Thinking Outside the Box


“The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”
–Albert Einstein

A week ago I relocated offices, returning to my normal office for the first time in four years, after being on special assignment in “The Bunker” for the last three years and spending a year at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC for the year before that.  After most recently concluding the very successful procurement strategy and competition for the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory and Space Vehicle Mockup Facility in August, I’m now in a holding pattern, and it feels weird.  In part, the reason for the holding pattern is because at the time I’m writing this, the NASA authorization and appropriations bills for the new fiscal year (which starts in a few weeks on October 1) have yet to be passed by Congress, and in part because my organization is waiting for a resulting funding decision from NASA Headquarters.  It’s an example, both on the Hill as well as locally, of money being the driver.  It is that situation which brought to mind the Einstein quote at the top, and the topic for this post: how can I change my thinking about the situation so that I can begin to move forward on future strategies?

To provide some context, let me share with you a little of what it is like to live inside a large government bureaucracy funded on an annual basis.  Because of the large changes in human spaceflight policy proposed by the Obama Administration in February of this year, I am seeing the following at present, now that Congress is executing its Constitutionally mandated role:

  • Money is driving policy.
  • Money is driving strategy.

More specifically for NASA’s human spaceflight endeavor and my organization,

  • Uncertainty in funding is driving near-term uncertainty in human spaceflight policy.
  • Uncertainty in funding is driving near-term uncertainty in my organization’s strategy.

So, until Congress passes appropriations for the coming fiscal year, and NASA Headquarters divides the funding below the levels specified by Congress, I’m at a standstill when to comes to my future-planning role for my organization.

As I wrote the above, I came to a realization: such thinking is an example of inside-the-box thinking.  Instead, what I need to do is think broader.  To explore outside the box, I’m following advice from Holly G. Green, who suggests success visioning as a way to ask the right questions.  Therefore, by focusing on where the organization wants to go (the target destination) and picturing what it looks like when the organization gets there, I can begin to think outside the box.  Here is an example:

  • If funding were not an object, what does the future look like?
  • What policies did we put into place to make it happen?
  • What strategies did we follow to make it happen?

From here, I can examine various scenarios of the future to help frame next steps that can be taken independent of and pending any resolution from Congress and NASA Headquarters.  This is the kind of proactive stance that I much prefer to sitting around, waiting for something to happen.

As I see it, success visioning is a method to realize the new kind of thinking that Einstein says is needed to solve the problem created by old thinking.

What would you add?

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Thinking Outside the Box