A Way to a Vision – And More – We All Can Believe In

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
–Dalai Lama

Last week at the Kennedy Space Center, President Obama offered clarifications to his space policy for human spaceflight.  If you’ve followed this topic in recent months, his space policy and the changes implied by it were first revealed as a budget action in his FY2011 budget released on February 1, and has been much debated and argued since by the space community.  Several excellent analyses of the President’s remarks are offered by Justin Kugler, Paul Spudis, Jeff Foust, and the Christian Science Monitor.  Being a student and practitioner of innovative leadership for high-performance teams, I’ll add to the conversation by examining this: what is the potential contained in the remarks that show a way for a vision – and more – we all can believe in?

In recent weeks as I’ve studied the Kolbe Wisdom™ offered by Kathy Kolbe and the Kolbe Corporation, I’ve been drawn time and time again to the Kolbe Dynamynd™.  Here is a paper that introduces the Dynamynd.  Take a look at the paper then come back here.  Don’t worry – I’ll wait.

The Dynamynd is a remarkable framework for revealing the possibilities of individuals, teams, and organizations to operate at their fullest potential.  One way to consider the Dynamynd is as an improved version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one that extends to the three parts of the mind: the cognitive (“thinking”), the affective (“feeling”), and the conative (“doing”).  Each part of the mind has its hierarchy in the Dynamynd, expressed in terms of levels, where level 1 is the lowest, and level 5 is the highest.  Each level has a description associated with it, whether applied to an individual, a leader, or a team.  Kathy asserts that an individual, a team, or an organization attains its greatest level of actualization, fulfillment, and awareness by operating at the highest level, Level 5, in all three areas of the mind.  With that in mind, I’m going to focus on the potential for realizing a powerful space policy for human spaceflight in terms of the Dynamynd and each of the three areas.

The first area is cognitive.  Operating at Level 5 means we operate with a vision.  As I’ve been advocating in recent weeks, the underlying vision associated with the President’s space policy was unclear, prior to his remarks.  Now, we have a clearer picture of a potential vision on the basis of his remarks last week.  I said potential because what I see as the cornerstone of a compelling vision wasn’t stated as such; it was stated in the form of a goal:

“Our goal is the capacity for people to work and learn and operate and live safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time, ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even indefinite.”

This statement has the making of a powerful vision of the future.  Can you imagine it? – a future where anyone (and not just a select few chosen from the astronaut ranks or multi-millionaires) can go to work, learn, explore, and live; a future that is self-sustaining and affordable; and a future where we are a multi-planet species….  That is a powerful and compelling vision.  The President almost said this; perhaps it is left up to us to craft and live by these words.  As I said in my last blog post, what doesn’t get said doesn’t get heard.  It is critical that we embrace a vision and use it as a guide.

The second area is conative.  Operating at Level 5 means we operate with a mission.  The clearest part of the President’s space policy is one of mission, which to me reads as follows: NASA’s mission is to do the cutting edge exploration, and push the boundaries of what’s possible.  The private sector’s mission is to provide affordable, sustainable access to space, starting with low Earth orbit.  This is summarized quite nicely by the following in the remarks:

“So this is the next chapter that we can write together here at NASA. We will partner with industry. We will invest in cutting-edge research and technology. We will set far-reaching milestones and provide the resources to reach those milestones. And step by step, we will push the boundaries not only of where we can go but what we can do.”

The big paradigm-changing aspect of the space policy is one of mission.  The road to realizing the vision for human spaceflight is by the joint efforts of the public and private sector, each utilizing its strengths to the fullest extent possible.

Finally, we have the affective area.  In the President’s remarks are a number of affective statements.  Where he addresses the question of whether the expenditures for space exploration are worth it, he is addressing a matter of values, representing Level 1 on the Affective scale of the Dynamynd.  Elsewhere he raises a point about “why go to the moon – we’ve been there and done that”; this is an attitude, which equates to Level 2 on the Affective scale of the Dynamynd.  (At least we’re moving to higher levels.)  Finally is this statement:

“By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it.”

This statement is one of conviction, a firm belief, which equates to operating at Level 3 on the Affective scale.

Where the President’s remarks fall short, and where we need to fill the void, is here in the Affective part of the Dynamynd.  For example, to operate at Level 4 means we operate with a passion.  We’ve seen this before, and many of us experience this today.  We’re here because we are passionate about space.  America in general was passionate about space during the 1960’s when we were engaged in the Moon race.  Yet even better would be to operate at Level 5, which means we operate with compassion.  I’d offer that a road to compassion is by asking the following question: why is it that we have a space exploration program in the first place?  I furthermore offer that space exploration is an endeavor for humankind; that we do it to benefit humankind’s existence.  Call it what you will – anything from survival to enlightenment – to operate at Level 5 on the Affective scale is the missing piece, and is the greatest opportunity, for realizing the vision for human spaceflight.

If we in human spaceflight can operate with a compelling vision, with a defined mission, and with compassion, just imagine the potential.  If we have the will, we’re not that far away.

A Way to a Vision – And More – We All Can Believe In