Turning Ideation into the Greatest Nation in the World

This week, I attended a meeting of Gartner’s Emerging Technologies Best Practices Council.  It was a fascinating week of learning about how old organizations are using new technologies in new ways.  Not surprisingly, there were many conversations about Web 2.0 technologies.  There were also several discussions on the process of creating ideas, ideation.


My Myers-Briggs type is INTP. So, assuming one believes in those instruments, I am suppose to be an idea-generating machine who “… starting with only a vague intuition, can construct a whole new world of ideas.”  But this notion of ideation had been bugging me for a while, but I really couldn’t put my finger on why.  I was reading a passage in Judy Estrin’s book “Closing the Innovation Gap” which shed a little light on my irritation. 


“There are a half a dozen words in the English language that are substitutes for substance.  Three of them are innovation, accountability, and leadership,” says retired Intel CEO Andy Grove. “Companies that let people get away with murder talk too much about accountability. Those that don’t have the courage to leave the handrail talk incessantly about leadership. And people who are incapable of changing what they are doing, or even analyzing what’s wrong, go on and on about innovation.”


Now, don’t get me wrong, my husband would tell you that I am probably an impractical true-to-type INTP. But, what good are ideas if they never develop into anything of measured value, use or purpose? Drop back ten and punt? And then again, how do you know whether or not you’re on the very brink of inventing the next wonderful thing? Fourth and short – go for it!


Time Magazine just recognized the 50 Best Inventions of 2008. Two missions from NASA made the list – Goddard Space Flight Center’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (#3); and though not entirely a Goddard Mission, the Mars Science Lab (#18) will carry Goddard’s own microwave-oven-sized instrument suite, Sample Analysis at Mars. I am clearly fortunate to live in what Estrin calls an Ecosystem that has bred such marvelous engineering wonders of the world.  But, how does a CIO create and nurture an Ecosystem that breeds the IT wonders of the world?  It’s all around me and I don’t want to just talk about it, I want to do it.


In looking back at great innovations, they seemed to have come about as a result of the right environment, for the right people, given the right resources.  These people, and their supporting leadership, also had a courage to persist that was fueled by passion and inspired by a nurturing culture. 


Maybe ideation seemed to me to be a mindless paint-by-numbers process.  It’s probably not.  I think it just seemed strange to define a process that was so natural to me.  Whatever.  But, the supernatural part comes in when we understand how to apply the right dose of leadership, passion, power, and purpose to inspire ideas into reality and into masterpieces of innovation.


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

9 thoughts on “Turning Ideation into the Greatest Nation in the World”

  1. Yea like inventing a mar rover wash to keep solar panel clean during a sand storm. not kidding if acar company can take the time to put a 3inch wiperfor headlightthen we can find a way to keep solar panal clean.

  2. Hello,

    I am for sure a long time supporter of NASA -although I am a European- and everything that has to do with space and the necessary innovations that made all these things possible. I have a lot of friends in the USA, I have been there several times and most of all people that I met there were very charming, welcoming and everything you could wish as a guest.
    But what I do not like is the tendency of some people to consider the USA (or themselves) as the “greatest nation of the world”, sorry for that. To be overly narcisstic may lead (in my opinion) to another tendency: To prescribe the rest of the world what is best for them. You cannot and you should not do that. Do your innovations (like we will do that too) and enjoy them and be a little bit more humble. That would calm down a lot of people outside your greatest nation.

  3. Come on Linda, you gotta answer #1 and #2’s questions. (By the Way.) I think you would make one heck of an CTO in P-E O’s cabinet. (RT).

  4. Welcome back RT, whoever you are. I figured that you MUST know me because I woke up at 4:15 am realizing that you knew I couldn’t resist taking that philosophical bait.

    To Number 1: I won’t offer a comment about the opinion that he (or she) is entitled to have. I will make an observation from a federal CIO perspective relative to IT and about how we are now at a point of inflection where we have unmet needs that could be satisfied by innovation. But do we, as Estrin poses, have an ecosystem that encourages this? Richard Daft wrote in his text Organizational Theory and Design that about 80% of new products fail upon introduction. These statistically high failure rates may be something our federal ecosystem can’t bear. However, we need to continue to seek the right combination of creativity, courage, and leadership in an ecosystem that provides opportunities to innovate in that sweet spot of balancing/mitigating/managing/eliminating risks and harvesting rewards/benefits.

    To Number 2: I won’t apologize for being the CIO of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, a citizen of this country, nor a resident of this blue marble called Earth. I do, however, recognize the paradox of humility going hand-in-hand with the BHAG of “the greatest”. As a young coed, I once asked my Calculus I teacher, “How big is infinity?” He answered with, how big would you like it? How big does it need to be? How big do you think it is? Well, add one to that, see it’s bigger. So, how great is “greatest”? I think we approach it asymptotically through humility. Collins says that “good is the enemy of great”. The arrogance of being good will keep us from being great; the humility of doubt will cause us to strive for greatness … except when we add “one” to “great”, we’re still not there.

  5. and the anwser is yes, our ecosystem can if done right, man theory are one way at looking at solving a problem, it is not to be taken as the only way at looking at thing, the problem is that too many fail/safe have been put in the system and i understand why,but are where closeing the door on our seft by doing so.

  6. Many people thinks that solar panel are the best for now, until we invent something that really can help. One of my toy a solar charger change my life. It is a great thing to charge everything with the power of the sun and I think and for our planet it is great too how do you think? I have found really good articles in this topic at http://solartricklecharger.co.cc

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