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Posted by on Jun 29, 2016

Juno to Jupiter: Navigating the Creative Space

Juno to Jupiter: Navigating the Creative Space

creativeIn this fast paced environment creative thinking and innovation are vital to individual, team, and organizational success.  Through information overload, expectations to multi-task, and pure exhaustion, many people struggle to find and utilize their creative capacity.  Some people may resign to the idea that there are creative people and there are those without the talent.  I don’t buy it.  I think it’s a skill, like many others we work to grow in the workplace.  Even the most creative people have to work at being creative. What sets a creative mind apart is being aware and being proactive about getting in to a creative space.

I’ve been reading about NASA’s Juno mission where they are in the process of sending a probe to Jupiter to learn about its origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere. The Juno Mission is part of an integrated exploration strategy that aims to take the information gathered about Jupiter and use it to help answer the world’s biggest questions… quite literally! According to the National Research Council, some key questions include “what processes marked the initial stages of planet and satellite formation?” and “What planetary processes are responsible for generating and sustaining habitable worlds, and where are the habitable zones in the solar system?” I’m not an astrophysicist but I think that translates to “Where did we come from? And are we alone?”

Reading up on the Juno mission reminds me of when I read The Martian (maybe because I recently re-watched the movie about my favorite “space pirate.”)  The book reads as a stream of consciousness where you are inside the incredibly creative mind of Mark Watney.  Although the plot and astrophysics were critiqued and modified by fans over the course of the story’s inception, it’s still fiction.  The Juno mission is not – but the similarities are striking!  From budget constraints, to overcoming Jupiter’s intense electromagnetic pull, to the dangers of nearing the Great Red Spot, NASA’s articles about the Juno mission read like a series of innovative problem solving genius.

Like all government agencies, NASA had a budget constraint that required it to use an existing rocket to launch Juno in to orbit.  This rocket would not get Juno close enough to Jupiter (which is approximately 1.74 billion miles away.)  The solution: the Rich Purnell Maneuver.  Ok not exactly, but similar to the solution in The Martian, NASA used a fly by and Earth’s orbital motion to slingshot Juno all the way to Jupiter! Crazy right? Well it worked, and now Juno is days away from entering Jupiter’s orbit and capturing vital information to answer those questions.

If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.

—Albert Einstein

So what can we learn from NASA’s Juno Mission about breaking the barriers to creativity and innovation?  Like I said before, I think creativity is a skill that if nurtured, can flourish in anyone willing to work on it.  While practicing, individuals must be able to fail and learn from their mistakes.  In the workplace this means organizations must work on fostering an environment that allows for creative thoughts to be generated and considered. The ideal environment for encouraging creativity would:

  • Build flexibility in to work processes
  • Equip individuals with a variety of creativity tools, and the time to use them
  • Allow for disruption of the “way things are done”
  • Encourage risk taking

That doesn’t sound so hard until you realize that those same drivers that help organizations achieve efficiency, productivity, and compliance can also be the biggest barriers to creative thinking and the innovation process.

Established processes help use existing knowledge to meet the needs of existing customers with existing products and services. If organizations want to encourage employees to innovative, and solve the next generation of problems there must be a safety net for individuals to go out on a limb, explore seemingly absurd ideas, and have permission to fail.  It’s not easy, but organizations and those in leadership can learn to put the right driving forces in place to encourage creativity and sustain innovation in the workplace.

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