Archive for the 'Innovation' Category
James Bridger interviews adventurer extraordinaire, Rob Young Pelton, about his upcoming crowd-funded journey to find Jospeh Kony and further updates on the situation in Africa. Jim and Rob discuss civil wars, and piracy amongst others.
The episode finishes with an interview done on Federal News Radio, 1500AM, for their series “In Depth with Francis Rose.” Sean McCalley interviews our NEXTWAR Director, Matt Hipple, about his thoughts on what to watch in the coming year. They discuss Africa, China, drones, and informal military innovation/networks.
And remember… we are available on Itunes and Stitcher Stream Radio! Tell a friend, leave a comment, and rate 5 stars!
Cross-posted by permission from CIMSEC’s NextWar Blog
There’s been a big uproar lately about innovation in the Navy throughout message boards and the blogosphere – what is innovation, what it’s not, and what method Big Navy should be taking to jumpstart innovation among the fleet, if any at all. LT Jon Paris and LT Ben Kohlmann, both of whom are very involved in the conversation, had a great discussion about the topic on CIMSEC’s Sea Control Podcast, hosted by LT Matt Hipple. LT Paris followed up with an excellent blog post. While there are some contrasting views, it seems like one thing that’s agreed upon is that the deckplate innovation already occurring in the fleet sometimes doesn’t make it “up and out” or isn’t as publicized as it should be. In that capacity, LT Hipple, and some members from the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, offered a challenge to start publishing examples of innovation in the fleet. I’ve decided to take this up head on in a series of “Innovation Files”.
Nearly every command has a “Plan of the Day” (POD) – a widely distributed one-page agenda with at least the current and following days’ schedule of events. Depending on the command, certain PODs are very long and many regularly contain dozens of events per day, some at overlapping times. Early on, I noticed a couple glaring inefficiencies particular to my command. First was the process – A yeoman would be specifically assigned to “do the POD” for the day, a duty rotated among the junior yeomen that nobody wanted. This task started by opening the previous day’s POD, changing the date, piling through various e-mails and files on the shared drive, and then writing the new daily schedule by hand. After an hour or two, it would get routed up to the ship secretary, personnel officer, admin officer, training officer, operations department, various department heads, command master chief (CMC), and some others before finally getting to the XO. Every position in the chop chain had their own changes and events to add, and it required the yeoman to literally go around the ship looking for each of these people, and then going back and correcting the changes for each correction or addition. It wasn’t uncommon to print in excess of 15 POD drafts before the final revision. As you can imagine, POD duties were an all-day event, and since the POD needed to be finalized and signed by the next day, it kept everybody around well into the evening.
After much thought, the XO, personnel officer, and I agreed on a plan to create a public calendar on Microsoft Outlook to streamline the POD process. However, PODs have a very specific format, and Outlook can print nothing close to the format. For example, asterisks had to be next to times if the event was to be announced on the 1MC, events had to be in bold lettering if the CO was attending, and everything had to fit on the page in two neat columns. It wasn’t as simple as hand-copying every single event into the old POD format though; the daily schedule constantly changed throughout the day, and there was no process in place to ensure if any late additions or modifications in Outlook were included in the POD. This, along with other human errors, severely complicated the process, and made it essentially as inefficient as the old method. If only there was a better way!
Introduce the automated POD (autoPOD). We decided to devise a macro app on top of Microsoft Publisher, a computer publishing tool, to automatically translate events on Outlook into the same easy POD format everyone was used to seeing. Macros are essentially programs, coded in easy-to-learn VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), that are built on top of application documents (in this case Publisher’s and Outlook’s) meant to automate tasks within these programs. Because of this attribute, it gets around IT policy requirements, which prohibit the introduction of specific executable programs not pre-approved by SPAWAR. Microsoft Publisher was chosen over Word because it’s specifically designed to manipulate documents with multiple dynamic text boxes. Through an appropriate script reference, the app asks the user permission to reach out to any designated public Outlook calendar. Then all the user has to do is click one button, and it automatically inserts the daily schedule into the POD publication – complete with dates, events, headers, etc. The layout is easily manipulated by different codes inputted into the appointment screen on Outlook. For example, for an event to appear “bold”, which indicates the CO is attending, an actual Outlook invitation for that appointment is sent to the CO, which is then designated on the user interface with a specific user name.
Along with events, the app supports all sorts of informational headers put in by different users through Outlook tags – for example, the operations officer puts in the appropriate command duty officers and duty sections, and the quartermasters put in sunrise and sunset times into Outlook. The app supports time structures displayed as “All Day” or “TBD”, and all types of recurring events. Different permissions (ie: read only, add, or modify/delete) can be granted to different users to modify the Outlook Calendar, and the program is set up for an administrator to view when and who is putting in the events, so it’s not possible to sneak a last minute evolution for the next day without the XO and CMC knowing.
AutoPOD was eventually customized for several other tasks. By request, we built an automated Plan of the Week (POW) 10-day printable outlook on top of Microsoft Excel for the Planning Board for Training (PB4T), which mimics the POD format each day, for planning purposes. Other ships had a weekly or monthly outlook summary with important events listed on the back of their POD, and autoPOD was customized for these commands as well, using the “priority” attribute to determine if the item should be displayed on a weekly summary. We have continuously refined AutoPOD to accommodate every ships’ POD format, meaning there will be little, if any, visible change to the Sailor. For example, there are options to modify the font, size, and width for the time and subject columns. Additionally, it’s designed to be plug-and-play – all contained in one publisher file – so it can be used immediately and without any complicated installation procedures. Detailed documentation is provided on how to install the program and manipulate the schedule via Outlook.
It is worth noting that the initial concept of autoPOD was not received well in its early stages. For example, the yeomen were used to a certain way of doing things, and didn’t want to move over from Word to Publisher. Despite comprehensive training, some department heads and department lead chief petty officers continued to send e-mails to admin with their events, instead of deconflicting and scheduling it themselves in Outlook. However, after much dedication and patience, everyone slowly acclimated. The new system is now second nature, and it’s hard to think of how life even functioned in the past.
To date, autoPOD has been distributed to over a dozen ships, across several waterfronts. It has undoubtedly made the POD process less frustrating, and has saved countless manhours and time, from the junior yeoman who can produce a POD in minutes, to the XO who no longer has to micromanage the process. Unfortunately, we recently hit a bump in the road when asked to set up the app on a ship that finished an extensive shipwide IT refresh known as a Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES) installation. At the time, CANES strictly restricted ships from creating and using shared calendars, along with other security settings that prevented the app from working properly. A workaround is in progress, but it illustrates a point that has been brought up in the recent discussions – many Navy policies and procedures are around for valid reasons, but often come at the expense of productivity and innovation. It’s essential to collaborate between the fleet and appropriate project managers / designers / policymakers to figure out an optimal mix.
Cross-posted by permission from CIMSEC’s NextWar Blog
You cannot force innovation. Especially in the Navy.
This truism is continually repeated, from the ATHENA Project to Navy Warfare Development Command (the Navy’s “Center” for Innovation). Yet, pushing innovation has become the cause de jour – one that has inspired a clumsy “campaign” which is heavy on rhetoric but light on substance. I have had a front row seat to this movement, from the beginning until now, where its one product – the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, or CRIC – is struggling to identify itself, find relevancy, and justify funding. “What is the Navy missing?”
The Heart of the Matter
What is innovation?
Our friends at Merriam-Webster tell us that to innovate is, “to do something in a new way: to have new ideas about how something can be done.”
“Precisely,” I scream internally amongst my fellow Starbucks typists. Innovation is not just sitting around thinking stuff up – it is identifying a problem, often taking a Departure from Specifications, and coming up with a new solution, therefore making your respective process more efficient. This stands apart from, as some try to compare, the process that brought us our much beloved password keeper: the Post-it Note. While I wish to claim dictionary-supported victory, Webster continues: “To introduce as, or as if, new.” And here is the rub. What is the Navy trying to push us to do? Solve problems or think stuff up? In reality, it is both. We need to clearly distinguish between innovation, which is the act of finding a new way to solve an identified problem, and creativity, which boils down to investing in our future. “Semantics,” you say. I disagree, and I believe that this line in the sand will help organize our service’s efforts more efficiently. When it comes to my definition of innovation, the Navy is spinning its wheels. Innovation will boom when Big Navy opens its ears and shuts its mouth: it must listen, implement, and highlight successful innovations.
“Haters Gonna’ Hate”
Why tear down people trying to improve the Navy? Why do you dislike the Innovation Campaign?
These are questions I hear asked by people enamored by flashy websites and new catch-phrases like “disruptive thinkers” or “crowd-sourcing.” I do not hate innovation – I believe it has a valuable place in our Navy. I do not hate creativity – I think it has a valuable role in our future. I do dislike the Navy’s Innovation Campaign, though, because it misses the point of innovation, it blurs the line between innovation and creativity, and because the Navy is taking the wrong approach.
We do not require a bottom-up invigoration. Innovation happens where it matters most: at the source of “the problem.” It does not happen because of symposia or blog posts. It happens because our people are both creative, and selfish.
While some see the selfish streak as a bad thing, it is present in every person and can be harnessed. What does it mean in this context? It means that our people hate having their time wasted. They are always looking for a better answer to the problem, whether it is using red headlamps on the navigation table instead of those clunky Vietnam-era L-flashlights, or using Excel instead of R-ADM for watch bills. They are being selfish because they are looking to make their lives easier – they are being innovative because they are finding a new solution to an existing problem. Campaigns do not inspire these improvements and good deck-plate leadership can corral this so-called selfishness into constructive innovation, and steer clear of gun-decking.
“They are not going to listen anyways, so why should I do anything differently?” This brings us full circle to the Navy’s current push for innovation. The Navy wants to capture fresh ideas and the operational experience of our young leaders. To achieve this, Big Navy needs only to stop talking. No websites or outreach groups are required. If they listen, they will hear their Fleet being innovative.
This entire campaign has been a bottom-up effort, trying to rile up the young folks and get them to be more innovative. I think this is the wrong approach. The thing that squashes the natural innovation in the Fleet is an unreceptive organization. “R-ADM is the required software for watch bills. If you do not use R-ADM, you fail the inspection.” More effective Excel-based watch bills go into hiding and “clunky,” but approved, R-ADM watch bills are generated specifically for said assessment. Innovation is squashed. Other commands fail to learn the successful lessons of their waterfront counterparts because the solution was not “in accordance with.”
Many instructions are written in blood, and while we should not forget that, we should recognize that there is a way to ensure combat superiority and safety, while still applying real-world common sense. Operators in the Fleet do not need to be patronized. They just need the Navy to listen, and whenever possible, defer to the operator over dusty publications. When a good idea makes sense, operators need the Navy to implement it and promulgate it to the rest of the Fleet through every available channel – from press releases to school-house curriculums. The innovation should be made official through integration into instructions and strategic communications – highlight it, not for fame or fortune, but rather, so that a Sailor does not find the problem he just solved, a year later at his next command.
Innovation is All-Around Us
Innovation is happening in the Fleet. Many of these every-day solutions become so incorporated into a unit’s routine that they are hardly thought of as innovations – they are rarely publicized, and when they do spread, it is almost always via PCS-Pollination. These life-hacks allow us to operate more efficiently, but also ensure that we are often coloring slightly outside “the lines.” How many of these mini-innovations have become standard issue, or have been deemed to be, “in accordance with?” Everyone knows that these gems are out there. Yet, they stay at the unit level – effective little outlaws, getting the job done, but waiting to sabotage the checklists of your next INSURV. What is the Navy missing?
Have you ever heard of the Combat iPad? Unless you are a regular reader of the Disruptive Thinkers blog or a Marine Corps Cobra pilot, you might have missed it. This is the greatest innovation success story in recent years. Imagine being confined in a tiny cockpit, racing around a mountainous combat zone, expected to differentiate between the guys in tan clothing from the guys in khaki clothing, holding numerous lives in your hands, and trying to find your way by sorting through ONE-THOUSAND pages of charts in your lap. As a proud former navigator, this sounded ridiculous to me. This was the reality, though, for Cobra crews in Afghanistan – the folks we expect precision close air support out of every time. A Marine Captain decided to change the game and proved that yes, there is an App for this. From the article,
“Of his own initiative and without official Marine Corps support, Captain Carlson provided his aging aircraft with a navigational system as advanced any available in the civilian world. This leap in capability cost less than $1000 per aircraft. Remarkably, an entire Marine Corps Cobra squadron can now be outfitted with iPads for less than the cost of fuel for one day of combat operations in Afghanistan.”
Here is battlefield innovation – no campaign required. This meets most of the wickets laid out earlier: the Marine Corps listened and they implemented, but how well did they highlight this successful innovation? The target audience is the entire Corps; they need to know that their leadership will listen and take action when sensible solutions rise to the surface.
Another mark in the win-column is the improved watch bill and daily routine spearheaded by the Captain and crew of SAN JACINTO. One of the most well-known parts of being a surface Sailor is being constantly exhausted. Exhausted to your core. Scientifically drunk with exhaustion. I myself have two friendly sets of binos KIA on my record from falling (asleep) from a standing position. Whereas I was once expected to launch helicopters “drunk” in the middle of the night, as I return to sea, I will now be expected to potentially launch missiles “drunk” in the middle of the night. The folks aboard SAN JAC worked together to find a solution to this identified problem and came up with a 3-on, 9-off routine. This approach meets the initial definition of innovation. It was a new way of doing business, both safer and more effectively. Community leadership liked it, and promulgated it – not as a mandate, but rather, as an innovative solution that could be implemented (with the underlying tone being, “We don’t want drunk watch standers”), and highlighted it through press releases, message traffic, and direct TYCOM action. Bravo. Innovation.
So innovation is out there. Big Navy just has to listen.
Where Do We Go from Here?
We need a receptive culture, not a fancy campaign. We do not need hollow initiatives from on high, but rather, we need the Navy to let us do our jobs. When we come up with better ways to do our jobs, we need the Navy to have our back. We do not have money to waste. We must take an approach to our expenses that defers to operational forces – ships, subs, aircraft, and their associated operators – with a balanced approach to “investing in creativity.” It would be irresponsible to ignore the future and the ideas of our more creative junior people, but it is also irresponsible to spend vast sums on them to sit around and think stuff up. This is where I think we need to differentiate between our approach to innovation, and our approach to fostering creativity.
Innovation will continue to happen, no matter what I or anyone else thinks or does about it. People are always going to find an easier way. So what do we need from the Navy? We need a culture that expects leaders to consider the insight of the doers. This improved culture does not need to be whiz-bang or flashy. As efforts such as ColabLab and MMOWGLI and RAD have sputtered over the past year, Sailors continued to innovate in the Fleet. Our Marine pilot and ship Captain did not look to a website for “likes.” They had a problem identified and they endeavored – they innovated – to fix it. Innovation – the act of solving problems with new ideas – should have minimal organizational involvement until the implementation stage. The culture, which will take time to establish, should provide a direct conduit from the operator to the command that makes the applicable decisions. No middle man or think tank, but rather decision makers – like the TYCOMs – clearly demonstrating that they want to hear the innovative solutions coming from the Fleet and that they will personally take action to implement those that make our Navy better.
Investing in creativity is more complicated. A rudimentary look at the budget shows us that, in general, new money is not budgeted, but rather, re-allocated. In other words, if our budget is (for simple argument) $1 billion, it does not become $1 billion + x to help us fund our creative thinkers. Rather, “x” is taken from Program Y to fund said creative thinkers. The question, from The Girl Next Door, becomes, “Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?” Are the creative thinkers more important than Fleet Experimentation, or “pick your project/funding line?” What is our tolerance for failure? How can we capture the operational experience of our junior-leaders unseen for the past 40 years? The Navy should encourage and facilitate creativity. The CRIC was a good start. It commenced the tearing down of stovepipes amongst junior leaders and got free-radicals thinking of ideas that grey-beards would never come up with. As a way ahead, we need to clarify the group’s mission and get them focused on creativity. The group, which is currently disaggregated, would evolve into a directorate made up of young, seasoned “egg heads” who would be incorporated into an existing command. With an infrastructure and existing budgets, as well as the requisite people to provide support and continuity with an assortment of know-how (all things they lack now), this organization – the Young Leaders Creativity Cell (Y-LCC) – will become the receptacle for new ideas still in need of development flowing in from around the Navy and an incubator for creativity in our service. Creativity – tomorrow’s next “Post-It Note” – may help us win the next war. It takes time, though, and requires a tolerance for failure, which necessitates a separate approach from innovation.
In the end, I may be arguing over the semantics between the terms innovation and creativity. I want to see the Navy take a hands-off approach to innovation – letting it happen and then supporting and highlighting it. And instead of ill-defined movements, I would like to see young leaders brought into the fold of existing top-heavy organizations (ONR, NWDC, SSG, DARPA, WCOE’s), enabling them to affect their creative – and possibly innovative – ideas from within. And most importantly, I would like to see creative and innovative minds continue to blossom outside of the Navy umbrella, where I think they will continue to make the greatest advances. As the co-founder of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, LT Ben Kohlmann pointed out to me,
“…Skunk Works only worked because it broke every rule in the book regarding traditional R&D, only accountable to the CEO of Lockheed. It could not have functioned within the standard (DOD) institutional structure.”
If we want the next Skunk Works or Post-It note or iPhone, we must encourage the participation in such extra-curricular groups as the ATHENA Project, Disruptive Thinkers, CRIC(x), and the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum – exposing our most fertile minds to different perspectives and making these junior officers more effective leaders and innovators in the Fleet, where it matters most.
While some might claim military innovation is an oxymoron, many fight that sentiment every day to build a flexible and effective military force. Join Jon Paris, Ben Kohlmann, and Matt for a podcast about military innovation, the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, and Professional Military Education. Remember to bother everyone you know until they listen and subscribe to the podcast. We are available on Itunes, Xbox Music, and Stitcher Stream Radio. Enjoy Sea Control 12: Innovation (download).
The inevitable fiscal crunch that is starting our Military down has the Pharisees of the defense industry, think tanks, and senior military leaders all rabble-rabbling about the need for change. Some of that change is strategic- Asia Pacific pivot anyone? Other bits of it reside in the acquisitions department, as we see with the pros and cons of developing “revolutionary” weapons systems to confront “new” threats. The most harrowing changes for military leaders are the all too well known cuts to manpower that will come in some fashion, no matter the logic, or lack thereof, which delineates how those cuts will happen. There is more change in the air than cordite after an end of fiscal year shooting range, but it is important to reflect on some history in order to avoid stepping on the same proverbial rakes that have smacked our national security establishment in the face during previous drawdowns.
Ideas like this one are an especially pervasive form of bad, and seem unable to die even when history proves them inadvisable. We saw the call for unification in President Eisenhower’s attempts to reevaluate our national security establishment in light of the massive technological, strategic, and social changes that occurred after World War Two. It was vital to acknowledge the necessity of change in that period, because much like Eisenhower’s dictum on planning, self-examination is vital even if most of the individual recommendations may turn out to be worthless. Reconsidering defense in light of nuclear weapons, ICBMS, and the bi-polar nature of security dilemmas when facing the Soviet Union was important. Trusting academic tea-leaf readers in their assessments and then proclaiming there would “never be another amphibious landing”, that ground forces would not be used in limited wars, and that tactical airpower was only needed to defend or shoot down strategic airpower looks downright foolhardy when viewed as historical record. What saved us from the march to a monolithic Star Fleet force that all wore the small uniforms and all died like red shirts landing on Klingon? The pluralistic competition of our service structure, which was inefficient and far from perfect, but possessed a flexibility that made it anti-fragile.
Separate services, even separate services that possess redundant capabilities, are a vital part of American national defense. The Army needs the Marine Corps to soak up public attention as a motivation for better performance as badly as the Marine Corps need the Army to keep its constant self worry about irrelevance and drive its performance. Those intangible reasons can be criticized as they are not measurable, but of direct consequence are the different service outlooks which spurn actual innovation.
The Marine Corps decided it would gladly incorporate vulnerable and unwieldy rotary aircraft that Army and Air Force leaders largely ignored during Korea, and in doing so enabled the much better resourced Army to perfect the techniques of vertical envelopment to a higher degree than it ever could in Vietnam. The Navy had to have an Air Force that threatened its budget in order to develop SSBNs, and not pursue the much less effective option of carrier borne strategic bombers. Our most recent wars have shown the truth that a market place of defense ideas is better than a command economy for strategy. While the Marine Corps stubbornly resisted SOCOM membership, the other services gladly perfected the techniques needed to combat global terrorism in the learning laboratories of Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Those were bloody lessons, but proved that some enemies cannot be defeated by large MEUs waiting off shores, although the synergy created between such a force and SOCOM has proven to be vital, and continues to pay national security dividends. Service diversity even ensures we do not forget lessons learned in blood that may seem inefficient during peacetime arguments on Capitol Hill. Even the best planners can shortchange things that are easily forgotten as peace breaks out. Something as boring as oil platform protection is a skill the world’s preeminent Navy forgot, and had to relearn from the worlds 12th largest navy (the U.S. Coast Guard). There is known historical value and definite future value in keeping a diverse and flexible force, but to do so one must resist the urge to unify in the name of declining dollars. Cost savings are easy to evaluate in peacetime dollars, but take on a morbid tone when seen in defeat and death at the opening stages of a conflict.
Cleary such an arrangement has inefficiencies, and wasting taxpayer dollars in the worst economy in years should be viewed as criminal no matter if the DOD is committing the waste or not. Grenada, Desert One, and Vietnam all demonstrated the tragic human cost of pursuing service parochialism over higher interests. Such costs have been mitigated in part by the Goldwater-Nichols act of 1986. Goldwater-Nichols is far from perfect and could use an upgrade to incorporate recent lessons from the Long War. Jointness in our operations, communications, and interoperability is a good thing. Understanding perspective, knowing how the whole of the military functions instead of just one’s own slice, and talk the language of service peers are also good things. Making claims that bureaucratic restructuring to “align” and “combine” are fools errands, they repeat the mistakes that we almost made in trying to tear down an organic system. Our current force has grown through invaluable combat experience, to replace it with a theoretical framework that has never worked is a bad idea of immense magnitude.
There have been examples of “unified” militaries, look at Saddam’s Republican Guard, it clearly combined the best equipment, personnel, and training available to fulfill “civilian” leadership’s strategic wishes. Such a system is horribly fragile, and succumbs to the groupthink that all bureaucracies do. In this age of belt tightening, we should correctly become more efficient, but there are better ways than throwing out everything and starting from scratch. Reexamining our bloated personnel policies, taking a hard look at our compensation and retirement systems that resemble ticking fiscal bombs, and revamping our professional military education are all better places to start than tired and historically bankrupt calls for the “merger of …[U.S.]…ground forces”. The diversity of thought which comes from each service is one of the strongest weapons our joint force possesses, it would wise to avoid dulling such fine tool so we can save dollars only to spend lives unnecessarily in a future conflict.
CDR Salamander joins Matt and Grant for a podcast on writing as a member of the military, anonymity, and some sacred cows military planners hold dear: benefits, high-end systems, equal budgeting, etc… Join us for Episode 8, Sacred Cows and Amphibians (Download).
Articles from Sacred Cows Week:
Quantity over Quality (Michael Madrid)
Holy Bovine, Batman! Sacred Sailors! (Matt McLaughlin)
American Defense Policy: 8 Reality Checks (Martin Skold)
Ain’t Ready for Marines Yet? The Sacred Cow of British Army Organization (Alex Blackford)
SSBN(X): Sacred Cow for a Reason (Grant Greenwell)
Why the United States Should Merge Its Ground Forces (Jeong Lee)
Sacred Cow: Military Pay and Benefits By the Numbers (Richard Mosier)
Sea Control comes out every Monday. Don’t forget to subscribe on Itunes and Xbox Music!
Readers of the NextWar blog will recall that in the past I’ve bemoaned the U.S. Navy’s limited success tapping into web-enabled “social” tools. Specifically, I noted the lack of efforts to use either crowdsourcing tools to generate and develop ideas, or to provide the sort of collaborative tools to which Sailors have grown accustomed in their personal lives.
In addition to the exceptions I mentioned in the article, such as the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School (NPS)’s MMOWGLIs, commentators kindly pointed out a few more, and I have through professional exposure since stumbled upon others. Further, as many are likely aware, in just the past month some new tools have come online or been revamped. I feel, therefore, a reassessment is warranted. What follows is a brief overview of the social web-enabled tools on offer for U.S. maritime professionals – whether by culling ideas (the Crowdsourcers) or by empowering organizations (the Collaborators). I’m more familiar with some than others, but this is not intended to be an exhaustive review – the best way to fully learn the caps and lims of any of these sites is to play around with them and see how they can aid in your specific mission accomplishment.
From our non-U.S. friends, I’d be interested to hear what’s available in their toolboxes to leverage the concepts and underlying platforms of the web.
Massively Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet (MMOWGLIs)
NPS partners with various other Navy commands to run these online games, which tap into the combined knowledge and ideas of the invited crowd to respond to scenario prompts. These response ideas are critiqued by other players, steering the decisions in future actions in the game, allowing people to work through (and the game sponsors to collect input on) the second- and third-order consequences of potential solutions. Past MMWOGLIs have focused on topics such as piracy and the electro-magnetic spectrum, and additive manufacturing (aka 3D-printing), of which we have written about much at CIMSEC. The next MMWOGLI (scheduled for September) will focus on “Capacity Capabilities Constraints: Active and Reserve Force Strategies” in November and December. My only real complaint is that I’ve had trouble accessing past MMWOGLIs on a lot of NMCI computers at the Pentagon, so can’t really speak personally to the “gameplay”.
This new site is the core of the CNO’s recent tasking to find ways to create a more efficient Navy by Reducing Administrative Distractions — or RAD. The site uses the IdeaScale platform and boasts a clean look, crowdsourcing, and gamification: users vote for favorite posts, earn points through a variety of manners – incentivizing input, earn patches for a variety of “accomplishments”. While a leaderboard displays the top point-earners, the Admiral in charge of the effort is looking to tie the virtual rewards with real ones. According to NavyTimes:
“While they are still working out details, [RDML] Shelanski said he hopes to secure funds to reward the generators of the top 10 ideas. He would like to award $1,000 prizes for the top three ideas. The rest of the top 10 would each earn $500.”
Nearly 1500 ideas were submitted and you can see the top 15 listed here. While the 3 phases of the RAD “campaign” are complete, the outgrowth of this project is an effort to effect real change with at least the top ideas, particularly in the areas of training and 3M. It will be interesting to see if the Navy ever tries for a repeat performance in a year or two’s time.
The proverbial “suggestion box” set up by the U.S. Naval Warfare Development Command (NWDC) asks users to “pose solutions to problems by providing an easy-to-use platform to submit ideas, provide feedback, and vote for the best ideas.” Similar in function to RAD, but more broadly focused. You can participate both by donating your brightest thoughts and critically evaluating those of others. Also uses voting feedback to rate the ideas, although comments are more plentiful than votes.
The site features a handy Domino’s-like status “tracker” of your idea in the review/implementation process (although unlike the pizza it will unfortunately take longer than 20 minutes to see results). You can also see if it has been rejected, and the reason why, or moved over to the SIPR version for processing. It may suffer, though to a lesser degree, the same challenge of giving every idea a fair shake and collating duplicative submissions.
(Full disclosure: I’m a member of NWDC’s CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, or CRIC)
Although it would mean a loss of some control over functional design, for efficiency’s sake Navy organizations or groups in search of cloud collaborative sites should consider using Milsuite, Intelink, Max.gov, or Navy Lessons Learned rather than spending money to create their own.
Through Milsuite’s Milbook site, small (or large) DoD teams can use a an access-controlled, slick-looking cloud collaborative site to centralize documents, tasks, and discussions in a specific “group”. Users have a variety of project management tools they can integrate, and search for other users with expertise in a given functional area to bring in to critique ideas. The only real downside is that some functions, especially the permissions/access settings, are not entirely intuitive and the help documents leave a bit to be desired.
This site is restricted to federal employees with associated email or CAC/PIV. But like Max.gov, by keeping it broadly open it enables collaboration for projects across federal agencies. Users can on NIPR can create an Intellipedia page and on SIPR create a “team” to do the discussion and file-sharing collaboration. NIPR is expected to increase functionality and tools with Google platform tie-ins, but for now the SIPR version is a bit easier to use for collaboration.
This site is restricted to federal employees with associated email, allowing for cloud collaboration on projects across federal agencies. I have only poked around it a little but my first impression is that it is functional (posting documents, commenting, discussions), but some what bare-boned.
Defense Connect Online (DCO)
DCO’s basic purpose is web conferencing. It allows DoD users to create a virtual meeting that can integrate voice (with computer microphone/speakers), chat, and PowerPoint display functions – sharing slides and other files. Those on the go can also access the website via smartphones and a downloadable app, and a SIPR version is available. The site is great for those of us without VTC capabilities who want to add some visual oomph to telecons and keep everyone on the same page. The ability to hang and trade information is also nice – the files can also be kept up for a long time, so anyone who wants them again can just be directed back to the site.
The computer-driven version is pretty easy to use and understand, but I had a little more trouble on a smartphone working the site (There is an updated mobile version that I’ve not yet had the chance to try). I’d also like to see DCO directly integrate phone lines as those hosting meetings typically must set up a separate telecon bridge to allow those who can’t pull up DCO from a phone or computer to also participate. With the reduction in travel spending there has been a marked uptick in the usage of this site – to the point where it has been maxing out its capacity. Lastly, I’m not sure how bandwidth-intensive this would be for anyone underway, but my guess is it wouldn’t handle well.
In mid-October, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) released DCO 2.0. Unfortunately the upgrade means the site no longer recognizes my old account or allows me to register for a ‘new’ one – so there are some kinks to be worked out for sure, but I look forward to seeing what the improvements are.
NWDC’s TacticsLive site
Another collaborative site run by NWDC could be used to pick up some of the slack left by the loss of groups such as the Surface Warfare Development Group for tactical innovations. Unfortunately in my limited poking around on the site on SIPR (http://tacticslive.nwdc.navy.smil.mil.) It doesn’t appear much used. This points to one of the fundamental truths of the collaborative sites: No matter how good in concept or design they are, they can’t help users collaborate unless they have users to begin with (often through command endorsement or enforced use).
Interagency Lessons Learned
I decided to return to the source – several years ago – of my angst with the Navy’s web-enabled tools and find out what’s changed. Navy Lessons Learned, part of Interagency Lessons Learned, has definitely undergone a facelift, and the ability to submit lessons learned has increased. There is also a “Communities of Practice” feature that allows those with the initiative to collate/centralize data (share observations/lessons learned/documents, etc., and comment on them) for communities at any level – from interagency groups to a wardroom. So those are big improvements.
Unfortunately, it’s still a bit clunky, dated looking, and not intuitive to navigate or search. It’s also split between NIPR and SIPR – which on one hand allows users to get more specific, but on the other splits efforts and users – sometimes in confusing fashion, as with the otherwise valuable Port Visits feature.
An “Issue Resolution” crowdsource function is ignored on NIPR, but has some legs on SIPR. Yet the process is opaque and clunky in comparison with the RAD and CollabLab sites. Without reading through the “training material” one has no idea who moderates the submissions or whether they will end up getting a fair look.
However, for its flaws, staffs or other groups looking for the infrastructure to quickly stand up restricted group to share restricted (FOUO or SECRET) files and lessons learned will find this site provides the no-frills functionality to do so, but as with the others it needs someone to convince or enforce everyone in the group to use the site. As with the Port Visits feature, there’s good nuggets in the site, but you have to dig for them.
Time is a limited resource for leaders. While many leaders are passionate about leader development, they don’t always have time to study for self-development or plan development sessions where participants sit around and discuss an article, book or other topic. Both avenues of development are easily disrupted by competing priorities. Social media and mobile technology platforms are great resources for leaders to interact with others and build relationships that will lead to learning and development. One platform that works well is Twitter. The capabilities of Twitter combined with mobile platforms allow both self-development and leader-led professional discussions to take place in any location, at any time, and not be restrained by time and location. This post is about using Twitter for self-development and leading professional discussions as part of a leader development program.
Twitter 101 (Skip ahead to Leader Development if you are familiar with PLNs, self-development and Twitter)
Twitter is one resource that leaders can use for learning by developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN). A PLN is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner connects and interacts with for the purpose of learning. Learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their professional development and knowledge(Click here for a good blog about PLNs) .The learner does not have to know these people personally or ever meet them in person. This network is relatively easy to set up over Twitter and is a simple and powerful way to both self-develop and develop others. Twitter can be a great source of information if you know how to search for and evaluate the sources. There is a wide variety of information available on Twitter; for example, almost every magazine or professional publication posts on Twitter.
People use the hashtag symbol # before a relevant keyword or phrase in their Tweet to categorize those tweets and help them show up more easily in Twitter Search. The learner simply searches for the topic or, if they know a hashtag associated with the subject, they can use that as the terms for the search (see screenshots below). For example, one of the screen shots below shows a search for “Land Warfare” and the results delivered range from various individuals to “Doctrine Man”, to ”Pakistan Defence”.
Once the results are delivered learners can sort through the posts and evaluate the information. Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message shows all the other tweets marked with that keyword. Many of these posts will have links to blogs or articles that contain information the learner is looking for. As the learner finds reliable posts, they can follow the user and build their PLN ( It is also interesting to see who the users you are following, follow as well.) One way to evaluate whether a user on Twitter is credible is by the number of follows and followers they have. Learners can also check out previous tweets by the source, which is another way to evaluate if the source is credible or not. The reporters and other contributors that work for most major news organizations post to Twitter as well and can be a good addition to a PLN.
Leader Development Program
Twitter is a great way to share information to develop others. Leaders connect with their subordinates over Twitter and share relevant content with a hashtag. Twitter can also be used for “Twitter Chats” . Twitter chats are chats that occur using a hashtag. Instead of tweeting one-on-one learners are now engaged in a conversation with many people around a particular topic or piece of content such as an article or blog post. Pictures and other media can be used as well to add more context to discussions. Twitter chats lets a group maximize their time on Twitter and participate in existing conversations when it is convenient for them. Twitter chats can take place over extended periods, and from any location, extending learning and development well beyond the walls of an office, building, or other location commonly used for these sessions. This capability lengthens the period of engagement and can lead to higher quality discussions, which might not be attainable in a normal face-to-face professional development session that is constrained by time and location (a leader development session scheduled from 1-2pm in a conference room). There are also tools available, like Storify for example, that can help learners manage and archive the chats for later reference. Through professional discussion, leaders can get to know their subordinates better and evaluate their level of competence, which can help build trust in an organization.
Leaders develop subordinates by creating experiences. Professional discussion is one of those experiences. It canimprove learning and leader development across an organization. When time is a limited resource, social media is an excellent and simple way to engage subordinates in professional discussion.
Deckplate innovation is receiving unprecedented attention these days, as well as its fair share of sniping from the skeptical sidelines. Innovation is indeed nothing new under the sun, and its traditional obstacles are no less prohibitive than they ever have been. What is new is the unprecedented speed at which ideas can promulgate through modern social media. The controlled brainstorming or “ideation” drive has been compared to panning for gold, but the internet has allowed us to increase the size of our pan.
In his recent post about the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum, BJ Armstrong urged us to publish and promote our ideas to those empowered to act on them; to “influence the influencers,” so to speak. Execution is, of course, the graveyard of good ideas; for our ideas to become results they must find the backing of some influential executive or “principal.” The “pitch” to a receptive principal is the most sensitive stage of an embryonic idea’s lifespan. Having made no small number of failed pitches (and a few that didn’t fail), I’ve identified a few common themes to rejection. For those potential innovators getting ready to make the pitch, please consider the following as you prepare:
Know Thyself: Hazards to Credibility
Old ideas. It’s often the case that your idea has been tried before and failed. It’s not necessary that an idea be new for it to be good—many failed innovations suffered from flawed executions, and are worth attacking again with a better plan. The important thing is that you do your homework to understand why the idea failed and what should be done differently before you try to revive it. If you don’t know until mid-pitch that your brilliant idea was tried and failed twenty years ago, then your innovation is dead on arrival.
Lacking solutions. If you’ve identified a problem but haven’t identified a potential solution, then you’ve really just filed a complaint. Unfortunately, the complete solution might be beyond your level of expertise, and it’s for this reason that many potential innovations die at this stage. Don’t let a lack of expertise paralyze you—great innovations rarely resemble their instigators’ original vision. This is a rare situation where effort can actually be more important than the immediate results—what you’re doing here is getting the process started.
Emotion. It’s rare that potential solutions are not accompanied with some degree of frustration at the original problem or the myopic organization that fails to perceive it. Frustration, skepticism, and resentment are all common sentiments among smart people in large bureaucracies—left unchecked, they can fester into bitterness, and nobody wants to listen to another bitter JO. It’s essential that you prevent emotions from bleeding into your pitch, and it can happen to either written or verbal communication. If you suspect that your passions may be too evident, it might be a good idea to run your presentation by a trusted mentor first.
What about enthusiasm? Keep it under control; remain stoical and professional if you want to be taken seriously. Principals are interested in facts. It’s good to communicate conviction, but too much enthusiasm may instead communicate naiveté, which hurts your case and calls your objectivity into question. Scott Adams beautifully dismissed the usefulness of enthusiasm in a recent editorial: “Success caused passion more than passion caused success.”
Know Thine Enemy: Obstacles to Acceptance
Admitting to the problem. Your principal is familiar with the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He or she has probably endured a career’s worth of ambitious Good Idea Fairies and gimmicks, and understands that failed executions are worse than leaving well enough alone. If a system is in place, then somebody thinks it is working, and sometimes that may be enough for your principal—effective or not, if we perform according to expectations we will be left alone to accomplish our real mission.
Finite resources. Funding is the obvious obstacle, but may not be the most difficult. Your principal has limited time and limited political capital, and must carefully budget both to do their job. You have to prove not only that your problem is indeed worth solving, but that it is more important than the other problems they’re going to have to divert resources away from. You have to prove that solving it is their job—they’re not in the business of taking on other people’s problems.
The pocket veto. This is how bureaucracies insidiously devour innovation. Rather than overtly rejecting your proposal at risk of appearing unconcerned with your problem, some principals may agree to “take it into consideration” or to “forward it along” with no real commitment to execution. Since you’re not really in a position to demand commitment, the only thing you can do is be persistent. No great idea ever caught on without a lot of hard work and follow-through.
You may have to seek the attention of other principals– be careful. It’s easy to stray into insubordination this way, but if you tailor your message carefully, your immediate chain of command may be relieved that you would seek resolution elsewhere (depending on the problem). The best way to avoid conflicts of interest is to communicate your intentions aggressively. Then there is always the option to write and publish, in fact it has never been easier.
You might be wrong.
In all of our fervor over innovation, we sometimes forget that not all new ideas are good. At any given moment there is an infinite quantity of bad ideas floating around, and yours just might be one of them. You might not realize it for years, in fact you may never become convinced, and this is why the bureaucracy isn’t always a bad thing. If the principal refuses to choose your battle, it’s not because they’re an unthinking cog in a stolid machine, it’s because they feel it’s their responsibility to “just say no.” Later on, you might even come around to their point of view.
While persistence is necessary if you ever hope for your idea to catch on, it is also necessary that you be willing to move on at some point if it really is a non-starter. As usual, brutal self-honesty is in order, with an eye to improving for the next attempt. Other battles need fighting, and we need your innovation.
Over the Columbus Day weekend I had the great opportunity to participate in the first national Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum conference. The event was hosted at The Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago and a number of other organizations, like USNI, sponsored events from breakfasts to happy hours. At its heart, however, the conference was independently organized by a group of mid-grade and junior officers to explore the nexus of innovation and entrepreneurship with military affairs and defense industry.
Off the top, the very existence of the event was something to behold. Over a hundred men and women from the junior ranks of the military, civilians from the defense world both inside and outside government, and innovation/silicon valley folks, got together for three days to talk about how to make the military better in the 21st century. They paid their own way. The government is shutdown. Even if it wasn’t, sequestration meant there was no travel money. They filled out a leave chit and pulled out their personal credit cards. These individuals have such a belief in the idea that the military needs new ways of looking at things and doing things, and such an overwhelming desire to be part of that, that they all dropped hundreds of dollars and their long weekend to go to Chicago to meet with one another.
I do have a personal note about attendance that I think should be made: while many junior personnel had the guts to vote with their wallets and their time, only one General officer showed up, and a couple of Colonels. I’m not sure what any of that means, but it is worth noting because ALL ranks, rates, and grades were invited. In fact, there was some pretty significant outreach to the Flag and General Officer community by the organizers.
So, the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum 2013 set out in part to inspire, in part to educate, and in part to execute. The events were livecast with the support of Google, and there is a DEF Youtube Channel. The Tweetwall went up and participants were encouraged to tweet as the event went on to highlight ideas and lessons. You can read back through the tweets from the weekend at #DEF2013 if you are interested.
Over the next week or two I’m hoping that there will be a number of blog posts across the web about what we all experienced at DEF. LT Hipple has already reported back at USNI Blog and there are a few others (here, here, here) to get us started.
I just wanted to share one observation that I took away from the weekend. On Sunday, Sean Maday, a former USAF Captain who now works at Google pointed out in his Keynote that a few short years ago, when he was wearing baby blue with railroad tracks on his collar, a three or four-star wouldn’t even acknowledge his existence, never mind listen to his ideas. Today, just because he put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt instead of a uniform, they travel to Palo Alto to meet him, desperate to know what he thinks. This illustrates one of the great truths that was only hinted at in the excitement of DEF: Innovative junior officers don’t have the power to execute their ideas.
One of the mantras of the weekend was that we must have results. Ben Kohlmann quoted fellow board member Micha Murphy that “execution is the new innovation.” This is a valid observation, but only after the innovator is given the nod, a green deck if you will. Someone in a position of power and influence has to buy into the idea that a) there is a problem and b) this is a good solution. In the world of Silicon Valley they don’t have Flag and General Officers who are part of a massive, centuries old bureaucracy. However, they do have the venture capitalists and money men, and if you can’t get a money man to buy into your grand IT innovation or start-up it’s going to be pretty tough to get anywhere.
It may be that the best way to look at this is to think about military strategy, maybe think a little bit about Sun Tzu and stir in some Liddell Hart with a touch of John Boyd, and look for an indirect approach. In the closing hours of the conference Colonel Michael-Bob Starr (USAF, one of the few senior officers at DEF) tweeted:
Implementation is not the goal. Goal is to INFLUENCE the implementers. #DEF2013
— Michael Bob Starr (@mbobstarr) October 14, 2013
So how do you influence the decision makers? While it was not formally talked about, it did come up again and again with comments about communicating your idea. As Howard Lieberman said on Sunday in a breakout: “Publish your idea and get credit for it.”
So, here’s my lesson observed from DEF 2013: It isn’t good enough to have a great idea or to figure out how you would implement it. Neither of those things matter unless you figure out how to influence the influencer, how to get your idea in front of someone who can make a decision and get the green-light. We heard repeatedly this weekend that one of the best ways to get your idea in front of someone is to publish it. The hyperlink, the pdf, or the hard copy of the magazine are a lot more likely to find their way in front of the person with that power than you are just wandering aimlessly around your base with a great innovation in your head.
I think we’ve heard this before: Dare to read, think, write…publish.
- Join Us for Midrats 26 Oct 14 at a Special Time for Episode 251, “DEF2014 wrapup, and the budding question of veteran entitlement”, starting at 6:30pm EST
- No Boots on the Ground, No Victory
- Join Us for the Midrats’ 250th! 19 October 14 at 5pm (EDT)
- Sea Control Podcast 56 – Forgotten Naval Strategists
- Building to Strength