others to follow.

Letting go of the old to make way for the new isn’t easy. But nothing worth doing is ever easy, is it? Funny thing I’ve learned about myself through the years, I place more value on accomplishments I work really hard for.

Sometimes breaking free from the past is the hardest work of all.

Space Shuttle Endeavor against the Sky

One of my fav pics: Space Shuttle Endeavor against the Sky. Credit: NASA

Back to my garden story. Now that I’ve cleared away the dead growth outside, I can thaw out  in my study and imagine the vibrant colors I expect to see out in the yard in a few short weeks. (And hopefully I’ll can expect a refund check too, if I get busy on my taxes.)

Spring tulip from my garden.

Spring tulip from my garden.

So, what about you?

Does something keep you from moving forward? What if something really amazing is just around the corner, but you can’t see through the debris in your life?

Get out your pruning clippers! Or better yet, let’s rev up the bulldozer!!

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Filed under culture, innovation, NASA

Significance Vs Obedience

I’ve been struggling a great deal since returning from South Africa just one week ago. I’m having trouble readjusting to “normal” — as in my daily routine. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than when I was surrounded by the children of Bethany House — playing, sharing, laughing, snuggling. Just being fully “present” with them felt important to me, like I made a difference in their lives, though even just for such a short time.

Bethany House

Bethany House CourtyardBethany House CourtyardToddler House @ Bethany House

While we were there, we also had an opportunity to serve meals to the homeless at the new Ikusasa Bethany House homeless shelter for boys. Ten boys are now living at the shelter, and over 50 homeless adults come for meals. My contribution: scooping chicken vegetable soup onto a container of pap, a mashed potato looking food. Such a simple act, yet so satisfying.

Bethany House Ikusasa Shelter for Street ChildrenIkusasa Shelter

Serving others puts “self” in perspective. If you’ve ever volunteered to help those less fortunate in disadvantaged areas, you know how humbling the experience can be.

We’re forced to face the contrast between our lives and theirs.

In America, many of us take for granted our giant TV screens, multi-car garages, family cell phone plans. We accumulate the newest, fastest, coolest fad gadgets, and when something breaks, we see it as a welcome excuse for the newer version of our toy. We don’t worry about where the next meal will come from or where we’ll find shelter each night. We’re not faced with decisions that you see described in the Bethany House poster below. Shudder!

Bethany House poster

Returning home to my “normal” existence here feels something like survivor’s guilt. I’m just not sure what to do with myself. Being at work feels like I’m not doing enough to make the world a better place. I don’t know how to put my life in context, now that I’m back.

As I pondered all these things this morning, my eyes fell on a book that Steph sent home with me,I Dared to Call Him Father: The Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman’s Encounter with God” by Bilquis Sheikh. I picked up the book and read it cover to cover, crying through much of it. Not from sadness but because of how amazing God is! I needed this book on this very day. I feel renewed after reading about the faith of one woman, who yearned to know God and risked her entire existence to follow Him.

In the story, set in the 1960’s in Pakistan, Bilquis Sheikh struggled over her lack of “results.” God taught her to focus on obedience, and leave the results to Him. Yes, I cried at this point in the book too. I realized, yet again, that God placed me exactly where He wants me — to accomplish His purposes, not mine. God didn’t ask me to be “significant,” but rather to be obedient.

Significance is all about me. Obedience is all about God. Huge difference.

Right now, obedience translates for me as being a good civil servant. My NASA salary enables me be a “sender,” allowing others to serve God in the mission field while I stay put here at home.

Over two decades ago, God placed a burden on my Daddy’s heart for Africa. He asked our extended family to refrain from exchanging Christmas gifts and donate the money to charities to help feed the African people. He never got to visit the continent he loved, and yet, look at his legacy: Daddy’s little brother Phil and his granddaughter Steph both serve in Africa. How cool is that? One man’s simple act of obedience reaps rewards even today.

One step of faith at a time.


Filed under Africa, Bethany House Trust, culture, NASA, poverty

Castles and Foundation Stones

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Henry David Thoreau

Karlstejn Castle outside Prague: home of the Holy Roman Empire.

Karlstejn Castle outside Prague: home of the Holy Roman Empire.

Debbie Weil came to NASA recently to interview me for a book she’s writing about Social Media and the over 50 crowd — and yes, I totally fit into her demographic. She asked how we’d been able to make such headway at NASA with a number of groundbreaking projects.

My answer: by doing all the hard work to put solid foundations in place to support them.

UK Appleby Castle Knight. Copyright 2002 Beth Beck

UK Appleby Castle Knight. Copyright 2002 Beth Beck

Sometimes the best tool for breaking new ground is a pickax. Sometimes it involves diplomacy. Sometimes it requires creative negotiations. Most often it requires stubborn determination and an extremely thick skin. Body armor comes in handy too — for all the slings and arrows of opposition.

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
and by opposing end them.” — Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Making dreams come true takes a good deal of sweat, blood and tears. Ask any entrepreneur how many hours he or she works, or how many ideas crashed and burned along the way.

Sometimes putting the legal, budget, and procurement processes in place to create a project seems to take longer than necessary. Yes, it usually does. That’s what Red Tape is all about. But the fact that we get anything through the federal bureaucracy at all can be nothing short of a miracle. So rejoice when we make it through to the other side. Cobbling together political will to make change happen can be exhausting as well, but it’s absolutely, positively essential for success of any new project.

Foundation building is grueling, hard work — whether it means digging deep into the rock, or building up stone by stone, block by block. Better the house built on rock than one built on shifting sand.

“But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 23-27

So whether you’re building solid foundations of character or projects, my hat’s off to you. I’ll be right there beside you, slugging it out to make this world a better place.

Here’s to castles in the air, and the foundations that keep them there!



Filed under culture, federal government, Gov 2.0, LAUNCH, leadership, NASA, social media