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Social CIO Series: Linda Cureton, Former CIO of NASA

“Traditional CIOs need to get over their phobias and realize that the world will pass them by.”

“Traditional CIOs need to get over their phobias and realize that the world will pass them by.”

Name: Linda Cureton
Title: CEO
Organization: Formerly with NASA, now with Muse Technologies, Inc.

1. Tell us a bit about your position at NASA and what you were trying to accomplish.

The NASA CIO is a member of the executive team responsible and accountable to the Administrator for providing Information Technology advice and services. The role of the CIO, though well-defined at NASA is one that I sought to grow in relevance and to become an enabler of an already awesome mission that touches the lives and souls of every human on this planet.

2. Tell us a bit about you and how you viewed your role as CIO.

I went to Washington, DC public schools graduating in the first class of Duke Ellington School of the Arts. My academic background is in Mathematics – obtaining degrees at Howard University and Johns Hopkins. While in undergraduate school, I also studied Classics and Latin. I love the blend of music, mathematics, and the classics. I believe that the early classical philosophers provided insight into life, society, and people. This insight offers valuable wisdom to the modern day leader.

As CIO, I viewed it more as a leadership role than a technical role. The technology, in fact, is the easy part – relatively. My more difficult role of CIO was in leading people – getting very smart people to learn; and in leading change in an organization that finds sending a robot to Mars easy and implementing centralized IT services difficult.

3. What were the key reasons you started to drive social?

I had three reasons for driving social media. First, I wanted to learn, first hand, how this amazing technology worked. Second, I wanted to use it as a leadership tool to communicate the relevance and impact of change initiatives. Finally, I wanted to use it to help my personal leadership. I wanted people to get to know me better. That knowledge would increase trust.

4. How did the arrival of social interplay with NASA’s culture?

I think it helped NASA perform its Mission. Social helps communicate in ways that are more personal.

“NASA’s Mars Phoenix Lander, sent out a Tweet – “We have ICE!!!” This was more powerful than the traditional formally prepared press release.”

This communication touches the hearts and souls of the listeners and more relevant to a society that wants to understand our origins and if we are alone in this Universe.

5. How did you mitigate the change management aspects of introducing social?

I did two key things. First, I ate my own dog food – that is, I used it myself. I demonstrated the value and tried to make myself an example. Doing this, I also had the ability to learn the pitfalls and potholes associated with social. Additionally, I tried to get buy-in from the General Counsel’s office. The issue here is not about stubborn lawyers who need to change – it’s about how to create an ecosystem of innovation that includes innovating legal and procurement processes. One blessing that I had was to work with a very innovative and forward leaning public affairs office. They “got it” and pulled the office of the CIO forward more than a few times.

6. What do you see as your biggest social "win" while working with NASA?

I am most pleased with creating the NASA CIO blog. It was very popular both in and out the federal government community. I wrote it myself which, in hindsight, that wasn’t a great way to ensure that it would continue without me. However, I enjoyed the experience and it was a very rewarding aspect of my job.

I am also proud of the fact that I put my blog-writing skills to work by authoring a book on leadership called The Leadership Muse. It’s not on Oprah’s list, but I see it as a tremendous personal accomplishment.

7. What is your advice to traditional CIO's that are leery of "going social"? Any important lessons learned you would like to share?

Traditional CIOs need to get over their phobias and realize that the world will pass them by. It’s funny, I am old enough to remember the same concerns raised about social media today discussed years ago about email. Yet, look at where we are today. We hardly think about the issues that paralyzed us years ago about email. Ironic that we keep reliving history.

It’s important that traditionalists learn from history in order to move forward. But it’s more important to not be paralyzed in the present by an uncertain future.

Traditionalists need to decide what their message and brand will be. Then, they should use social media to support this strategy.

8. What question did you want to answer that we failed to ask?

I have retired from NASA and the federal government with almost 34 years of service. I am excited about what I’m doing next. I am the CEO and Founder of Muse Technologies. Our focus is IT transformation using technologies such as social media.

Someone asked me how I came to make this decision. I spoke earlier of the traditionalists need to take risks and let go of the fear that paralyzes them. Yet, this is the decision space I found myself in. At the end of the day, I needed to make a decision and take risks to form a company that can satisfy unmet needs and make a real difference in IT. 

About Jostle’s CIO Series

At Jostle we recognize the importance of leadership in making social collaboration work inside of organizations. In fact, we are so passionate about it that we sought out some of the top social CIO’s in North America to participate in a Jostle Blog series that focuses on the challenges and successes of applying social tools. We are happy to share these success stories with you and we hope it inspires the social champion in all of you. If you know a Social CIO you feel should be included in this series, please contact us at CIO@jostle.me. There is no requirement that they be using the Jostle People Engagement® platform.

Muse Technologies

We develop approaches for our clients that are practical and get it right the first time. Muse values strong leadership and results orientation to help our customers achieve the desired outcomes. We differentiate ourselves by being with you at every step, and staying with you through the entire lifecycle of transformation. Muse provides clients with a strong leadership team that has the experience, wisdom and methodology to develop innovative ways to meet the company’s current IT challenges. Every company and every organization is unique. Our clients receive a personalized plan of action to ensure that the needs of the company and its employees are met. This ensures overall success. http://www.muse-technologies.com/index.htm

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