As I head into the fourth quarter of my first year as NASA CIO, I find myself in somewhat of a struggle between competing forces. I have cried more in one month than I have in one year, but the tears are not bad tears, they are good tears actually.
In a misguided way, we think that this leadership journey is supposed to be easy; that good leaders always have two choices – the right answers or the wrong answers; make the right decisions or make the wrong decisions; and do it with a smile and with courage like we all see in photographs and press releases. But at the point of difficulty maybe right there in the tears and in the midst of the struggle, problems are solved…the impossible is made possible…and dreams become reality.
Yin and Yang describes opposing forces which flow in a natural way and always seek balance. The two opposing forces flow in such a way that they become merely two aspects of a single reality. Yin and Yang talks about extremes such as “dark” and “light”, “male” and “female”, “low” and “high”.
From an organizational perspective, I see these opposing forces in issues like:
· “being the best IT organization in Government” versus “just delivering service in an acceptable way”
· “being innovative” versus “meeting expectations”
· “delighting the customer” versus “meeting customer expectations”
· “mission obsessed” versus “mission aligned”
In looking at these aspects of NASA’s IT strategy, folks on both sides have valid concerns. Why should we strive to be the best when we can barely deliver email? Why should we think “out of the box” when we don’t have our box in order? How can we delight our customers when we can’t even meet their expectations?
The management technique for bringing together such extremes and arriving at supernatural problem solving is called Force Field Analysis. This management technique was developed by Kurt Lewin, a pioneer in the field of social sciences, for diagnosing situations. The technique used a method of weighing pros and cons of a suggested plan of action. The pros and cons are called the Driving and Restraining forces.
This analysis is characterized by:
• clarifying and strengthening the “driving forces” for solution
• identifying obstacles or “restraining forces” to a solution
• encouraging agreement on relative priority of factors on each side of the balance sheet
Driving forces are those forces affecting a situation that are pushing in a particular direction; they tend to initiate a change and keep it going. Examples of driving forces for implementing a plan include an identified business need, support from the leadership team or the availability of skilled resources. Restraining forces are forces acting in opposition to and restraining the driving forces. Examples of restraining forces against implementing a plan include time pressures, lack of enthusiasm and competing demands. Lewin says that equilibrium is reached when the sum of the driving forces equals the sum of the restraining forces.
Benjamin Hoff in The Tao of Pooh describes how Winnie the Pooh takes similar but unconventional look at finding a solution by looking for the thing he didn’t want to find. Here Pooh and Rabbit are trying to get home and keep ending up at a small sand-pit. Pooh finally suggests:
“Well … we keep looking for Home and not finding it, so I thought that if we looked for this Pit, we’d be sure not to find it, which would be a Good Thing, because then we might find something that we weren’t looking for, which might be just what we were looking for, really.”
Perhaps said in a non-Pooh way, driving forces by themselves don’t always yield a desired outcome. Certainly, restraining forces which move you away from the outcome isn’t the place to be either. It’s the equilibrium of the competing actions – the place where the tears often fall — where the problems get solved, where the impossible becomes possible and you can find your way home.
Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA