Status Report

NASA JSC Advanced Planning Office Blog: Challenge Everything

By SpaceRef Editor
November 2, 2009
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NASA JSC Advanced Planning Office Blog: Challenge Everything

There is an interesting experiment happening at the Johnson Space Center. The basic question being addressed by this experiment is “what would happen if we could tap into the expertise of the 15,000 employees at JSC to solve any one of the difficult challenges that we are wrestling with?” Actually the experiment is also tapping the expertise at the other NASA Centers. The idea was a brainchild of the JSC Vision 2028 team and the Center Director’s, Inclusion and Innovation council engagement teams. Called Project Blue Moon, it is a six month pilot to create an open collaboration environment across the NASA Community.

I know been there, done that. I know the outside has been making use of open collaboration environments for years. Yes I know all about open source and the strides it made in operating systems development. And yes, open collaboration is normally wide open and engages expertise outside of a company. Yet given all of that the interesting part of the experiment is the focus on the potentially untapped talent within OUR OWN community. The potential to find a solution in the most unlikely of places within NASA or tapping into the limitless passion of our community to contribute to the NASA mission. Two stories come to mind when I think of the possibilities of this experiment.

The first is the legendary tale of the janitor at KSC who was asked what was he doing and his response was “I am helping to put a man on the moon.” He was passionate about what he was doing and understood the linkage between what he was doing and the mission of the agency. But what if he had other expertise? What if he loved to tinker on his time off and was given the opportunity to play around with one of the challenges of that time? Imagine if his passion could be directed to leverage some of his hidden talents and experiences? The second story was one that was shared with me about a couple of guys that wanted to take pictures of space. They solved their challenge with the most unlikely set of equipment. What is great is that I would never have thought of their solution. They came at the problem from a completely different angle.

As with any organization we are great at tapping into our “community of practice.” We know the experts and we are able to obtain innovative solutions from these experts. The JSC experiment though challenges everyone to also look for creative solutions outside of your discipline. Maybe there are outstanding ideas that are only apparent from another discipline across the center or across the Agency. Maybe there is a robotic solution from JPL that would support a problem that we are grappling with in human exploration. Our community is filled with individuals who have moved from their original area of expertise and yet they would welcome the opportunity to offer up ideas for challenges in their old disciplines. We have employees that have hobbies, workshops at home and interests that keep them abreast of the latest innovations that are not being taped. The Blue Moon project is trying to tap into this wealth of ideas.

The flip side of the Blue Moon challenge is to get people to offer up solutions. Our community is not shy and will voice their ideas in the areas that they are currently responsible for. Yet it is human nature not to offer up ideas in what may be seen as outside of your expertise. What if I’m wrong? What if I offer up a “stupid” idea? This experiment is trying to create an environment where there are not any stupid ideas. We are challenging anyone with any ideas for a solution to post their concepts.

So are you up for the challenge in your own organization?

Sharing the Vision,
Steven Gonzalez, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

SpaceRef staff editor.