Focusing on six words: Helping government do its job better

Why CIOs — or any agency leader — can (and maybe should) blog

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NASA Goddard CIO blog

NASA Goddard CIO blog

As regular readers know, I’m fascinated by government 2.0 because I think there are very real opportunities here. There is a confluence of factors — the push for change, the swath of young people who will join the federal government, and then the scores of easy-to-use tools that are available out there now — that are part of the tide that is pushing this to happen. Beyond that, these tools enable government to operate better — more efficiently. For as long as I have been covering government, people have been saying that they want to share information. And now they can — in very powerful ways. In fact, the government is uniquely suited to tap into the power of these tools because government, in particular, needs to share information across a variety of groups — internally and externally. So there are real opportunities here. That being said, it does involve change. And government is not particularly good at change.

One of the Web 2.0 areas that has been somewhat controversial are blogs. Yes, there are a growing number of government blogs, and there have been some, such as TSA’s blog, that have been very successful in spurring change in ways that I — and I think TSA — didn’t really anticipate.

There are a handful of CIOs who blog. Robert Carey, the CIO for the Department of the Navy, was the government’s first CIO blogger. Read his blog here. Another is Linda Cureton, CIO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Read her blog here.

Let me start off by saying that I believe that, if a blog is going to be successful, it needs to be representative of the blogger — or the organization. (I’ll re-post my tips for bloggers tomorrow.) And Cureton captures that is a really marvelous way.

I have spoken to many of the CIOs about blogging. Most of them say, ‘Why would anybody care what I think?’ Then they get caught in the loop of legal questions. ‘Is what I write official agency position… blah blah blah…’

I give Cureton a lot of credit because she just does it — and addresses questions like this one right in her blog. (You can read the full post after the break.)

Why blog? Here are some of my responses to that:

  • Get your ideas out there: One government blogger told me that this person’s blog is getting about 30,000 hits a month. That means you are reaching 30,000 people that you might not have reached before.
  • Start a conversation: This takes awhile, but… blogs can be a place where you have a conversation. My definition of Web 2.0 — and just about everybody has their own definition — but my definition is that Web 2.0 is the theory that all of us are smarter then each of us individually. Therefore a blog should be one of the places where you can send out trialbaloons — and let people comment on them, for example. Again, a blog should be unique to the writer, but…
  • Leadership: The author is immediately a leader. People are reading this blog for insight and analysis… to find out what they should know. There is a responsibility there — you have to add value. But it can be a place where you can get behind the scenes.
  • Dip your toe into the Web 2.0 waters: There has been some criticism of government that they are moving too slowly on the government 2.0 stuff. I think most agencies are dipping their toes into the Web 2.0 water and seeing what works — it is exactly what they should be doing. This is a way to try it out and see what happens. The good folks over at NAPA’s Collaboration Project are quick to point out that you don’t want to do the ‘field of Web 2.0 dreams’ — if you build it, the problems will be solved — and I agree with them to a large extent. But I also think that you will never fully understand the power of collaboration if you don’t collaborate. For some people, that is a blog. For some people that isFacebook. (Why haven’t you ‘friended’ me on Facebook, by the way?) Try it out.

Here is the top of Cureton’s blog post, “But I blog.” (NOTE: I don’t ususally repost people’s blog posts — one links, and I have linked to her post — but I think it is interesting enough that I hope you will read it, so… I have letCureton know that I re-purposed her post and I have told her that I will pull it down if she wants. I hope you will spend the moment reading it because I think it is honest… and she captures some insights. And it is a great start to a larger discussion, right?)

But I Blog

I am often asked why on earth do I blog; why would a federal CIO want to blog; and where do you get the courage to do this. All fascinating questions that I thought about when I started and revisited as I got an email from a CIO colleague last week.  Here’s the email:

Hi Linda,

I saw this article in Forbes and thought of you. I have been very impressed and amazed at your level of comfort sharing details of your job and yourself with the world. I am learning a lot by reading your Blog and Twitters, and I hope to get as comfortable writing (not to mention as skilled) as you are.


I read the article which challenges us on the fear of blogging.  Jim shouldn’t have been so impressed.  I’m scared to death. The truth of the matter to Jim and to others is that I am not comfortable and I am afraid.  So, why do I blog?  Here are my reasons:

    • To learn and demonstrate the value of Web 2.0 technologies supporting the spirit of innovation that should be required of a NASA CIO
    • To communicate to stakeholders and customers the activities and issues related to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center IT Transformation
    • To focus my thoughts and learning to the things that matter in my role as the CIO
  • To increase my leadership abilities to those I serve by providing a means for them to get to know what the “real” me is like

Conginue reading here… or after the break…

More of Cureton’s post, “But I blog.”

To learn and demonstrate the value of Web 2.0 technologies supporting the spirit of innovation that should be required of a NASA CIO

Web 2.0 and social networking provide amazing technology innovations that empower the end user and gives us the ability to make quantum leaps in IT.  Using and understanding this technology is helpful for me to learn and demonstrate its capability and helps me walk the talk as a CIO.  The CIO of the future must learn and behave differently.

We know the solution to acquiring this knowledge and these abilities is largely through training and experience. It may require a significant investment of time and effort; it may take CIOs and aspiring CIO’s out of their comfort zones, but it is learnable – Colleen Young, The Futuristic CIO, Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2008

To communicate to stakeholders and customers the activities and issues related to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center IT Transformation

Leading extreme change requires extreme communication through many channels in many ways.  This is just another one. From the feedback that I’ve gotten, my message is getting out, but I’m not completely satisfied the efficacy of this as being an interactive medium.  There are more effective ways to do that, at least so far. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback and many ideas that have been helpful to the transformation efforts.  This isn’t and shouldn’t be the only communication channel.  It’s just one of many.

To focus my thoughts and learning to the things that matter in my role as the CIO

I’m a kinesthetic learner and learn best by doing.  I want to: learn about Web 2.0 technologies, hone my leadership skills, and think through NASA’s burning issues relative to my CIO leadership agenda.  The act of writing down my thoughts and wrestling with key concepts and issues gives me additional clarity and understanding. Before I take the plunge of putting my words into the world, I will take the time to analyze and think.  I strive to pause and think on a weekly basis: what I did and what I need to do to take one byte (sic) at time out of the elephant called IT Challenges of the Goddard Space Flight Center; what did I do and what do I need to do to inspire and motivate a workforce; what did I do and what do I need to do meet the mission needs of the organization that I humbly serve.

To increase my leadership abilities to those I serve by providing a means for them to get to know what the “real” me is like

The road to hell is littered with well-intended and capable NASA CIOs.  There are many reasons why these challenges look so easy to bystanders.  But the leadership stamina required is tremendous.  (As an aside and on a personal note, I recently lost a lot of weight.  Anyone who is overweight knows how hard this is … and have also heard from many bystanders how easy it *should* be for us.  But just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean we should whine and make excuses.  Suck it up and do what needs to be done.) A CIO needs trust in order to be an effective leader.  People need to know who I am and what my intentions are in order for me to be an effective leader.   But this is just one means, no silver bullet here.

It takes a whole lot of time, but I blog.  My writing skills are passable, but I blog. Personal communication is critical, but I blog.  I have to produce results for NASA rather than words, but I blog.

The note from Jim came on the heels of a hurtful criticism of my blog.  I was reminded of an incident that happened when I was a teenager.  I had to play a Mozart French Horn concerto.  I made a mistake, freaked out and ran off the stage crying.  The band director made me play again.  I practiced more and made it through, but barely.   I don’t think I ever recovered from that stage fright; and there are many times when this blogger wants to run off the stage crying, but I blog.

Linda Cureton, CIO NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Written by cdorobek

October 22, 2008 at 9:04 AM

2 Responses

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  1. Excellent points, Chris. This is the kind of justification we need to promote usage of these tools in government. Thank you!


    October 22, 2008 at 12:51 PM

  2. […] Goddard Space Flight Center CIO Linda Cureton… I posted about Cureton’s wonderful blog post about why she blogs. We had her on the show this week talking about it. Here that interview here. […]

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