2, 4, 8


A few weeks ago I ran across a very simple puzzle. It is a rule based on a sequence of three numbers. Some sequences obey the rule – and some do not. The challenge is to guess what the rule is. According to the opening paragraph of the article accompanying the test, the test sheds light on government policy, corporate America and why no one likes to be wrong.

The puzzle starts with the following:

2, 4, 8 – obey the rule.

Then it is up to you to provide other sequences and guess the rule.

Here is the link:


Go ahead.

Give it a try.

I won’t spoil it for you.

Once you’ve given it a try, return here.

I’ll wait.

(Jeopardy music.)

What did you think? Did you guess correctly?

The test explores confirmation bias. Were you willing to search for a “No” answer, or did your couch your guesses to give “Yes” answers? In my case, I started with a specific sequence that gave “Yes’s”: A x B = C, and tried a few others that all led to “Yes” as well.

I wondered: are there any sequences that give “No?”  So, I took a stab until I got a “No.”

The first “No” answer taught me more than all the “Yes’s” I got before. I kept trying to get “No’s.” In the end, I got 5 “Yes’s” and 7 “No’s”, at which time I decided upon an answer: each number in the sequence is greater than the number before it.

The first lesson I took away is that this test applies to more problems than those dealing with numbers.   The basic principle is applicable to many situations we face every day. In the weeks following the test, when I faced a situation and thought I knew the answer, I said to myself, “2, 4, 8.” It’s my self-cue to ask another question.

Another key takeaway: the best questions are those in which I get the opposite of what I was expecting. Such an answer shakes up confirmation bias and tells me something new.

2, 4, 8 – a simple yet powerful test to challenge confirmation bias.

2, 4, 8

Transitional Change Done Right

Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history.
–Joan Wallach Scott


Based on the tracking metrics of visitors to LeadingSpace, the most popular topic is transactional, transitional, and transformational change. I first wrote about this view of change two years ago through the lens of human spaceflight policy at the national level. At that time (this was late 2009), rumors were circulating that there would be changes to the flagship human spaceflight program of the future – the Constellation Program – resulting from the just concluded activities of the Augustine committee chartered by the current White House administration.  Little did I know at that time, nor did most people in the human spaceflight community, the depth of the changes to come:  the outright cancellation of the program, which lead to the shaking of the foundation of policy and purpose of human spaceflight.  As I’ve written several times since, the technical and political leadership took some missteps in the execution of a change of that magnitude, the consequences of which are still with us today. I still believe that.  However, today I’d like to shift to a positive focus, and to a different level within human spaceflight, to cite some examples from an organization that is managing transitional change successfully, and why.

Continue reading “Transitional Change Done Right”

Transitional Change Done Right

SLS and Transactional Change

“Life is all about timing… the unreachable becomes reachable, the unavailable become available, the unattainable… attainable. Have the patience, wait it out It’s all about timing.”
–Stacey Charter 

After several months of waiting, the Space Launch System was unveiled last week.  The Space Launch System, or SLS, will be designed to carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, as well as important cargo, equipment and science experiments to Earth’s orbit and destinations beyond.  NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said, “This launch system will create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world.”

I’ve watched the unfolding of the SLS saga through the leadership lens I’ve been grinding over the last few years.  On one hand, I’m more than ready to do my part to push the boundaries of human exploration of space to new destinations.  However, it is not without some reservation that I view the current situation.  Here’s why.

Continue reading “SLS and Transactional Change”

SLS and Transactional Change

Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 6: Conclusion

“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”
–John F. Kennedy

In Parts 1 through 5, I covered Nationalism, Commerce, Science, Saving the Earth, and Settlement as value propositions for human spaceflight, and pointed out the challenges for each that must be addressed to make each an enduring VP.  Today I conclude the examination on value propositions for human spaceflight.


Conclusion. Since I’ve gone to the trouble to propose a series of value propositions for human spaceflight, what now?  What good is there in listing a bunch of potential value propositions?

One point I’d like to make is based on a comment that Scott Pace told me in a one-on-one conversation when he was an Associate Administrator at NASA: “People self-select into NASA because they believe in the mission.”  My interpretation of that statement is that people naturally, perhaps even unconsciously, seek an alignment of one’s core values with that of the organization. One could pose that an enduring value proposition is one in which the majority of stakeholders have core values aligned with the organization’s value proposition; conversely, a value proposition won’t endure if people don’t share it.  Additionally, when value propositions are challenged or are changed, we end up with divides and perceived uncertainty of purpose.  Such is the case today with NASA and human spaceflight.

Why do I say that?  Let me illustrate by bringing to the table the stakeholders in NASA, and I’ll focus on two in particular: the Executive Office of the President (which I’ll simply call “the President” from this point forward), and the Congress.

Continue reading “Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 6: Conclusion”

Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 6: Conclusion

Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 5: Settlement

“Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for mankind to keep all its eggs in.”
–Robert A. Heinlein

In Parts 1 through 4, I covered Nationalism, Commerce, Science, and Saving the Earth as value propositions for human spaceflight, and pointed out the challenges for each that must be addressed to make each an enduring VP.  Today I continue the examination on value propositions for human spaceflight in Part 5: Settlement.


Reason 5: Settlement. The pioneering spirit is deeply rooted in American culture.  Whether it is the European colonization of America, manifest destiny, or the call of the West, as Americans we’re long acquainted with the expansion of our frontiers.  In that context, space has been called “the last frontier” with good reason. One of the earliest books I recall reading is Revolt on Alpha C by Robert Silverberg, involving the revolt by the people inhabiting the fourth planet around the star Alpha Centauri A.  From there, I read numerous other science fiction authors, ranging from Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles to Issac Asimov’s Foundation series.  All of them had a common theme: humanity inhabiting other locations beyond Earth (and the entire galaxy in Asimov’s case).

Establishing a permanent human presence elsewhere calls into question a number of questions.  For example, what would it take to solve the problems of living off earth permanently?  Why would anyone want to go there?  And finally, would those pioneers be humans anymore?  The technical, philosophical, and moral questions reach deeply into the well of humanity.

Continue reading “Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 5: Settlement”

Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 5: Settlement

Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 4: Saving the Earth

“The earth is what we all have in common.”
–Wendell Barry

In Parts 1 through 3, I covered Nationalism, Commerce, and Science as value propositions for human spaceflight, and pointed out the challenges for each that must be addressed to make each an enduring VP.  Today I continue the examination on value propositions for human spaceflight in Part 4: Saving the Earth.


Reason 4: Saving the Earth.  In our quest to understand our universe, we often ask, “Are we alone?”  Besides the philosophical aspects of that question, the drive to understand has certainly influenced space exploration, with deep interest in the search for life elsewhere.  Whether it is sending probes to Mars to understand current and past conditions that might have been conducive to life, the discovery of water ice on the moon and Mars broadening our perceptions about the availability of water elsewhere, and the discovery of extra-solar planets over the last two decades (500 and counting) confirming that other planetary systems exist, we are seeking to understand answers to this question.

Yet in that quest we’ve had the opportunity to “turn the mirror on ourselves” and see the Earth for what it is: the lone speck in the universe (so far) that passes the Goldilock’s test: it’s just right for us.  One of the most iconic images of the space era is that of “Earthrise” over the lunar horizon during the Apollo 8 mission.  It shows the beautiful Earth, full of vibrance and color, framed by the velvety blackness of space and the harsh bleakness of the moon.  That image, and others like it, has been credited with giving rise to Earth Day and the subsequent green movement.

The fact that images from human spaceflight could give rise to whole movements begs the question: could saving the Earth become a value proposition for human spaceflight?

Continue reading “Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 4: Saving the Earth”

Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 4: Saving the Earth

Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 3: Science

Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.
–Edwin Hubble


In Parts 1 and 2, I covered Nationalism and Commerce as value propositions for human spaceflight, and pointed out the challenges for each that must be addressed to make each an enduring VP.  Today I continue the examination on value propositions for human spaceflight in Part 3: Science.


Reason 3: Science.  Western civilization is replete with examples of undertaking grand efforts in the name of science.  Unlike commerce, science is driven by the need to explore and understand the universe around us and how it works, regardless if it can be exploited immediately for economic reasons.  Great individual natural philosophers of the past have given way to today’s world of research teams supported by grants and Government funding.  Whether it is huge ground-based telescopes exploring the heavens, gigantic particle accelerators probing the fundamental laws of nature, or research laboratories seeking to expand human knowledge, modern science is a large endeavor, yet it is one of tremendous value.  Here’s why.

Continue reading “Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 3: Science”

Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 3: Science