Yin and Yang Leadership

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. Symbol of Yin and Yang

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

No Stupid Ideas

I had a wonderful opportunity to be shadowed by Anthony who was in a leadership development program from another agency.  He and I talked a lot about innovation and the whole notion of how to get good ideas.  At the end of the conversation he said he got the feeling that I didn’t think any idea was stupid.   After I thought about it I agreed.  I told him that I think there really are no stupid ideas, just stupid people. 

Before I continue too far, I have to say that I hate using the word stupid – it’s judgmental and arrogant.   I try to limit myself to only one “stupid” per day.  And I find as I get older and learn more, I know less.  So, the whole notion of “stupid” is pretty … well… stupid sometimes.  Nevertheless, this word seemed appropriate in the context of the world of innovation and creative thinking.

Sometimes ideas that sound stupid turn out to be examples of the kind of out of the box thinking that produces amazing results.  I read a pretty interesting article on several ideas that seemed stupid, but ended up making millions of dollars.  Examples of this are: doggie goggles, antenna balls, and personalized letters to Santa.   

Sometimes ideas that initially seem to be stupid failures end up being learning opportunities that ultimately yield to amazing results.  Thomas Edison had many failed ideas before he was able to learn through trial and error what was needed to invent the light bulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera.  As George Santayana is often quoted, “Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Stupid people are not those who lack education or intellect.  Very intelligent people can be stupid.  Similarly, people with low intellect or education can come up with ideas that produce great results.  But most stupid people have some characteristics in common as it relates to ideas.

They don’t seek diversity.  Often stupid people will ask other stupid people if their idea is a good idea.  In other words, they seek advice from people who are just like themselves or in their own inner circle.  They also only look for opinions that confirm what they want to hear. 

They don’t care about results.  Whether it’s from being delusional, experiencing cognitive dissonance, or being overly righteous or arrogant, stupid people just want to defend their original ideas without listening to advise that could produce desired results. 

They don’t learn from mistakes.  Personal righteousness and arrogance can prevent stupid people from learning and allow them to stumble into this ditch.  In addition, very successful people can be stupid because they have so much experience in creating good results from their former good ideas.  They don’t get into the disciplined habit of learning from mistakes because they simply have not made a lot of mistakes.  They are haunted by the enemy of past successes. 

If an idea fails, that doesn’t make it a bad idea.  Likewise, if an idea is good idea, it can get botched through thoughtless implementation.  So, after giving this more thought Anthony, I still think there is no such thing as a stupid idea.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA

Managing Your Online Reputation

Concern about reputation is a barrier for many organizations and individuals preventing them from fully harnessing the power of Web 2.0 technologies.  Consider the Oscar Wilde quote that says:

“One can survive everything nowadays, except death, and live down anything, except a good reputation.”

So clearly having your personal reputation or your organization’s reputation blemished is a serious matter to be reckoned with.  Many organizations are struggling with how to develop policy around rules of conduct for when disgruntled employees inflict damage on their reputation.  Because of this, there’s a cottage industry of businesses that have popped up to repair what turned out to be damaged company reputations.  Here, I will speak to what you can do an individual to take responsibility to manage your own online reputation.

Perhaps you think this isn’t important to you.  Perhaps you are even unaware that this is a problem to be reckoned with.  Any Ostrich with his head in the sandexecutive or leader reading this should get their head out of the sand and wake up to the urgency that demands that we become proactive about our reputation. Furthermore, the carefree youth today may want to take an opportunity to NOT learn the hard way, by losing professional opportunities due to the apathy experienced in early life.

In an August 2009 article, New York Times reported that employers are starting to use Social Networking to check out job applicants.   The article reports the results of a June 2009 survey that Harris Interactive did on behalf of CareerBuilder.com:

§  Forty-five percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates

§  Eleven percent plan to use these techniques for screening

§  Industries that specialize in technology and sensitive information are most likely to screen job candidates via social networking sites or online search engines


The survey results also reported that when employers did NOT chose a candidate for a job, the reasons were most likely as follows when the potential employee:

·         Posted inappropriate photographs or information – 53%

·         Posted content about them drinking or using drugs – 44%

·         Bad-mouthed previous employer, co-workers or clients – 35%

·         Showed poor communication skills – 29%

·         Made discriminatory comments – 26%

·         Lied about qualifications – 24%

·         Shared confidential info from previous employer – 20%


You still don’t think this blog is about you? Do you? Let me bust some myths.


Myth (1): I don’t even use this social networking junk, that’s for kids.  So, I don’t have a problem.


I did a search on the name of one of my 10 favorite NASA CIOs “Chris Kemp” … the first hit? Mug shots! How does one cope with this? Well, there’s a comedy bit out there where a spouse gets caught in a compromising situation face-to-face with their spouse.  They simply insist “Baby, that wasn’t me!” Well, you can try that because it may work.  Or you can do what Chris does and use his middle initial.  There’s lots of good content about “Chris C. Kemp.”


Myth (2): Look, I am a seasoned user of this technology; I have enough sense to know what to say and what not to say?


I have a wonderful tech-savvy geezer colleague who truly understands these things.  He hooked up with the wrong “intelligent” application on a popular social networking site.  So, I sent him a message that went something like this:


Diva: “Dude? XXX movies??”

Geezer: “Huh?”


Diva:”Can you just take that stuff down?”

Geezer:”Ok I took it down, but that wasn’t me!!”


Myth (3): See, that’s why I have personal and private accounts … I keep it separate!


NY Times reported a case of a police officer who had a little fun talking trash on MySpace.  Well, that locker room banter crept into his professional life and affected the outcome of the cases he worked on.  The fact that it was a separate private account, didn’t affect his outcome professionally.


So, what’s person to do?  Here are three tips:


(1)   Defend against any possibility of bad content by overwhelming it with good content.


Use the superpowers of Web 2.0 for good.  Even though what’s out there is more or less permanent, overwhelm the bad content with intentional good content.  Use professional sites to do networking in your field.  If you wondered about the advantages of doing a professional blog, here’s one for sure.  You can also comment on other people’s blog.  Another possibility is to use micro blogging sites like Twitter to establish a professional reputation.  Be careful not to overdo it.  Too much content casts doubt about what your professional priorities are.


(2)   Actively monitor content about yourself.


You can set options in various search engines to alert you when there is new content posted with your name.  Ignorance can be bliss, but in this environment, it’s not. You need to at a minimum be aware of what is out there.


(3)   Private is private, but there is no personal.  Everything is public on the information super highway!


Many social networking sites are increasing their functionality to provide more privacy.  Leverage these capabilities.  It won’t hurt to initially be an observer on the side line before you jump in.  You can learn from others. 


Now just in case you think this blog isn’t about you, here are some final results of the Harris Interactive survey.  Eighteen percent of employers reported they have found content on social networking sites that caused them to hire the candidate:


·         Candidate’s profile provided a good feel for the candidate’s personality and fit – 50%

·         Candidate’s profile supported their professional qualifications – 39%

·         Candidate was creative – 38%

·         Candidate showed solid communication skills – 35%

·         Candidate was well-rounded – 33%

·         Candidate had a good reputation as indicated by other people who posted good references – 1%

·         Candidate received awards and accolades – 15%


Final words


·         Be professional at all times and be careful with sarcasm.  Think before you publish. 

·         Contribute and interact on a professional basis.

·         Maintain content about yourself and ensure that it is kept up-to-date.

·         Respect copyright laws, financial disclosure laws, and any policy that your employer may have.


Warren Buffet is quoted as saying that, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Start now, and build YOUR online reputation.


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA

Reflections of a CIO’s Grandmother

My first blog of the New Year was supposed to be about looking forward.  It was supposed to be about plans, hopes, goals, and ambitions.  I planned to pen that blog this weekend.  However, I got diverted into family obligations related to celebrating my grandmother’s 96th birthday.  I made her favorite Sweet Potato Crescent Rolls and Baptist Pound Cake.  It was about Fried Chicken and Macaroni and Cheese.  Yes, I would do my blog later.  Yesterday was all about Mama.  She died today.

The NASA CIO blog is about leadership, technology, and innovation.  This one will be easy to write.  I will tell you what I learned about leadership, technology and innovation from my grandmother.

Expert communicator.  My grandfather was stationed in Germany twice and my grandmother learned to be a great communicator in German.  While we were in elementary school, she taught us little niceties to say in German.  She was also fluent in sign language.  We used to joke that Mama didn’t let the fact that you couldn’t hear her to keep her from talking! She was able to rise above most communication barriers and be a great conversationalist.

Creative.  Mama could crochet, knit, sew, and do needlepoint.  She could also do ceramics.  She taught this lefty how to crochet left-handed and how to knit right-handed; and most of all, how to use a pair of right-handed pinking shears. 

Resourceful.  She could do dry-wall, plastering, plumbing, shoe repair, masonry, and basic auto mechanics.  She could heal any boo-boo and I still believe that she could do minor surgery.  My sister Lisa and I were cleaning out her closet and found spike heel patent leather shoes and a battlefield dental repair kit.  Somehow that was related, but we couldn’t quite figure out how.

Courageous. She was brave.  I saw her go up against a pit bull … and win.  I was in the car with her as she got pulled over by MPs speeding in an Alpha Romeo … she won.  Pictured here, she was alone as a minority and President of the Officer’s Wives Club – a first.  In a foreign country, learning the language, she stepped up to the task.  I saw fear in her eyes and I saw her courage.  Oh, and she made her dress and gloves.  Corona Dash - President of Officer's Wive's Club

She raised a daughter who was a marksman who raised a daughter that was a CIO.  I’m sure that’s related too, but I can’t quite figure out how.  Technology, fruit trees, things my mother taught me about being a CIO … my grandmother was always there. 

My last conversation with her last night was about technology and the Consumer Electronics Show.  I told her and my grandfather about how grandparents could stay connected with their grandchildren through text messaging and the new PDAs.  Mama liked it.  My grandfather seemed unimpressed.  She was tired and went to bed.  She didn’t wake up. 

I started writing this blog thinking about my loss.  I finish it thinking about what I gained – my grandmother Corona.  Her name means crown.  Her DNA is inside of me and I adorn her leadership qualities upon my head.  Tears fill my eyes as I honor her by signing my name using her nickname for me.

Linda Cureton (Toot), CIO NASA

Women in History: A Girl’s World

I had a very senior meeting with folks from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on some pretty important procurement matters.  We had the meeting on the phone by teleconference.  I was in a great mood because I was wearing this brand new pink leather jacket that I just brought 40% off with an additional 30% off coupon.  After a bunch of ooh’s and aah’s, I realized that all the girls were in DC and all the boys were in Huntsville.  It also occurred to me that the girls just spent the first five minutes of the conference call talking about fashion versatility and fiscal prudence.  So, I apologized to the boys of Alabama and started the meeting. Cute and Powerful Girl 

But, maybe Women’s History Month is a good time to stop apologizing for being a woman.

In an interview by InfoWorld, Carly Fiorina, who served as CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999 to 2005, and was the first woman to run a Fortune 20 company, was asked to give advice to other women who are in male-dominated fields.  She said, “…Don’t carry other people’s prejudices as your burden. Don’t sell your soul in the process.” So, women need not be ashamed for acting like and being like … a girl.  Often, we girls hear about major decisions being made on the golf course, or in cigar-smoke filled rooms.  And maybe I sold my soul a bit on this, but I did it like a girl wearing pink golf shoes and gloves, hitting pink balls and smoking Sugar Daddy flavored cigars. 

In an article Leadership Qualities That Distinguishes Women for the Financial Executive Magazine Herbert Greenberg and Patrick Sweeney talk about women bringing “distinct personality and motivational strengths to leadership roles – and doing so in a style that is more conducive to today’s diverse workplace.”  The article discusses women’s willingness to take risks, be inclusive and team-oriented, their ability to rebound and learn from setbacks, and their distinct persuasive style.  I recall my grandmother’s distinct leadership style in persuading us to do what she asked.  As a last resort she would say, “Don’t let me have to take my shoe off!”  That worked every time.  I was asked once, how I was able to be so persuasive in advancing some key strategic initiatives.  My honest answer was that … I took my shoe off. 

There’s a great need in the world of IT for the leadership style of women.  Most CIO’s today know the importance that IT has in initiating change in organizations, bringing people together, and increasing the effectiveness of the modern workforce.  There’s also an increasing need to make IT more understandable and have clear communication in non-IT jargon.  The leadership traits that are stereotypically associated with women would benefit the IT field.

In a TEDWomen talk, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, gives some pithy advice to women in her talk Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.  But, she ends the talk with a question.  She asks, wouldn’t it be a better world if half the countries and half the companies were run by those who represent nearly half the population, women?

I end this blog to help us girls feel empowered, establish our own place in history, and be proud of our strength with the words of the profound urban poet James Brown.  He posits that it’s a man’s world, however:

This is a man’s world, this is a man’s world
But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl

Linda Cureton, CIO NASA

Women in History: The IT Legacy Grace Hopper

I just finished my 2011 IT Workforce Capability Assessment Survey sponsored by the Federal CIO Council and the Office of Personnel Management.  The purpose of the survey is to make an assessment of various competencies in the Federal workforce and identify opportunities going forward.  Being a seasoned veteran of IT and CIO, my technical competencies were mostly in the category of legacy.   What the heck?  I checked off that I was an expert in FORTRAN.  One of our NASA CIOs, Mike and I joked that it must be a relevant competency because FORTRAN 77 helped us get this far, right?

I started thinking about the good old days when I was a happy systems programmer – a programmer’s programmer.  One of my early assignments was to install new versions of the COBOL and FORTRAN compilers.  So, with my mind recalling things like compilers, assemblers, and machine code and with March being Women’s History Month, it is more than appropriate to discuss the life and legacy of Vice Admiral Grace Hopper.

Born in 1902, she was a pioneer in computer science with accomplishments stay relevant decades after her death.  She earned a PhD and began teaching mathematics at Vassar University but left her position as an Associate Professor to join the Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES).  After being commissioned as a lieutenant in 1944, she joined the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University.  She was the third person to join the research team that worked on the IBM Mark I – the computer hat heralded the age of the modern computer.  Her first assignment was to compute the coefficients of the arctangent series in a relatively short period of time. 

She was best known for her contributions that led to the invention of the compiler.  The compiler allowed use of English-like instructions to computers rather than the complex numeric machine code.  It is reported that she said that she did this because she was lazy – preferring to do the real work of the mathematician rather than programming in machine code.   Her work strongly influenced much of what we still see today in the area of digital computing: subroutines, formula translation, relative addressing, the link loader, code optimization, and symbolic manipulation. 

I had the pleasure of seeing her many times early in my career.  As a mathematician and systems programmer, I noticed that there were few women in either field and even fewer who were in both.  Her diminutive stature was in stark contrast to the heights she reached with her sassy irreverence.  One of my favorite quotes, widely reported to be about her invention of COBOL, is “but Grace, then anyone would be able to write programs!”  Exactly! She helped make the mysterious extremely technical world of the early computers more accessible to regular folk.  To help people like generals and admirals understand why satellite communications took so long, she would hand out pieces of wire just less than one foot long – the distance that light would travel in one nanosecond.  She would also present a coil of wire nearly one thousand feet long which represented a microsecond.  Later, she passed out packets of pepper which she called picoseconds. 

She passed away on New Year’s Day in 1992 – I’m sure I was programming in REXX then.   Vice Admiral Hopper left a legacy that paved a path for many women and men to follow.  In 1969, she won the first “man of the year” award from the Data Processing Management Association.   I appreciate the opportunity to pause for a few nanoseconds during Women’s History Month to acknowledge her contributions.  

Note: This is my 100th blog.  Thanks for reading. 

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA

Holding On In the Face of Doom and Gloom

At the end of a very rough week, I got a note from one someone who used to work with me.  She sent the following note to me:

“How do you keep from letting the turkeys get you down? Seriously, I’m looking for tips, because I see you continuing to work towards your vision, so I know you’ve figured this out for yourself (either that, or a lot of liquor). … How do you keep yourself energized? Usually I’m pretty good at this, but lately in the face of the budget, everyone’s all doom and gloom and it’s a lot harder.”

I read it Friday morning.  The week was so difficult, but I needed to be responsive.  I gave her some blah, blah, blah.  I talked about how difficult it is as a senior executive to find things to motivate you.  I said it wasn’t money or promotions or anything like that.  But, I was late for work and needed to finish the note later. 

I wanted to tell her the truth, but I needed to answer the question myself and didn’t have an answer at the moment.  Whining during bad times and celebrating good times are two extremes that for bad or worse, I avoid – and perhaps I need to work on that.  But, this particular day ended up being nearly as bad as the week.  I think I said the “F” word five times that day.  But, I needed to answer the question I got this morning, in spite of my mood.

Decimated budgets, endless scenarios, hiring freezes, questions from the press, an employee with bad news, and another one with total nonsense, and yet, I had to somehow answer a question for an amazing woman even though I found myself searching for answers and a way through these dreadful times.   I’m not sure I know the answer, but it’s important for me to find out and share with people like the amazing woman who asked me the question.  As I leader, if I don’t figure out for myself, I can’t help people I lead the bad times.  I do have a few things in my bag of tricks other than overeating, drinking too much, and sleeping too little.  Perhaps this answers the mail.

Hang out with energizing people.  Happy hour or lunch with people who make me laugh, make me think or just remind me to take deep breaths helps me tremendously.  I don’t like fake optimism, I’m a realist but someone who sees the glass half full helps me keep a constructive perspective.  Restaurant Week in Washington, DC is an amazing antidote for doom and gloom. 

Do fun things.  I had this same question before from my buddy, “F”.  He was going through a bad spell and asked me to give him something to do to get through.  I said, “Let’s go buy shoes!”  He stopped in his tracks and looked at me incredulously – then he laughed.  One time I was pretty stressed before an offsite meeting I was having with my leadership team.  I got there uncharacteristically early by 30 minutes.  I made a U-turn to the outlet stores in Queenstown, MD and decided that with a 20 minute round trip, I still had 10 minutes to shop.  There was a two-for-one sale that day and I saved a quick $100 … sort of.

Give Back.  Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my so-called huge problems, I forget about other people.  I got a chance to play the piano as an accompanist for a couple of saxophone students.  I swear I was tired but I stood up for a few hours in a sea of reeds and valve oil.  But, I wore flat shoes and knit pants and looked around to see what really matters — those kids.  Sometimes we think more about our problems than about the people we serve. 

Get a theme song.  I went through my Gloria Gaynor “I Will Survive” era several job assignments ago.  I didn’t think I would survive that job.  I set up a reminder weekly that popped on my calendar every Monday.  I would open the reminder, read the lyrics and hum it all day.  One of my CIOs has “High Hopes”.  My current one, which I gave to the employee with the bad news, the day before she got the news, is “Hold On” by 33 Miles:

… if the tide sweeps you out to sea

When your strength is gone

And it’s hard to believe

And hold on, hold on

When the current pulls you under

And your heart beats like thunder

Just give me your hand

And hold on, hold on

Until the storm is over

And I’ll be fighting for you

Just give me your hand

And hold on


The message from the lyrics that answers the mail is the notion that doom and gloom doesn’t last forever.  And sometimes, you do get weary and need to be energized.  But, when those times come, hold on, have hope, and believe that the storm will be over … because it will. 

 Linda Cureton

Be My Technology Valentine

I was recentlyinterviewed by a reporter who was writing an article about me.  She asked me why I love technology somuch.  I paused, to try to think of apolitically correct answer that was becoming of a Federal CIO.  After a deep breath, I started to answer butthen I remembered that I was the technology chief of an agency that is highlyregarded for technology and innovation. Finally, I remembered that I promised myself that this was the year forTruth so not wanting to make a liar out of myself, I answered.  I really didn’t like technology all thatmuch.  Maybe I hate it, I’m notsure.  

In general,Valentine’s Day isn’t my very favorite day – not bad, but not my favoriteeither (my favorite is probably April Fool’s Day thanks to my silly siblings).Maybe I have too many memories of being a geeky goofy little girl who went toschool with Valentine’s Day cards to give out and brought them all back plus a few from geeky goofylittle boys.  

It occurs tome that my experience then is a lot like my experience now.  As I little girl, as it related to Valentine’sDay wishes, I didn’t have what I needed, and didn’t need what I had.  Technology is a lot like that.  As I type this blog, I am looking at an iPad,2 laptops, a blackberry and an iPhone. It begs the question; do I have what I need?  Or do I really need what I have?

When I wasin graduate school, I was writing my thesis on clever ways to compute theeigenvalues of the hexagon (if you have to ask what that is, it doesn’tmatter).  I had a cool new desktop backthen with a math co-processor.  But, hellif couldn’t compute those numerical estimates in my lifetime.  I was so frustrated and I had a thesis tofinish!  But, then for Valentine’s Day Igot a wonderful present from my husband – 256M of memory.  That was a great gift when memory cost alittle over a dollar a megabyte.  I had afast processor, but what really needed was fast memory.

I ended lastweek talking to my favorite Luddite, Ed. He’s got a big old clunky blackberry brick on his waist.  I asked him when he was going get aniPad.  He came close to cussing me outand challenged me to a race in words per minute with him and his brick.  I promised him that the piece of crap hecarried around would break, and then he said the technician as a whole box ofold ones ready for him.  Yep, Ed had EXACTLYwhat he needed.

I’ll endthis with a wonderful technology love poem especially for Valentine’s Day:

Beta is dead,

Ed’s Blackberry is Blue,

Technology is sweet,

But not if it doesn’t help you.

 Love LindaCureton, NASA CIO

Cliff Makes His Move: Planting Leadership Seeds

Our beloved integration manager and NASA’s universally-acknowledged expert on the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is moving on to better position.  He got a fine send-off that would be the envy of most geeks – submarine sandwiches, cookies, and soda.  Napkins are for wimps, that’s what shirts are for.  But Cliff is no wimp.

Losing Cliff is rough, especially considering that shortly after that we got news that we were losing Omar – the Shaquille O’Neal of financial management.  After my initial bout of anxiety and stress, I realize that his legacy is left behind to continue to bear fruit grow and the seeds of his leadership will sprout anew in another organization. 

Cliff recognized one of John C. Maxwell’s laws of leadership: the law of empowerment.  As he leaves NASA, he made sure that he left people behind who understood his job.  He knows that “if you give some of your power away to others, there’s still plenty to go around”. Leaders who do this must be secure, humble, and be willing to embrace change.

One of my best mentoring moments came from a retired Air Force General.  He gave me advice early in my CIO career about planting my seeds.  I recall him telling me that I needed to “sprinkle them all over” and water them.  They will grow and bear fruit.  I recently saw the result of how he did this. I was with a group of employees of a company he retired from.  They snapped to attention and had so much respect and admiration for him and what he wanted to do.  I whispered to one of them tongue-in-cheek because I knew the answer.  I said, “Hey, you don’t work for him anymore!” He responded, “Are you kidding, we all do, for life!” Yes, that’s how the seeds of leadership work. 

Yes, we will miss Cliff.  He taught smart people how to learn, good people to be better, and high achievers to do even more.  But, the seeds of his leadership will grow into a mighty capability for NASA.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA



My Winter of Discontent 2011: NASA CTOs at CES

CIOs need to remember that people in their organizations – their customers — are all consumers.  CIOs shouldn’t be content in their ability to rule their world as expectations of consumers continue to creep into the workplace.  The Consumer Electronic Show (CES) gives us an opportunity to peek into the future and see what potential expectations may visit the workplace.

When I went last year, it was just before I was in the market for a new car.  I stood in the middle of the convention center floor with my mouth hanging open.  After a few months, my husband got an index card and asked me for my “requirements” for the new vehicle.  The first thing I said was … Windows 7 … and if not that, all the technology I can get — cheap. 

I decided not to go this year but I subscribed to the email list for the NASA CTOs and they are at the Consumer Electronics Show 2011 right now.  You have to love these guys – they are pretty chatty, observant, and opinionated – in a positive way, of course – my inbox runneth over.  But, the constant “ding-ding-ding” of my Smartphone just makes my heart go pitter-patter.  (Actually, I heard more from them this year than last year because there were SO many connected people at the venue last year it made my cellular communication a wee bit erratic)

Moving beyond the typical pronouncements and opinions about premature release of technology, less than stellar capabilities, and other disappointments there are some common themes that are emerging from this group of techno-illuminati.  Things are changing at a faster pace; everything is connected; and standards are slow to emerge. 

Here is just a taste of the consumer issues that need to drive CIO (crazy) strategic planning this year:

Cars with wi-fi hotspot technology – If folks start getting this in their car, you better figure out how to get it (securely) in all the right places in the workplace.  Little things mean a lot.  At NASA/Goddard our new professionals were ecstatic to have the capability at a nice shady outside pavilion; at NASA/HQ, I’m personally tickled pink that there is connectivity in the parking garage; and at NASA/Johnson, they have a cozy little spot in their cafeteria. 

A telescope that lets you see thousands of years into the past – It is also reported to have a database of over 4000 celestial bodies.  Of course this would have to get the attention of any NASA CIO.   Maybe not much excitement when compared with a Hubble Telescope which can see over 13 billion years, but it makes you wonder where the technology is heading.

Woo-hoo for the potential of cloud delivered content – This will give consumers the ability to get to data independent of the device.  Content owners will get the shakes about intellectual property rights and CIOs will get the willies about information security.  Relative to what multimedia companies are facing, I feel very hopeful that the financial potential will drive some breakthroughs in the management of this content.  That’s good news for today’s CIOs who are exploring ways to manage content in the cloud. 

A thought comes to mind from J.F. Cummings How to Rule the World: Lessons in Conquest for the Modern Prince, a satirical yet strangely instructive book that can give CIOs insight into why handwringing discontent needs to yield to proactive rapid strategic planning.  In a chapter where there is a discussion of how to thwart science and technology’s effectiveness in the “Your subject nation-state”, the reader is reminded, in a tongue-in-cheek way that “Your goal is to turn a nation-state of proactive thinkers into a band of agitated, anxiety-ridden reactionaries”. 

So, as winter ends and the hope of spring begins, IT leaders can close their mouths, dry their tears and begin to plan for this new world before they are reduced to becoming bewildered and reactive subjects of a modern princess.

Linda Cureton, NASA CIO