IT Transformation at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in 7/4 Time
After an intense week, I had a rare opportunity yesterday to sit down at the piano and play for a few hours. I was sight reading some holiday music and ran into God Rest You Merry Gentlemen. It was a jazzed up version in 7/4 time. For the musically challenged, that’s seven beats to each measure, or one hard foot tap followed by 6 others. So, being a pretty decent sight reader I got through it, but it sure sounded stupid.
Later that evening, we had a family gathering to celebrate my grandfather’s birthday. My brother David was there. Of Harriette’s three children who went to Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC, this little boy was the only one who turned his passion and love for music into a way to feed himself and his family. As an aside, it’s worth noting that this former annoying baby brother has turned out to be a fine husband, father, and son. I told him about this goofy song. I said that ONE-two-three-four-ONE-two-three just didn’t work for this song. He said, “Wow, cool. You’ve got it all wrong! It’s ONE-two-UM-pa-pa-UM-pa-ONE-two-UM-pa-pa-UM-pa.”. Then he went on to scat it to the melody. After that, he started to sing it. I still didn’t get it, but it sure sounded good. And I listened.
As I laid in bed this morning, I reflected on my week and some of my challenges leading IT change and strengthening the role of the CIO. The CIOs at NASA are often accused of being disconnected from the mission. The supply-side of the CIO (deliver service) and the demand-side (partner with mission stakeholders) are two sides of the same CIO coin. The service delivery role of the CIO is clearly understood and often problematic. “Go away CIO, if, and only if you deliver service sufficiently, we will talk to you about partnership”. So as CIOs struggle to focus exclusively on going from 99.9% to 99.99% availability, we drift further and further away from partnering with and understanding those we serve, our mission. The only way to get through this is to focus on both – delivering service to the delight of customers AND listening to them to nurture the beginning of that critical demand-side partnership.
Well, enough thinking about work, after all, this was a Sunday morning where I had a chance to relax a bit and sleep in. Then I started hearing in my head … ONE-two-UM-pa-pa-UM-pa-ONE-two-UM-pa-pa-UM-pa. Then I got it. I was being a supply-side musician. I read very well, and each triplet, quarter note, crescendo were all executed accurately; but the song still sounded stupid. I was not using the right syncopation. I was out of sync with how the song was supposed to be played. Then I got it. Emphasis on the first, third, and sixth beat, not the first and fifth! I missed the whole point of the music and didn’t understand the intent.
Humm, this sounded a lot like what NASA CIOs struggle with. We not only need to understand and execute the tempo and rhythm of mission requirements; but we also have to use the syncopation that puts the right emphasis on mission risks; and we also have to produce the mellifluous melody of mission outcomes. This will take a whole lot of listening, and playing back, but I think I might have it. ONE-two-UM-pa-pa-UM-pa-ONE-two-UM-pa-pa-UM-pa -ONE-two-UM-pa-pa-UM-pa-ONE-two-UM-pa-pa-UM-pa.
Linda Y. Cureton, CIO NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center