In May 1992, NASA sent the Space Shuttle Endeavour on an important mission to recover the Intelsat VI satellite. This satellite was no longer sitting in the correct orbit, and the millions of dollars and years of research that had been invested in it were looking like they could go up in smoke. The astronauts onboard had to conduct a delicate operation involving grabbing the satellite with a specially designed recovery arm, and then bring it inside the shuttle. The first two attempts had failed and NASA was looking for new ideas.
What made this mission different was that it was televised across the United States, with millions of Americans watching the struggles and challenges facing the astronauts, as it happened. This live event was becoming an embarrassing failure on a monumental scale - now all of the country would watch as NASA botched the recovery job.
At the Johnson Space Center, home of Mission Control, something unique began to happen. Faxes started to pile in. Phones began to ring. Hundreds of Americans from around the country began to contribute creative and unique ideas that they believed could help the astronauts' dilemma. Engineers designs were sent in, alongside drawings from school-children. Creativity was happening at a national level, to solve a national problem.
The mission was eventually a success, but this was a turning point in NASA's operations. Following this, they decided to launch NASA Ideas - a place where Americans could submit their ideas for future NASA programs and ways they could be improved. At the time of writing, over 2,000 ideas have been seen by NASA, who allocate each idea to an engineer to explore its usefulness and potential for the organisation.
What happened that day in May? People began to submit creative ideas, in their own time, knowing that they weren't going to be paid for their submissions. Americans were believing in an idea that was much larger than themselves, and felt a sense of ownership and imagination at a profound level. The result? Creativity.
Recent research has shown that when people are involved in work that is meaningful and they are making recognisable progression in - they are much more likely to be creative. The NASA story is an example of this - but there is no reason your workplace culture could not be transformed to become more innovative.
This series of blog-posts is going to be focusing on how you can adapt as a leader, to help become a more creativity inspiring leader. Foundational to this will be the concept of Servant Leadership, developed by Robert Greenleaf. These posts will be challenging yourself to change, before you begin to attempt to change others. In fact, you will discover (if you turn these ideas to actions), that the very act of your self-change will make a difference in the work-place culture and the people you interact with.
Join the journey to becoming a more creativity inspiring leader, and please provide feedback and stories on your experience as it develops.