Ambidextrous Organizations: The Power of AND

I was lucky enough this week to return to my old stomping grounds in Boston to take a class with an amazing collection of  CEO’s (Chief Executive Officer’s), Presidents, VP’s, COO’s (Chief Operating Officer’s) and others from 26 different nations.  The focus of the class was on Leading Change and Organizational Renewal and one of the most amazing aspects of the class was how the 91 participants from a wide spectrum of industries shared similar challenges.  Every industry was being faced with changes that were disrupting their organizations and they were looking for ways to better position their companies. 


OK, so what does this have to do with space?  Well, as I sat in the class I thought about the challenge ahead of us with the President’s direction.  He is asking NASA to focus more on pushing the envelope in technical innovations AND extend the International Space Station.  This may seem to be an easy task, but as I listened to my classmates and the professors it reinforced my belief that it is actually a very difficult path to navigate.  The reason is that the culture that made an organization successful in one domain may prevent it from being successful in another domain.  Specifically for NASA the culture that ensures the safe return of our astronauts can hinder us from pushing the envelope and taking risks.  By necessity we have been a culture of “Failure is not an Option” but now we are being asked to pursue initiatives where “Failure is a REQUIREMENT.”  Can these two cultures coexist?  Can you have a strong risk adverse and equally strong risk seeking culture within an organization without one “assimilating” the other? 


The short answer is YES.  But it is a yes that takes a great deal of effort and the right leadership.  The model presented was one that has been used by many successful companies including IBM (a great read on what IBM did is “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance.”).  The general idea is that a company needs to maintain the systems, culture and organization that support its core business while also creating an organization, culture and systems that will allow it to pursue the new direction.  For JSC this would translate into an organization that ensures the safe operations of the International Space Station and a new organization and culture that will embrace the risks required to push the envelope of technology.  The trick is giving the new organization the time to incubate.  To allow it to grow up and establish a new way of doing business.  History has shown that many organizations have tried this and failed and that one of the keys to success is a strong leader that can provide the top cover.  A leader that won’t be over taken by the dominant culture in the company. 


So, I would like to continue exploring this idea of maintaining an ambidextrous organization.  How do you create a structure that maintains both a culture of risk taking without impacting the continued success of the current business?  Do you have a successful model that you would like to share?  Or do you have lessons learned where your company tried and failed to create a dual culture?  Or what attributes do you believe are required in the leader that has to create a new way of conducting business alongside a strong dominant culture?


Sharing the Vision,

Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office


2010: Gotta Wear Shades!

Yes, I’m a glass half full kind of guy (and the only reason it is half full is because I already enjoyed the first half).  Recently I took a “change style indicator” assessment that captures a person’s preferred style in approaching change.  The range includes those that are Conservers, Pragmatists and Originators.  I was not surprised to find that I was way over on the Originator side, the side that is more comfortable with change. 

Therefore when I look at 2010 I am excited by the change that is ahead of us.  2010 ends one era, with the completion of the Shuttle program, making room for the next generation of space vehicles.  Yes, the Space Shuttle is an awesome vehicle.  Its capabilities are unmatched and it has served us well over the past 30 years and now it is time to extend our reach.  Now that we have our orbiting International laboratory, it is time to leverage it to enable us to reach new destinations like an asteroid, Lagrange points or even to the moons of Mars.  But it is not just the possibilities of a “flexible path” to extend humanity’s reach to Mars and beyond that is exciting about this coming year.  There are also other changes in the environment that marks us fully entering a new era in Space Exploration. 

This month we saw Richard Branson unveil his latest vehicle, the “Enterprise”, in the midst of a windstorm in California’s Mojave Desert.  The latest Enterprise vehicle is worthy of the name since it will be the first commercial vehicle to take more people closer to space.  We also will see this year the launch of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and get another step closer to commercial cargo access to the International Space Station.  Internationally we will see the first module of the Chinese Space Station, Shenzhou-8, being launched and connected in the future to Shenzhou-9.  Therefore soon we will have two orbiting laboratories in space and some speculate that this will also be an International Space Station with the partners including Iran, Pakistan and possibly North Korea.  Even though this partnership in space could cause some to be concerned, I am reminded of how NASA’s presence in space has created friends out of old enemies.  If it could happen before then I believe that space will allow us once again to create new alliances. Pollyanna?  I don’t think so.  The recent announcement of how NASA is inspiring Muslim students in the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) fields through a collaboration with the Arab Youth Venture Foundation in Abu Dhabi is once again a demonstration of how the agency can bring the world together. In space there are no borders and NASA has continually demonstrated through its exploration programs and inspiration that it exists for the benefit of humanity. 

So get out your sun glasses because 2010 will be bright with the glow of humanity reaching collectively to the stars.

Sharing the Vision,
Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

Slow and Steady: China takes a walk and Russia partners with Cuba

As we prepare for the next Shuttle mission I am reminded of the great photo that captured two Shuttle vehicles at their respective launch pads. It is easy to look at that picture and admire the incredible capability and accomplishments of our Human Space program. At the same time I can’t help but wonder about the parable of the tortoise and the hare. If you recall the tortoise repeated over and over again, “Slow and steady wins the race.”

During the month when this Shuttle photo was taken, Zhai Zhigang, the Shenzhou VII mission’s commander, was the first taikonaut to take a walk in space. China’s third human mission launched on Thursday, September 25th demonstrates China’s steady efforts to establish a permanent Chinese Human presence in Space. Also in “mid-September, Moscow and Havana negotiated joint space projects. Anatoly Perminov, director of the Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), said the sides had discussed the possibility of setting up a Cuban space center with Russian assistance.” The interesting part of this editorial was the reference to Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez. I know who is Mr. Mendez? During the time that we were not flying and preparing for the first shuttle mission, Mr. Mendez was the first Cuban to go into space on September 18, 1980. Now 28 years later, we will probably have two additional space agencies within our western hemisphere. Two? Oh, did I forget to mention how our own astronaut, Jose Hernandez is working on a proposal with Mexico to establish Agencia Espacial Mexicana (Mexican Space Agency).

Yes, many will not see some of these efforts as ever gaining the momentum to challenge our leadership in space. This may be true, but what should be our strategy forward? There are new alliances and relationships being established in the international community that do not include NASA. Should we leverage these relationships or create new ones? If we were to strengthen our ties with India or initiate a new partnership with the Mexican Space Agency, what would it look like? Let me know what you think.

Sharing the Vision,
Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

It's Getting Crowded Out There

 This summer the Washington post ran an article titled “U.S. Finds It’s Getting Crowded Out There: Dominance in Space Slips as Other Nations Step Up Efforts”.  At first glance the article could be taken as a pessimistic view of the future for the Agency, but for me it is an affirmation of the strategy that Mike Coats, JSC Center Director, has been sharing with the JSC leadership for the past two years.   

During the summer of 2006 this image was generated to capture the perspective that LEO will be getting crowded and we could either choose to compete in a crowded LEO or lead the International team to explore beyond LEO.  Mr. Coats decided that consistent with the Agency vision, we should begin focusing our sights on leading the integrated International team, comprised of both government and private industry to extend human presence beyond LEO.  (Yes, I know Mars does not orbit the Earth, but the figure is trying to represent the idea that the next destination beyond the moon is Mars).


Leading, we have found, is a tricky word.  It carries so many different connotations with so many different communities.  For JSC and NASA, leading the integrated International team is only possible if the leadership of each participant in the team is acknowledged.  Two years ago Mike Coats encouraged each organization to reach out to the leaders across the space flight community and across industry to benchmark and where it made sense to partner with those organizations.  He realized that capability will continue to grow outside of our gates and that humanity’s ability to reach beyond LEO lay in bringing together the acknowledged leaders in the various communities.  His call for benchmarking and partnerships has led to strong collaborations with the Engineering leadership across the Agency and with the software development and simulation expertise at Ames, just to name a few.  Acknowledging the leadership of each of the participants in the collaboration has made the collective team stronger.  Recently JSC’s Space Life Sciences directorate acknowledged the leadership role that the Rice Business Alliance plays in spurring Innovation by providing seed money for proposals benefiting the human system.  Leveraging the leadership of Rice’s Business Plan competition will in the end leverage the entrepeneurial spirit across a larger community.


Ok, so what does this have to do with the growing space faring capability in the International community that is highlighted in the Washington Post article?  I believe NASA’s current strengths address the future described in the article in three ways.  First, the International Space Station has given this Agency the unique ability to collaborate and integrate the efforts of an international team.  We have established relationships that we can continue to strengthen as the International community grows their Space Exploration capabilities.  Because of these relationships we can celebrate the strengthening of the international team instead of bemoaning the fact that they are gaining capabilities as implied by the Washington post article.  Secondly, there is a spirit of solution seekers that is permeating the Agency.  Instead of always looking within, there is a growing emphasis to find the best solutions across the community, regardless if it is at another Center, commercial space or International.  As one Senior JSC leader is fond of saying, “It is not either/or.  It is AND.”  It is not a case of the International community or NASA.  It is not they lead or NASA leads.  It is we lead by capitalizing on our collective strengths. 


Finally the Center and the Agency is focusing more and more on growing an environment and culture of innovation and collaboration.  An organization that is continually innovating will continue to grow and adapt to the changing dynamics surrounding it.  


What do you think about the Washington Post article?  Do you agree or disagree?  If you agree, how can the Agency better position itself?


Sharing the Vision,

Steven Gonzalez, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office






International Space: Space Race or Federation

Fifty years later and it is amazing how many still long for another space race. The logic goes something like this, “If we had another Space Race then the public and therefore congress would fully fund American Space Exploration.” As you can imagine there are many strong opinions about the validity of that logic, but at the AAS 2007 national conference titled “Celebrating Fifty Years – But, What’s Next?” I recently heard two opinions that greatly resonated with me. The first was that the initial Space Race must be couched in the context of that time and the global context of today is very different. The second was from the collaborative, social networking culture of Generation Y and their desire to see a global effort to expand our presence in Space. As the speaker shared the Generation Y opinions of the future, what came to mind were the beginnings of “The Federation” for all of you Star Trek fans.

But not only is the context different today and the perspectives of the next Generation very different from 50 years ago, the International Space community is much more than just two super powers. In the World Prospects for Government Space Markets Report available from Euroconsult, an in-depth analysis on government civil and military space is captured for the 35 leading countries and organizations, along with insights into the 48 emerging national programs. The first time I saw the below chart I was surprised by some of the emerging programs. Although not shown here, the report also highlights Mexico’s plans to create a Mexican Space Agency, or AEXA, for short.

Yes, all of these nations are not involved in the Human Exploration of Space but the number is greater than 2 and growing. Secondly this chart makes the point that space competencies are being found in an ever expanding global community. This growth is being fueled not just by national pride but also by a growing realization that innovation leads to national wealth and attracts more business. For some great insight into this, I would recommend Innovation Nation by John Kao. (More on Innovation in a future blog.) Or for a shorter read, look at the Road map drafted between Russia and the European Union that highlights space as an area of focus for economic growth, Road Map For The Common Economic Space – Building Blocks For Sustained Economic Growth. OK, so what about Space Exploration? I think that JAXA captures it best in their video presentation of their JAXA Vision – JAXA 2025. In the video it shows a moon populated with bases from multiple nations. Currently Russia, (Russia to send manned mission to the Moon by 2025), China (China Plans to Land on Moon By 2024), India, (Indian scientists support human space mission) and Japan are planning human missions to the moon. When those countries arrive they will find other vehicles in the space around the moon and on the lunar surface. Last year “British space scientists said they plan to undertake the country’s first mission to the moon by the end of the decade. Germany also plans an unmanned flight to the moon by 2013. Beside Germany and UK, China, Japan, India and Italy have similar plans.” (see Russia Plans To Go On the Moon). So with all of these countries heading out beyond Low Earth Orbit can you truly call it a race? Or will the better measure of success be who has the greatest staying power? Which nation, once they land on the lunar surface, will establish a lasting presence on the moon? Or better yet, who will partner with whom to reach to the moon and beyond?

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the future of space exploration is the partnerships that are being created for this “New Space Age”. Russia is partnering with ESA to create the Clipper Spacecraft. Russia and India are joining in a moon mission and China is partnering with Nigeria and Venezuela. Earlier this year it was announced that NASA and India have signed an agreement for future cooperation. Yet, more intriguing than the new collaborations is who isn’t included in the team. The original 2 space faring nations are not always included in the teaming arrangements.

Adding this to the changing environment in commercial space that I shared last time makes me believe that the next 20 years will be quite different from the past 50. It offers a great deal of opportunity for NASA and a challenge. The opportunity lies in the potential partnerships that we can leverage and the growing expertise that we can tap into globally. The challenge is to decide if this future environment will necessitate a new or more focused role for JSC and the other NASA centers. Therefore, the question I leave for you this week is whether our role (or if you prefer, the unique value we offer) should change in the future and if so what should it be?

Sharing the Vision –
Steven Gonzalez, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office