Inspire or Expire

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center got an inspiring first visit from our new Administrator Charlie Bolden.  I am always fascinated by how executives manage their transition into leadership.  Clearly, with a resume like Charlie Bolden has, he’s no stranger to transition.  We got clues about the man, his mission, and perhaps about his modus operandi.

One thing that stuck in my mind and in my heart was a charge that NASA should inspire the world.  He may have said nation, but I heard – the world.  I’m sure of it, actually.  As leaders, we are constantly honing our leadership competencies so that we can inspire a workforce.  The key issue, however, is that leaders need to do that plus create organizations that inspire.

The derivation of the word inspire comes from the Latin verb spirare meaning to breathe.  Inspiration literally means to breathe into.  How does an organization breathe into the nation or the world? Four other words come to mind that are relevant to this discussion.  Transpire, respire, perspire, or expire.

Inspiring organizations would have to transpire or emerge.  They have to come outside of themselves and find out what’s going on.  Look at the environment and develop an understanding of their external surroundings.

Inspiring organizations would need to respire or breathe.  Breath sustains life.  It is the process of bringing into an organization, the things that are needed to sustain it.  It is also the process of shedding the things that are noxious. 

Finally, inspiring organizations would need to perspire or sweat.   Some of that sweat will come from hard work and some of it will come from reacting and managing risk.  Regardless, you don’t get very far without doing the things that produce sweat.

And if organizations are not able to do these things, there is a strong possibility that organizations may expire.  Many doubt that a government institution can meet organizational demise.  But, organizational demise shows up in many forms: failure to meet mission, failure to satisfy stakeholders, or inability to meet their constituents’ needs are some possible outcomes.

Just like the Apostle Paul, who appreciated the proverbial thorn in his side, I appreciate the comments that I might get that say “what does inspiration have to do with getting a man to the moon?” or “what does inspiration have to do with being a CIO?”

Well, there’s this thing called the Constitution that talks about things like promoting general welfare, and pursuit of happiness.  Who knows, maybe inspiration from an organization like NASA can contribute to that. 

For a CIO, who supports the inspiring organization, it may look like providing and promoting enabling technologies that help with collaboration.  It may look like reducing costs so that we can better utilize the scarce resources that we have.  Finally, it may look like understanding the work that needs to be done and giving advice about how can be technology can be applied to the effort.

In a smaller group of Goddard’s Executive Council, Charlie Bolden gave me some good-spirited poking about why I was not smiling.  I must have known in advance what he might say and what it may mean.  I shouldn’t have been worried though.  I realize now that all I have to do is get out, take deep breaths, and get ready for hard work.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

8 thoughts on “Inspire or Expire”

  1. I work at a low-income, culturally diverse elementary school just outside of NE Philadelphia. My inspiration comes from the children. After 32 years of teaching, I am excited by the fresh gaze of young people who have yet to experience all the world has to offer. For all I know, one of them may be President, or an astronaut, or an engineer designing the next version of inter-planetary travel.

    I share my excitement about the wonders of the universe in hopes of inspiring one of the students to think about the possibilities for life beyond the classroom, beyond the mall, beyond this little community, beyond the city: as far as their imaginations can stretch. Children can only build from what they know; I can scaffold to provide their reach to extend far beyond an elementary school’s walls, chalkboards, & computer screens.

    We are all CIO’s for someone; if not in our profession, then for family & friends, & ultimately for ourselves. Teachers can represent lifelong learning, as role models for the tiniest 5 year old to the tallest 6th grader. Whether we “teach” science doesn’t matter; we can “live” science by what & how we share with others.

  2. For many years Nasa has bought pride to the American people every since I was a little boy I was stuck to the T.V. watching Lassy and all of the Apollos quest for the stars bringing adventure and amazement into my life but now the sadness of having to wait five years for American flight missions and having our country hitching a ride why not overhaual the space shuttles and put a few more million miles on them .

  3. hi, umm i have a question. im 14 and i really wnat to work for nasa when im older. Im looking at becoming anaerospace engineer, but i would also really like to go to space. its been my dream since i was 4! but i dont how to get nasa what degrees i need to get or what colleges i should go to. can you help me with this?

  4. In reply to comment from Cassidy Deeth posted 8/2/09:

    I will answer your question first by telling you how I came to NASA. Like you, I was inspired by NASA and thought I wanted to be an astronaut. But, back then, I didn’t think that an African-American girl could aspire to such an occupation. Thank goodness courageous woman, Dr. Mae Jemison, did it anyway.

    I studied Mathematics in college and was hired the first time fresh out of college to do computer programming. I didn’t stay at NASA, but I returned almost 25 years later in the position I’m in now.

    Take as many mathematics and science classes as you can. Study and understand what you are learning.

    NASA has information here: that mey be of interest.

    Best wishes and hold on to and nurture your passion for engineering. You won’t regret it.

  5. Inspiring teams is one of the most difficult things I have to do – and inspiring people on a corporate basis more so. From what I'm finding inspiration is a by-product of being able to lead. If I practice what I preach and defend the team I find that everyone is inspired to work that little bit harder. In the past I've found that the least inspirational leaders were the ones who felt that leadership was simply managing people – tell them what to do and they will do it. Leading not by example but by command – and often the team rebelled against them for not 'getting their hands dirty'.
    Glad to see that to large organisations such as NASA inspiration is focussed on as something that is worth pursuing – I wish where I worked had an automatically inspiring goal – such as sending a man to the moon.


  6. Hi Linda,

    Another well written and thought provoking post. I have been following you on Twitter ( some time and enjoy your updates.

    I agree that leaders need to do that, plus create organizations that inspire, and I like how you have explained that an organization must Transpire, respire, perspire, or expire.

    However far too often I have heard inspirational speeches from the leadership of many a potentially world changing organization, that promise their goal is to “Breathe into the nation or world” as you put it, and time and time again all I see is leaching from the world and nation.

    I hope NASA through sound enterprise architecture truly does inspire the world and bring positive change through technology and ethical leadership. There is much need in developing countries for this.

    Look forward to your posts and tweets!

    Mike Greenough BSci
    Natural Health Consultant

  7. With national security at an all time high, a look into internet security as well is needed. If you use a , then there is much more security for you and all sensetive information in the cyber world.

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