The Connected CIO

This is a scary blog to write.  This will be one where I will receive comments that refer to babbling nonsense, or perhaps give me a “good girl”, or perhaps to say, gee, I loved your post or maybe nothing.  But in reality, it doesn’t matter much.

We marvel at the amazing capabilities that these Web 2.0 tools give us.  As the so-called “social CIO” I lamented that blogging wasn’t as interactive as I thought.  I found the reason why in a mirror.  Oh, yes, we can write blogs; we can speak to the world; we have a global reach; blah; blah; blah.  But do we listen? Do we connect?  And what happens when we do?

I wanted to find the answers; therefore I did something in a recent blog.  Don’t really know if anyone noticed, but I noticed.  I actually replied to every comment.  So what could possibly happen?  Oh the questions we ask … the answers we seek. Yes, Linda, things actually happen when you listen. Listening changes the listener.

One of my reasons for blogging is to use this Web 2.0 capability as a leadership tool.  Perhaps this introverted hermit can use this technology to connect to people in unique ways.  I must admit that as a technologist, I find some amount of comfort in hiding behind impersonal technology.  As if, I can only reveal certain parts of me.  As if I can allow some people in … and dare others to tread.  But, the fallacy of it all has struck me recently and prompts me to summon the leadership courage to blog about it.

An Oscar Wilde quote is probably most applicable here:

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

In hiding behind this mask of technology, I find that I have revealed more truth about me as a leader, a woman, a daughter, a granddaughter, a wife, a friend, a public servant, and as a CIO than I ever dared reveal even to myself.  In the miracle that revelation, I found that I was able to connect to others in an almost a supernatural way.

“Your will is the ego part of you that believes you’re separate from others, separate from what you’d like to accomplish or have, and separate from God. It also believes that you are your acquisitions, achievements, and accolades. This ego will wants you to constantly acquire evidence of your importance…” – Wayne Dyer

John C. Maxwell, in The 21 Indispensible Qualities of a Leader says that leaders will “…take the time to get a feel for who each (follower) is as a person”.  To me, this is a high calling whether or not your followers are readers, stakeholders, or employees. It’s quite easy to espouse this as insincere rhetoric, but I find myself drawn close to tears as I actually get a feel for each person I connect with.  I now wish that I was actually on an island and stood alone, but I don’t any longer.Technology on a desert island

For example, as I drove to Stennis Space Center from New Orleans, I could feel the pain of the loss of those who endured the suffering from Katrina and the gratitude of those able to find solace and purpose in doing small but mighty activities on rocket stands in the Mississippi Delta; as I ate Tex Mex in Houston, I could feel the anguish of uncertainty as this nation’s space program transitions to a new era; and as I read and contemplated the comments to my blog, I could feel the passion and purpose of a global citizenship that is connected to me and to NASA in ways that perhaps I can only just begin to understand.

I have one more person to connect to. It is a little boy from Tampa, Florida – Cody.  I don’t know if Cody is a real person or perhaps an industry lobbyist with a great imagination and tremendous creativity.  Yet, I deleted this doubt and felt compelled to give Cody’s letter response.  I will also give him a more personal reply later as I remain committed to answer every comment in one specific post. 

Cody wanted me to save the space program.  I wondered if Cody knew that I was just a poor struggling CIO trying to hold together an email infrastructure with duct tape and PVC pipe.  I wondered why Cody addressed a letter to me and sent me a picture.  My ego initially convinced myself that maybe he sent it to everyone.  But I neutralized my ego in an attempt to connect with a humble little boy from Tampa. 

My ego tells me that as a capable NASA executive I am confident of the future direction and strategy of the nation’s space program.  However, I can’t shake the passion, concern, and dread that I feel from the connection that I made with Cody.  If I am to help NASA inspire a nation, how can I do it if I can’t inspire a little boy?  See why this blog scared me?

Maybe it doesn’t matter to Cody or others that I am scared.  I close with this.

“It may sound corny, but it’s really true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – John C. Maxwell in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

Linda Cureton, NASA CIO

Imagine a CIO

On the way to the funeral of my grandmother, we drove by a place she used to take us as children.  She would go to the historic O Street Market in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, DC.  While she shopped, we played at the adjacent Kennedy Playground.  We passed the time while my grandmother looked at chicken livers and chicken wings.  I had glorious memories of riding on trains, sailing on ships, and flying on planes.  I was particularly enthralled with the planes and my ability to fly.  I was stunned … I repeat … stunned, when as a young teenaged driver I rode past there only to be shocked by the fact that they were not real, functioning trains, ships, or planes. 

As the funeral procession rode by, there was nothing left of the playground.  The only thing that remained of the O Street Market was a façade of what once was and fragments of memories of a little girl with a big imagination and her grandmother.  I cried.

Later that night, a lifelong childhood friend also named Linda came by my house.  She told me something I forgot – or maybe I never knew.  She said that because of me, she was convinced that she could fly.  Well, I blogged about my own misguided thoughts about my airborne abilities (pictured here in my flying tricycle), Linda Cureton (left) sitting on her flying machine with sister Loreenbut I didn’t realize until that moment that my childhood friend, without my knowledge had latched on to this vision of flight.  She told me that she learned from my failure and concluded that I just didn’t know what I was doing.  Her flight attempt ended with a bump on the head. 

I knew that there was leadership lesson here; I’d figure it out later.

Lately, I’ve taken a lot of hits about the NASA vision for IT – that we are the BEST IT organization in the world (being the best in the universe will be in our 5-year plan).  I had the audacity to suggest that we should measure this objectively by project performance, workforce competencies, outcomes of effective governance, and application of innovation.  I got constructive and loving feedback suggesting that perhaps we shouldn’t strive to be the best – we can’t really afford that anyway.  Let’s just be good enough – it’s cheaper. 

But it seemed reasonable to me.  Even though NASA is not in the IT business, IT is a critical part of the products and outcomes that we produce.  We spend nearly one and a half billion dollars on IT and we need to get the most value that we can out of this investment.  We can do this by being the best in the management of IT. 

The notion of a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is nothing new.  Jim Collins describes this in his book “Built to Last”.  He offers that successful organizations have a BHAG and it

“… engages people – it reaches out and grabs them in the gut. It is tangible, energizing, highly focused. People ‘get it’ right away; it takes little or no explanation.”

Many companies or organizations use the BHAG to stimulate progress.  Here are some examples:

  • Google: Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
  • Ford: “Democratize the automobile.”
  • Microsoft: “A computer on every desk and in every home.”
  • Disney: Build Disneyland – and build it to our image, not industry standards. To be the best company in the world for all fields of family entertainment.
  • Amazon: Earth’s most customer centric company.
  • Twitter: To become “the pulse of the planet.”

But, in his book, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, John C. Maxwell discusses the importance of vision in a leader’s walk.  In fact, a leader’s vision is drawn on their past. 

“Vision isn’t some mystical quality that comes out of a vacuum, as some people seem to believe.  It grows from a leader’s past and the history of the people around him.”

I still can’t shake my childhood vision of being able to fly.

However, what if this criticism is justified?  Maybe I will cause NASA to just get a figurative “bump on the head” as my friend Linda.  I can’t say that I’m really sure of the answer.  But, as I did some research for this blog, I discovered something truly amazing.  I discovered the trains, planes, and ships WERE REAL!

In a Time Magazine article, Recreation: Way Out to Play, the writer talks about the opening of the then new John F. Kennedy Playground in June 1964.  It was a child’s vision of Eden that was part of a project to support depressed city neighborhoods that had no recreational activities.  The program cost nothing, and the planners simply asked the armed forces to donate real trains, planes, and ships.  REAL PLANES! I KNEW IT!!!

“Limitations live only in our minds. But if we use our imaginations, our possibilities become limitless.” – Jamie Paolinetti

I remember telling my grandmother about our adventures at Kennedy Playground.  She smiled and said, “Tootie Baby, imagination is the greatest nation in the world”.  I didn’t really get it then.  But, I get it now.  Imagination. 

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA

Transparency and Naked Leadership

There is much discussion about transparency in government especially as it relates to Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, twitter, and various social networking applications.  Transparency in a literal sense simply means to be able to see right through something.  Definitions and common understanding in a government context varies.  But it is generally understood to suggest doing things in such a way that citizens know what’s going on.  Thus, accountability is increased and corruption is decreased.  Scantily clothed emperor admiring his new clothes

 

But, this means more than just putting data up on static websites.  Leading in a transparent way has the atomic advantage of being able to be exposed to a huge set of diverse ideas thus hastening innovation and creativity.  However, the cultural challenges associated with leading in this environment requires a new kind of personal leadership – Naked Leadership. 

 

Topless at NASA/JPL Explorer Island – Maybe Some Things Should Not Be Seen

 

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on virtual worlds for the FOSE 2009 Conference. This panel was going to be conducted in the virtual world Second Life.  I had to get an avatar and learn some basic things like walking, sitting, flying, and dressing. 

 

While practicing and setting some things up in the familiar venue of NASA/JPL Explorer Island, I decided that I wanted my avatar to look like me – African American non-skinny female with brown hair, etc. I was surprised to find out that up to that point, I was a man and not a woman.  I fixed that.  I thickened up my body and lips.  Then I had to decide what to wear. I struggled with basic things like the difference between a blouse and a jacket, etc.  To make a long story short, I took off more than I planned to take off and ended up topless in a surprisingly anatomically accurate way. I was mortified. Fortunately, there were only deer around.

 

The point here is that as we operate and lead in transparent ways, you might be exposed in non-complementary ways.  It may also mean, especially in this day and age of increased risks associated with data security, some stuff just should not be exposed.  And finally, what does what you’re hiding expose about you as a leader?

 

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

 Oscar Wilde

 

Naked Leadership means that you may make a few mistakes…but you’ll have to take it on the chin. Some could be knock out blows. However, managing the risks appropriately can lead to championship results.

 

The Emperor’s New Clothes – Don’t Believe the Hype

 

So this guy decides that he will don a new transparent wardrobe.  Everyone wrote comments in the Emperor’s blog about how great his transparent threads were.  A courageous follower told him he had no clothes.

 

You may find a lot of people with varying levels of sincerity who tell you that you’re doing a heck-of-a-job.  Similarly, you may even find some people in a mean-spirited way tell you that you are awful.  So, brace for impact, get prepared to have your feelings hurt and immunize yourself against flattery.

 

But I, as Emperor, was OVERPOWERINGLY stupid… I, as Emperor, was more stupid than you all, because I was responsible for all this stupidity!

 1987 Movie: The Emperor’s New Clothes

 

With Naked Leadership goes the responsibility of doing honest self-examination and having high emotional intelligence.  It also requires seeking out and nurturing courageous followers who will tell you are indeed you have no clothes.

 

Who Told You That You Were Naked? – With Knowledge Comes Accountability and Responsibility

 

I once went to a church where the Pastor would always say … “I wish I didn’t know these things!”  Once you know right from wrong, you have the responsibility to choose right. And once you know, you have to do something and it has to be the right thing.  It might be better to not know.

 

Knowledge also imposes responsibility

– W.M.L. Jay

 

Diverse opinions from a diverse set of people may breed conflicts. Naked Leadership will require strong conflict resolution skills.  Some information may not be relevant. Naked Leadership will need to be able to discern that. But, if you ask for perspectives, you better be prepared to actually listen and try to understand. 

 

Operating in a transparent way helps provides a lot of value.  Expanded perspectives from a diverse set of employees or constituents can produce better end products.  Successful Naked Leadership will need to learn to navigate these waters. 

 

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

 

CIO Time

I must admit that I’ve always had a problem with time. I hate time actually. Colleagues who know me well will laugh out loud when they realize that I had the audacity to write about Time Management. I guess those who can … do; those who can’t … well, they blog about it.

I noticed a phenomenon when I first came to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center called Goddard Time. I thought maybe I came to a place of kindred spirits, but what it actually referred to was the outcome of the pesky habit of scheduling back-to-back meetings not recognizing that many folks have to jump in a car and race (while safely obeying speed and traffic rules and avoiding pedestrians and bikes) across the Center. Then I lost my last shred of hope when I heard the then Center Director, Dr. Ed Weiler, admonish those proposing innovative solutions to not give him a power point on time travel or warp speed. Rats!

As a fan of the John C. Maxwell books on leadership, I recognize the important of self-management in dispensing my duties of a leader. I’ve taken just about every time management class I could.  I even have an unused Franklin Planners to help me.  I love watches – I have a ton of them; several Movados which don’t even have numbers on the faces. But, I think of watches as fashion accessories and not as anything of value to me. And people keep giving me devices to measure the passage of time, but hardly any of them operate. I counted them one day – I have nine (see them for yourself here) – but only three of them work (pictured here). A calendar, an hour glass, and a working clock

A friend of mine told me that my problem is that I don’t believe in time and I don’t like it.  Well, she is right I don’t.  Time Management is an oxymoron.  Time is finite and constant; it doesn’t grow when you manage it well or compress when you don’t (though time travel and traveling around the speed of light sounds like it might have potential). Here are some more attributes of time that are irritating to me:

Time is Never On Your Side. The Rolling Stones tune was wrong by saying “time is on your side”.  As the song ends, it emphasizes this over and over, then … repeat and fade.  Finally it ends and you are out of time. Good leaders should not delay decisions. They just make their decisions and move on.  Furthermore, these difficult times call for making decisions with incomplete information and with ambiguity. The need for rapid decision-making while battling your enemy called time is a critical leadership attribute. And you’ve got to do it before the music stops.

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun. There’s an old joke that says something like … scientific studies show that married men live longer. But it’s not really true, it just seems that way. So does this mean the secret to having more time is to have less fun? Well, some scientists suggest that this is the case.  A study by two scientists Chaston and Kingstone may have scientifically proven that time indeed appears to speed up when you are having fun … or at least when your attention is engaged. One of Maxwell’s key leadership qualities is focus.

To have passion, to have a dream, to have a purpose in life. And there are three components to that purpose, one is to find out who you really are, to discover God, the second is to serve other human beings, because we are here to do that and the third is to express your unique talents and when you are expressing your unique talents you lose track of time. – Deepak Chopra

When compared to focus, passion, and purpose, time is an irrelevant artifact. The sharper your focus is the sharper you are as a leader.

Time in a Bottle. What if you could time in a bottle and save it? Then you could go back and do the things you never got a chance to do.  Jim Croce sang it best:

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day
Till eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you

Well, you can’t put time in a bottle, but what you can do is do the things that are most important … once you find them. You make your decisions, focus on the outcomes, and get those most important things done first. Then as the song goes, you repeat and fade … until time’s up and the music stops.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Leadership Lessons from a CIO’s Hairdresser

Just before I started working as the Deputy CIO at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), I had to get a security clearance.  The special agent doing my background investigation called me up and asked for the phone number of my hairdresser, Peggy Marshall.  I paused … and told him … that’s a low blow dude.  He said you’d be surprised what you can learn from a person’s hairdresser.  You’d be surprised indeed – even leadership lessons. 

She is a hardworking business woman who learned her work ethic from a farm in what used to be rural Clinton, Maryland.  As the farms disappeared and the Washington, DC suburbs began to expand, she started her own business and hair salon, Peggy’s Beauty World.  After many successful years, she sold her business and maintains a very small loyal clientele in her semi-retirement. 

Two weeks ago, she asked me about how things were going at work and what’s the job of a CIO is like.  As she stood over my head, she said, she probably wouldn’t understand because after all, she’s “just a hairdresser”.  Startled, I turned around and looked at her and began to tell her what she already understood.

Here are some of the lessons.

Customer Service

After retirement, she established a small licensed set up in her home.  It was her goal to keep a small subset of her faithful clients and offer them flexible personalized service.  I have been in to see her 10:00 pm on Sunday night; or 5:00 am Monday morning before work; a few hours before I leave town; or even in 911-hair emergencies.  If you don’t like your hair, she will do it again.  She’s even been known to make house calls on her clients that are not mobile.  I’ve often asked her how things are going during these difficult financial times.  So far, things are going well for her.

Mark Cummuta, in a CIO.COM blog “How to Avoid a Layoff” advises CIOs that to get through these difficult financial times, one should focus on customer service to avoid layoffs.  By doing so, your customers will become your strongest advocates during times of trouble.  He goes on to say:

Let me explain. No matter what job or position you have, you always have customers – whether they be internal managers, peers, business units, branch offices, downstream partners, QA teams, PMOs, sales teams, etc. – that rely on what you produce. They may not even know it, but in today’s economic turmoil, it’s to your benefit to know who they are and to make sure they know what you can and do, in fact, do for them!

Leading and Managing People

As a beauty shop owner, she has hired, trained, and mentored many young women.  She has employed a diverse set of people, from urban divas to seasoned professionals.  She has hired, fired, dealt with tears, fears, and jeers.  Yet, through all of this, she maintained a high quality business that was known for ethical, family-oriented, and high-quality services.

The CIO has a challenging problem of motivating her employees.  The organization spends a lot of time managing projects, justifying IT budgets, and delivering service.  Many times, in service delivery, it is difficult to be noticed unless something goes wrong.   The Maytag repairman has the challenge of being forgotten because of the high quality of his product. 

Career Passion

Peggy is passionate about hair.  She absolutely loves doing her job.  In her youth, as she tried to figure out what she would do for a living, her mother admonished her asking her why does she need to figure this out? She already loved doing hair, just do that.  Before she sold her business, I can recall days where she was extremely busy and had to be on her feet for nearly 10 hours.  Still smiling at the end of the day, she said, you never get tired when you are doing something that you love.  It gives you energy. 

Passion and hard work are keys to success.  Martha Beck, in Finding Your Own North Star, describes The Hero’s Saga where ordinary people, take pragmatic steps to create the magic of turning their longing and intention into reality.  I absolutely love the TV show Heroes.  My idea of a dream vacation will be to catch up on whole seasons of this show.  The show is about the lives of ordinary people who discover that they have extraordinary talents and gifts.  Gifts + passion = magic

Without passion, you don’t have energy; without energy, you have nothing. Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion
     – Donald Trump –

To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe.
     – Anatole France –

I couldn’t believe that Peggy told me that she was just a hairdresser.   Approximately every two weeks she doesn’t just turn this bird’s nest on top of my head into pretty curls, but she gives me a little extra bit of inspiration that helps me create the magic of being a CIO. 

I love my hairdresser.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

California Dreaming NASA-Style

I left my safe and warm place at NASA HQ to visit three NASA Centers in three days in California – Dryden, JPL, and Ames.  It’s been three weeks since my last post.  No time for blogging – need to spend time drinking from a fire hose … or drinking from 3,000 Dixie cups. 

I knew I was going to blog about the trip, but couldn’t really decide what to write about and didn’t have much time to think about it.  Perhaps I can talk about being at Dryden  and learning of the hope of aeronautics research or flying the flight simulator and safely taking off, landing, out maneuvering my Deputy CIO for IT Security without ejecting myself or hitting the ground.  Perhaps I can talk about my feelings of gratitude that JPL and its legacy of planetary exploration was spared from the unforgiving brush fires.  Perhaps I can talk about the courageous innovators of Ames, their technology contributions, their hyperwalls, or their hypervisors. 

I almost forgot why I blog in the first place — leadership, learning, transparency.  Now I know what to blog about – the Joshua Tree.  A Joshua Tree

I need to tell you that I didn’t see too many Joshua Trees growing up in Washington, DC and I was curious about them.  Dryden CIO Rob Binkley told me that the important thing to remember if you get into a disagreement with a Joshua Tree and your car, it will win.  Its deep root system makes it strong and resilient.  Those are pretty convenient qualities of leadership.

The tree got its name from Mormon settlers thought the shape of its branches reminded them the Biblical story where Joshua reaches his arms up to heaven in prayer.  As the story goes, this was essential in his early success.  Furthermore, the tree was a valuable resource used for fencing and for fuel. 

Finally, it’s Joshua himself and how he personifies transitional leadership.  With a tough act to follow, his faith, resilience, and resourcefulness provide valuable lessons to leaders as they assume new leadership roles.

California Dreamin’ on such a winter day.  I always liked that song, but I never really understood the lyrics until now.  It’s really about transition and the inevitability of leaving your warm place and moving forward to the coldness of future leadership challenges.   

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA

 

The Small But Mighty Stennis Space Center

I try to always notice when things out of the ordinary happen.  This time, I had the extraordinary occasion to visit the Small But Mighty Stennis Space Center in two consecutive weeks. 

Stennis Space Center is located in Mississippi.  The site is the location that was established to test the engines for the Nation’s first journeys to the moon.  It continues to be our largest engine testing facility and tested all of the main engines for the Space Shuttle and will test the engines for their replacement.  The path to the moon and beyond must pass through the Small But Mighty Stennis Space Center.

As one of the smallest of NASA’s Centers with barely 200 civil servants, I was amazed by the vastness of its physical site and the enormity of its mission.    It’s funny how we always overlook the importance of the contributions of the “small”.  Many laughed at the small shepherd boy who slew a mighty giant with a mere rock; we underestimate the importance of the small seed from which the mighty oak grows; or maybe some scoffed at those wild and crazy kids that had a small idea that started a mighty company called Apple. 

As I stood in one of the stands that test the mighty engines that led us to space, I was treated to lagniappe by the Small But Mighty Dinna Cottrell, CIO of the Small But Mighty Stennis Space Center.  I must admit that I’ve only pretended to understand what is meant by lagniappe, but she gives me an explanation that helped punctuate the true meaning of the word here:

“The definition of Lagniappe as my mother told me growing up and still to this day, means “a little something extra.”  My mother told me when she was a little girl she would go to the store and the store owner would give her “lagniappe,” which was small pieces of candy.  My mother will be 81 in early December.”

Wardell Burnett pictured on left with plow and mule preparing land for new rocket test standThe lagniappe I was treated to was the story of Wardell Burnett.  He retired in 1999 as a furniture mover.  He was a loyal and dedicated worker whose small contributions behind a plow and a mule were critical to the success of America’s mighty space program.  His work was critical in meeting the challenge of carving up thousands of acres of pine-choked land in Hancock County to make way for the national rocket test site was one of the largest construction projects ever undertaken.  Pictured here on the left with an engine test stand in the background personifies the mighty contributions that the small and humble make. 

As leaders, we should never overlook the contributions of the small and humble.  Leadership success relies on those contributions. 

“Vision comes alive when everyone sees where his or her contribution makes a difference.” – Ken Blanchard

Mr. Burnett, who died in 2008, couldn’t imagine what was going to happen at the land and site he helped prepare.  Yet, his work personified the spirit of the Small But Mighty Stennis Space Center.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA

The Smell of Future

I love the smell of September in Washington, DC, it smells like the future.  It always reminds me of the joyful expectation of going back to school; the anticipation of learning new things; and it’s the ever-so-slight sense of urgency caused by the recently-noticed shortening of days.    It’s the scent of cool crisp mornings with a hint of humidity in the air; and it’s the aroma of the blossoms of the crepe myrtle as they accelerate their descent to the ground.

I was in a brainstorming meeting last week with a group discussing goals of a Maryland Science, Exploration and Education Center (SEEC) at Goddard Space Flight Center.  The objectives of the SEEC include inspiring, engaging and educating the next generation of scientists, engineers and technologists; providing compelling experiences to all to increase understanding of Goddard Center Director Rob Strain (left) and SEEC President Kam Ghaffarian sign the Space Act Agreement. Credit: NASA/Bill Hrybykour home planet and our place in the Universe; and to create a destination of choice that effectively showcases NASA and Goddard’s current work.  To help the group see the possibilities and get our creative juices flowing, someone put up a quote from Edwin Powell Hubble:

 “Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.”

I sat aside for a moment the fact that as I enter the second half century of my life, these five senses are becoming increasingly insufficient for exploring this adventure called life. After that, I realized that this was a pretty cool quote for many reasons.  I did a little inventory of the five senses and then came to smell.  It wasn’t surprising that this whole notion of establishing SEEC smelled like September.

Some folks are examining the phenomena of synethesia and clairalience where one could acquire other sensory knowledge or psychic knowledge through smell.  This notion of the smell of success might not be too goofy.  Consider a quote from the movie Apocalypse Now that says,

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning. Smell(s) like victory.”

As leaders strive to inspire and engage, we need to fully understand the power of senses like smell or even taste.  Many have heard the expression, often said of players on winning sports teams, they wanted the win so bad, they could taste it. 

Senior Executives will establish new performance objectives for the year; I will have a leadership team retreat to establish my Directorate’s annual goals; and in the government, we will approach the start of a new fiscal year.   Frank Sinatra sings to us in September Song:

Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game

Hope, inspired future, sense of urgency.  I now appreciate the synchronicity of events recently and why it smells like September.   

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

In Search of the Lost Art of IT Management

I get a steady trickle of “Friend” requests on Facebook.  As a rule, I don’t accept requests from people who I don’t know or with whom I have no mutual friends.  But, then I got such a request from Otto Adams.  The name didn’t even ring a bell.  A few clicks and I discovered he was in my graduating class at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC.

It may or may not be surprising to know that out of a graduating class of 141, I barely remember anyone.  Mostly, I remember the brass section of the band and a few clarinet players.  So, I looked at Otto’s friends to see who they were to get some clues.  Then I saw, Chris Belcher.  Humm…his photograph showed a 50-ish man with gray hair and an ever-so-slight beginning of male-pattern baldness.  But, the amazing thing was that the photograph, which was so good and it captured the essence of his personality, it caused me to remember a quiet blond teenage boy who always walked around by himself with his camera on his shoulder.  Yes, good photographs do that.  I shouldn’t have been surprised to find a string of visual arts students on Facebook, but that’s what I found. 

Next, I came to Francesca Scott.  She was obviously a professional photographer.  No picture of her, but I had a vague memory of a short girl with long beautiful hair that walked around by herself with a camera on her shoulder.  A browsed her gallery.   I hadn’t seen such beautiful pictures in years.  And quite frankly, had forgotten what beauty a talented photographer could produce.

And then I thought of what is going on today with Information Technology.

Today, just about everyone has a camera on their phone.  This along with the ease of use and popularity of digital cameras makes it easy for just about everyone to be a “photographer”.  Furthermore, with the video capabilities that exist now, just about anyone is able to record “what’s on the scene” of most newsworthy events that happen. Now everyone is a videographer.

Today, just anyone can have a blog.  It’s easy and it’s free.  Information is everywhere and anyone with a blog site can now become a “journalist”. 

The same situation exists with IT.  No one can deny that there is a proliferation of IT.  At NASA, we spend somewhere around $1.5 billion per year on it.  It’s everywhere.  And here, just like everywhere, the proliferation, the ubiquitous nature of it, and the increased ease of use forces IT, as well as cameras, to be considered merely tools.  It is because of the notion that IT is merely a tool, that we have lost the notion of a discipline that is actually associated with the management of IT – the artistry that is associated with the use of the mastery of tool.

Well, what does this “art” look like? And why is it important to find it again?

Truth.  Now that anyone with a blog, can be a journalist, what is left for the journalist to do? To, coin a phrase, information, information everywhere and nothing to think about.  The journalist’s role can add value by helping readers validate information and convert information into knowledge.  With IT, the CIO must now evolve from being the deliverer of IT, because now most people can get that, to helping organizations use that information to get the knowledge they need for mission success.

Beauty.  I don’t know if I can tell you what made Francesca’s photographs beautiful, but they were.  The beauty was not in the tool she used, but it was in the results that were produced.  And perhaps beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.  Similarly, the beauty in the successful management of IT will be in the eyes of those who are served by it.  There is no beauty in IT tools, but the beauty can be observed in the outcomes that are produced as perceived by the people who are served.

Love.  Love inspires passion which breathes life into what we do.  Long hours in a dark room, dancing until your feet were sore, or practicing your horn with a tired embouchure, require passion to fuel and sustain artists.  Similarly, the CIO, or any leader for that matter, must have passion about their work and about the mission to sustain execution of activities that can ultimately breed success.

Love, beauty, truth … What does that have to do with space exploration? Getting back to the moon? Or getting to Mars? I’m not sure how to really explain what that “looks like” relative to IT Management.  But, considering how important IT is to NASA’s mission and how much we spend on it, recapturing that lost art of IT Management is needed to use these mere tools as effectively and as efficiently as we can for the masterpiece of mission success.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

The Betting CIO

By some strange confluence in the universe, I found myself in a casino for two consecutive weekends. 

I played Texas Hold ‘Em and wagered on horse races both for the first time.  Now, I understood both from academic, technical, and statistical perspectives.  I had even played successfully in cash-free simulations.  But as that supportive Las Vegas dealer said to me, “Baby, you’ll learn better and faster if you play and risk some money.”  She was right.

I’ve always understood that I was a risk taker.  I learned early on in an exercise during a leadership development program at the Federal Executive Institute.  They presented a wine-making exercise that teaches aspiring executives how to use data that they’ve gathered and apply the results of experimentation to learn how the right amount of risk can be translated into organizational success and competitive advantage. 

Leadership competencies such as these are very important to an organization like NASA.  NASA’s heritage demonstrates the powerful effect of the Ying and Yang of risk management and innovation which continues to spawn discoveries in space, fuel the passion for exploration in human space flight, and launch breakthroughs in technology.  And as we continue on in our mission to inspire, discover, and explore, we will do so by balancing the sometimes competing forces of intellectual judgment and intuitive possibilities. 

Too much risk aversion yields little reward.  Too much innovation could be wasteful or even dangerous.  It’s amazing that we are so creative and innovative in our youth and as we mature and gain experience, life beats it out of us.  John Medina, in his book, Brain Rules, describes, in his Rule #12, how we are powerful and natural explorers and how babies model that behavior.  He goes on to explain:

“The desire to explore never leaves us despite the classrooms and cubicles we are stuffed into. Babies are the model of how we learn—not by passive reaction to the environment but by active testing through observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion. Babies methodically do experiments on objects, for example, to see what they will do.”

Well now let’s see what we can learn from babies.  First, they watch and observe an object; next thing you know, they want to taste it and put it in their mouths; and then they try to see what they can do with it, even try to break it.

First, the Betting CIO shouldn’t confuse luck with sound research and risk analysis.  Just because you run across a highway and don’t get killed, doesn’t mean you’re skilled; it could mean you’re just lucky.  For example, if you haven’t applied sound risk-based security management practices and nothing bad happened, that’s luck, not good management.

Second, the Betting CIO should follow the advice of the most successful gamblers, “Scared man can’t gamble”.  It takes courage to innovate and operate.  If your tolerance for risk is zero, well then it’s a non-starter.  A system with absolutely no security risks is one that is turned off or unusable.  Without risk, there is no fear; and without fear, there is no need for courage; and without courage, there can be no innovation. 

Finally, the Betting CIO won’t learn anything without risking something.  She must pick it up; play with it; and taste it.  If there are a lot of unknowns and the stakes are high, perhaps she should make a few observations and then take the plunge in a scenario where the risk is lower.  So, the Betting CIO should be observant, try some things, and set up safe sandboxes; but should not be reckless, scared, or paralyzed.

Oh, by the way, I lost just a little bit of money in horse racing and poker.  But, I learned a whole lot more in my loss than I ever learned in reading and computer games.  Leadership lessons in a casino?  You bet!

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center