Message from the Academy Director
The Power of a Vision
When you close your eyes and think of NASA, what comes to mind? Your answer, whatever it is, says a lot about the strength of NASA's vision.
Many people think that an organization's statement of its vision is simply words on a page. That couldn't be further from the truth. The exercise of closing your eyes leads you to conjure up images. If an organization has articulated a powerful vision that is consistent with its actions, chances are that the images you'll see will reflect the vision in some way.
An organization's vision is its fuel for action. It excites people and lets them know where they're going. Studies have shown that the greatest organizational motivator for employees is challenging and meaningful work. There's a well-known parable in business circles that illustrates this. Long ago in medieval Europe, three men were breaking up a massive pile of rocks with sledgehammers. A passerby stopped and asked each man what he was doing. The first man replied, "Breaking rocks." The second man said, "Working so I can feed my family." The third man said, "Building a cathedral." It's clear from their responses which man connected his work to the larger vision.
A vision is critical for getting things done in the present, but it's also important for defining the reality you want to create in the future. There's no greater example in American history than the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement. When he delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington in August 1963, he articulated a vision that was so far-reaching and inspiring that it became part of our civil discourse. The connection between the words "dream" and "vision" is no coincidence. King used the commonplace metaphor of a dream, which everyone can understand, to convey his vision.
NASA is virtually unique among government organizations in its focus on exploration, which is an intrinsically visionary pursuit. The earliest space visionaries were storytellers, not scientists or engineers. The very idea of space exploration was outside the realm of the possible until the dawn of flight in the early twentieth century. In 1930, three science fiction writers founded the American Rocket Society, a predecessor of today's American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). It's hard to think of another technical profession where one generation's fantastic story becomes the next generation's reality. Stories are powerful tools for sharing a vision with others.
As Dr. King's example reminds us, a vision is a dream of a better future. Nothing could be more important.