Status Report

NASA JSC Advanced Planning Office Blog: Generations

By SpaceRef Editor
October 3, 2008
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NASA JSC Advanced Planning Office Blog: Generations

Back in the fall of 2006, the Advanced Planning office pulled together a team of innovative and creative thinkers to draft a “Blueprint” for JSC for the next 20 years. This team included four JSC employees that would potentially be Program Managers or Directors in the year 2025. The “Blueprint” served as the basis for the dialogue amongst the JSC Senior Leadership. In the fall of 2007, Barbara Zelon, currently the Communications Integration Lead, Constellation Orion Project, tapped into the Generation Y community for a presentation to the JSC Strategic Communications Panel. The authors of this presentation included a member of the “Blueprint” team from the previous year.

The presentation captured among other topics, the perspectives of how the Generation Y Community received and shared communications and their Generations perspective on NASA. Barbara and I and others, worked with them on the second iteration of this presentation that was eventually presented at the AIAA Exploration Conference in Denver. This presentation has received a great deal of publicity earlier this year, which prompted Mr. Coats and the Advanced Planning office to request an offsite to gain additional insight from this community. Building upon what was started two years ago, we asked the authors of the “Generation Y” presentation to pull together 30 of their peers for an offsite focused on the future Direction of JSC.

What I found most interesting about the offsite were the similarities that cross the Generations. The desire to make a difference and to be in the center of the activity is the same spirit that filled the Baby Boomer and Generation X community when they arrived at JSC. In the Apollo era there were not any SAGES (Shuttle and Apollo Generation Expert Services) to tap into for advice. It was the “20 something” and “30 something” that were the program managers and directors, with a passion to change the world, without having to wait for a decade to take on their leadership role. Additionally, for those Generation Y’ers that are fortunate enough to join the NASA community, their passion for the mission of the Agency equals that of any Boomer or X’ers.

Yet, there is a difference with this next Generation. Even though we discovered an incredible diversity within this community, more so than is captured in the Generation Y presentation, there are a few themes that this Agency and Center will need to address as it considers how to maintain and continually engage this incredible community.

The first is the “Digital divide”. This term has been used quite a bit in reference to the technology gap associated with the varying income level across the United States, but for me it has a different implication to the standard practices found in the Agency. For example it is not the connectivity and use of Social Media tools (blogs, chats, virtual environments, wikis, etc.) by this Generation does not, on its own, create the divide.

The source of the “Digital Divide” is the very different conversations that occur digitally versus those that occur verbally and the information that is shared digitally versus verbally. I can write pages on this topic alone, but suffice it to say that the conversations that occur in the digital world do not follow our traditional hierarchical processes nor have the same tone as the verbal conversations that occur in conference rooms across the Agency.

As time goes on, those that aren’t tapped into these digital conversations will find themselves without a complete picture of the dialogue occurring on any given topic. One final note on this “Digital Divide”, it is not just across Generations. Don’t assume that just because someone is a Generation Y’er that they participate in the digital conversations. You will find Generation Y’ers on both side of the divide.

Secondly the term leadership has very different connotations and meanings across the Generations. Again, a lengthy entry could be devoted to this topic alone. But until then, consider how leadership is defined for a community that consistently networks in a flat and collaborative social network. How does this translate back to the hierarchical culture in the Agency?

So what did this team of Generation Y that participated in the offsite believe was JSC’s value proposition? In short, to be the source of Innovation that pushes the limits of Human space Exploration. Just like the Administrator and JSC’s Center Director, Mike Coats, they see the Agency’s value delivery focused in the future beyond LEO. They believe the key to deliver this value lies in our ability to be Innovative. Innovation means many things to many communities and their perspective is different from the other Generations.

More on innovation in my next blog. In the mean time, how would you define Innovation?

Sharing the Vision,

Steven Gonzalez, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

Editor’s note – NASAese alert: “which prompted Mr. Coats and the Advanced Planning office to request an offsite” and “What I found most interesting about the offsite”. “Offsite” = a meeting held outside the confines of a NASA field center i.e. offsite. Such an event is often called simply “an offsite” or “the offsite”.

Oh yes, in NASAese “Agency” and “Center” start with an uppercase letter no matter how they are used. The same goes for many other words at NASA even though they are not formal names. NASA people often use an uppercase letter to start a word they want to emphasize – but then change thei mind halfway through a document. This seems to be a habit practiced across NASA by members of generations Y, X, W, etc.

SpaceRef staff editor.