Making Eagles Fly, A Chat with NASA’s Bob Jacobs

By Cindy Chin, CEO CLC Advisors, LLC

This article is part of a series of articles on design thinking and thought leaders that transform into what we at CLC Advisors, LLC call “i.e.,” the “idea economy.” Where ideas become and transform into widgets for those who choose to dare mighty things and build something.

 


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Image: NASA

I first met NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator Bob Jacobs, during the transition of Space Shuttle Atlantis from Kennedy Space Center to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center, signalling the end of NASA’s 35-year space shuttle program five years ago. He’s the man at comms mission control behind NASA’s 1500 websites, social media accounts, and official communications and part of a slice of living American history. When he asked one of his mentors before taking the job at NASA, his mentor advised him and said, “You can either continue to write about history or be a part of it.” He took the job. Those are big shoes to fill and Bob Jacobs would be the type of person to tell whether a design of a shoe is big enough and whether it will work. In his case they would be moon or anti-gravity boots and emerging technologies. He’s seen them all and then some.

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Where did you start out in your career? When did you find your calling?
I started in broadcasting, specifically in radio in 1979. I was a Mass Communications freshman at Middle Tennessee State University and terrific of the future. I wasn’t really sure what to do, but this seemed like a good, general major. I visited the campus radio station with a friend who was more advanced in the major and fell in love. To understand my eventual career path you would have to know a little about the history of Nashville television. Let’s just press fast-forward and acknowledge that television and multimedia were the initial driving forces to a communications career that has now spanned nearly 40 years. I still consider myself a journalist at heart.

Early in my career I discovered the importance emerging technologies can play in effective communications. Now don’t get me wrong, platforms such as Snapchat and Twitter should not be considered communications solutions. They’re tools, no more effective than the invention of radio. You have to know how to use them. You still need to know how to integrate the technology with solid communications practices. And you’ll always need good writers and creative communicators to use those tools effectively.

What was your first NASA memory?
As a child, watching television coverage of Gemini missions in my grandmother’s den. I come from the Apollo generation. I was 8-years-old when Neil and Buzz landed on the moon. I remember the incredible joy I felt watching the first color images f

rom Apollo 12 and crying when Alan Bean accidentally pointed the camera at the sun, burning out the pickup tube. There was no television that entire mission. I remember the networks covering the moonwalks with bad-looking stand-ins on a set and mission audio. It has been my greatest privilege to get to know and work with my childhood heroes and be able to call them friends.

Neil Armstrong Family Memorial Service

Bob Jacobs, Annie & the late Senator John Glenn. Image courtesy of NASA/Bill Ingalls.

What is it like to witness living history firsthand?
I was struggling joining NASA communications in late 2000. I was working at Associated Press in technology development and missed the editorial side, and we just didn’t find the right fit at AP. When the news chief position at NASA opened, I jumped at the chance, but I struggled with moving from a news organization to a position many consider to be PR. I talked about this with one of my mentors and he said, “You can either continue to write about history or be a part of it.” That was the nudge I needed. I officially joined NASA in July 2000. I have been fortunate to witness and be a part of history. High school students today have never known a time when humans weren’t living and working in space, or when there were working science laboratories on Mars. That’s heady stuff. I’m honored to help tell the stories of the scientists and engineers who achieve these amazing feats. 

How much curiosity, creativity, and imagination is necessary in what you do daily? What is the percentage breakout?
What’s Edison’s old quote that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration? There’s a lot to that. Again, creative ideas can come easy. A lot of people have the answer. The trick is to know how to make that answer a reality. I love watching children at museums. Their minds aren’t cluttered with educations and bias and fear of the unknown. They ask the most outrageously creative yet simple questions. I don’t know how it works for others, but I spend a lot of time trying to plug into that kid who loved Lost in Space on TV. The kid who couldn’t wait for the teacher to pull out the television to watch a launch.

What are the key attributes that have contributed to your success? How did you define it?
Well, there’s a built-in assumption I’ve been successful. I’ll let outsiders make that determination. I’ve had many failures in my career. But if there are any keys to successful communications, it lies in thinking big, pushing boundaries, and then having a plan for making those big thoughts a reality. I don’t buy into many of today’s business buzzwords. I hate people who call themselves “ideators.” What the hell is that? Ninjas and gurus should steer clear of me. Anyone can come up with solutions. The challenge is to be able to turn that solution into action and results. People who just want to throw their grand idea for someone else to execute is lazy. If I give you an idea, there’s going to be a tangible artifact at the end of the process, be it a book, video, event, or one of the world’ss most recognized social media brands. Ideas are easy. Anyone can tell you to “do more concerts in the park.” The trick is to navigate within the available resources are structures of your organizations and still be able to execute. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t break rules. However, if you’re going to implement transformation that’s lasting and get other people to buy into your idea so it becomes part of the new model, you have to spend time working within the existing framework. Here’s where I refer you back to John Kotter. Remind me to send a “thank you” note to John for my career! Finally, you have to surround yourself with smart and good people. Note the use of the word “good.” I mean that in every definable sense you can imagine. In the end, a leader is successful by the people who carry out the elements of any plan. I’m lucky to be surrounded by a lot of talented individuals who are good people. Organizations often mistake aggression and asshole for talent. Being mean doesn’t make you good at being a leader. It just makes you mean.

This article first appeared on Medium. To read more about our chat with Bob, his advice on crisis communications, insights into what it is like to manage NASA’s over 1500 websites and social media accounts, The Jacobs Four Commandments for Crisis Communications, and what’s on his mind these days, please go to our Medium page here.


About Bob Jacobs
Bob Jacobs is a recognized leader in social media engagement, strategic and crisis communications, and innovative media development. He is currently the NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications and has directed projects and work that earned three Emmy Awards in Television, eight Webby Awards for the best Internet site, and three Shorty Awards for best social media.

Bob has earned four agency medals for exceptional achievement, exceptional service, and outstanding leadership. He is the senior career NASA spokesperson and serves as Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Communications, and often publicly represents the Office of Administrator and other senior agency leadership. He is responsible for directing and executing many of the agency’s outreach activities.

His creative communications approach led to the collaboration on such films as “Hidden Figures and “The Martian.” Bob led a number of public and education events related to the films, including public premieres and videos with Ridley Scott, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Janelle Monáe, and Taraji P. Henson. He directed the collaboration on the Internet-based Third Rock Radio station and the highly-popular Angry Birds Space mobile gaming platform. Bob also developed, co-authored and edited four books, including “Hubble: A Journey through Space and Time” and “Apollo: Through the Eyes of the Astronauts,” plus a children’s book “The Astronauts Alphabet.”

A Nashville native, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University and a master’s degree from Seton Hall University.

About NASA
For more than 50 years, NASA has been breaking barriers to achieve the seemingly impossible — from walking on the Moon to pushing the boundaries of human spaceflight farther than ever before. We work in space and around the world in laboratories and wind tunnels, on airfields and in control rooms to explore some of life’s fundamental mysteries: What’s out there in space? How do we get there? And what can we learn that will make life better here on Earth? We are passionate professionals united by a common purpose: to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research. Today, we continue NASA’s legacy of excellence and innovation through an unprecedented array of missions. We are developing the most advanced rockets and spacecraft ever designed, studying the Earth for answers to critical challenges facing our planet, improving the air transportation experience, and so much more. Join us as we reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humanity.

About Cindy Chin
Ms. Chin is an entrepreneur, venture strategist, & cultural ambassador of the arts & sciences. As CEO of CLC Advisors, LLC, she is an advisor & board member to founding startup teams, opportunity scout for VC & LP partners, a global strategic thought leader, & a sought-after speaker.

Cindy is also a NASA Datanaut, an open data innovation program to promote data science, coding, and gender diversity. The NASA Datanauts program operates within the Office of the CIO at NASA Headquarters. She is also a mentor in the Google Launchpad Mentor Program, Stanford University’s Technology Entrepreneurship and undergrad programs, and a member of the faculty of the Startup Executive Academy of Silicon Castles in Salzburg, Austria.

Cindy is passionate about social impact, smART cities, public-private sector partnerships & building great companies. She achieves this by defining strategies for building multidisciplinary ecosystems, accelerators, outreach, & innovation phases of ventures, alternative revenue generation & sustainability. Gender parity & diversity are factors for consideration.

About CLC Advisors, LLC
CLC Advisors, LLC is a firm of trusted advisors and management consultants focusing on development and execution strategies to build and incubate value-based business ventures, innovations, initiatives, and forward exponential technologies to future societies and smART cities. We are dedicated to finding solutions for traditional business models or expanding into the growing arenas of impact investing, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and philanthropy venture capital.

Beyond Moonshots: Mars 🚀

img_8168-1      By Cindy Chin, CEO, CLC Advisors, LLC

This article is the first of a series of articles on design thinking and what we at CLC Advisors, LLC call “i.e.,” the “idea economy.”

This week alone, I traveled from one continent to another and down the eastern coast and back home again. All this air travel was made possible by the investment, research, and development in science and technology, some of which came from space research from NASA and the military. Some of that investment birthed technologies like satellites and GPS for air transport guidance, internet connectivity and the wide array of mobile apps on my smartphone to get me to my destinations, reminders, plane ticket bookings, wingtip technologies on the Boeing and Airbus planes, wind and jet stream resiliency for airplane stability, weather guidance for a smoother ride home, medical research on passenger comfort, and research on gravity to land safely on the ground to name a few on what tax payer dollars and investments in science, technology, and space years ago has provided for our technologies today.

This week culminated in some spending two days with IBM’s OS Earth group, a new think tank bringing together a group of designers, scientists, and coders, the more fashionable of names now for one who was a programmer mere decades ago. I was reminded again yesterday during our sessions of why we are often drawn to the impossible and tasked with finding those answers and solutions to burning questions. It is great leadership that can allow impossible to become possible and no matter who is sitting in an office in a city, territory, or country near you, that progress cannot be stifled.

“Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America’s spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.

This is a breathtaking pace, and such a pace cannot help but create new ills as it dispels old, new ignorance, new problems, new dangers. Surely the opening vistas of space promise high costs and hardships, as well as high reward.

So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Houston, this state of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward — and so will space.”
– President John F. Kennedy, Jr.

As I watched a program hosted by Morgan Freeman on wormhole theories, I was also reminded that time does not always move linearly. Einstein in his theory of relativity proved that time sometimes folds and we see patterns of repetitiveness. This is one of those times, but no matter what, it is always fluid. So, take this time to move to the past for a little over 17 minutes to one of the greatest and inspirational leaders with whom we had too short of time with, but in that short time inspired a generation and the ripple effects of an incredible era of invention, innovation, new industries, humanity, and wealth creation. Believe me, it is worth those 17 minutes of time to hear those presidential words again.

The broad advancements in science in the areas of climate change, earth science, research and development, mathematics, and technology are still necessary and to echo White House Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, “not a charity case, but a prosperity case.” It is all hands on deck and imperative for the survival of many species on this Spaceship Earth.

If you are an entrepreneur or startups who are working on climate change, aerospace, data science your own Mars Shot, or market entry into the United States, our team at CLC Advisors, LLC can help you. Contact us to find out more information or go to our website www.clcadvisors.com.

About CLC Advisors, LLC
CLC Advisors, LLC is a firm of trusted advisors and management consultants focusing on development and execution strategies to build and incubate value-based business ventures, innovations, initiatives, and forward technologies. We are dedicated to finding solutions for traditional business models or expanding into the growing arenas of impact investing, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and philanthropy venture capital.

#inspiration #moonshots #science #datascience #climatechange #space #aerospace #Sundaywisdom #entrepreneur #startups

Perfect Pitch

By Cindy Chin, CLC Advisors, LLC CEO

My thoughts on the proposed acquisition of Steinway & Sons by Kohberg & Co. (Note: the company has a brief period in which to gauge interest from other buyers.) Initially, I was saddened and concerned that a cherished institution with such a significant and rich musical history has been acquired by another private financial entity with little transparency as to the future of the beloved piano purveyor. Then upon more reflection and thought, I was relieved that the number to acquire Steinway is in the upwards of $438MM. That’s right, folks. FOUR HUNDRED THIRTY-EIGHT MILLION U.S. DOLLARS. Far more than what classical music or instrument manufacturers have been given clout in the past. Furthermore, it places a firm, significant and respectable value on a weak market/ecosystem for music and the arts.

While some of my friends and colleagues in the music world may think that Steinway is selling out, I’d like to take the time to reflect on the number of inferior Steinway pianos that exist out there, many of which are in the revered Valhalla-like walls of Juilliard in the practice rooms. Yes, that’s right. The MAJORITY of the Steinway pianos are old, trashed, and acoustically on their last breaths since as a pianist it is difficult to transport your instrument like a string or woodwind player, etc. Unless, of course, you’re Liberace or Lang Lang.

That said, I have had the privilege to play pianos of unique outstanding and exceptional caliber only thrice in my life: 1. a Bösendorfer (at Westminster Choir College, I believe) during my competition years in high school, 2. The concert grand Steinway gently hidden inside the recital hall of the Chamber Music Society (the piano is the equivalent of a Ferarri – I kid you not), and 3. a certain well-known violinist’s Steinway. The latter two only happened in the past 3 years. The Bösendorfer had far more value as I was at the top of my own technical abilities as a pianist.

In summary, I wish Kohlberg & Co. the best of luck in revitalizing Steinway & Sons in the hopes that they infusion of cash will positively impact the production of stellar, world-class instruments that wonder and delight musicians of all technical skill from the virtuoso to the beginner. Better pianos means they’ll be played, kept, and therefore less disposal in the trash and environment.

This is the new age for music and the performing arts. I am delighted that someone else thought so too.

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