Before the advent of GPS, how did sailors navigate across the open ocean? Did you know that the War of 1812 raged all over the country, including a great naval victory for the fledgling U.S. states on waters of Lake Erie? What is a sextant and how is it used? This are the questions answered by today’s episode.
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.
The Center for International Maritime Security has been running a podcast!We speak to James Bridger, author of a menagerie of CIMSEC Articles on Africa and an Africa/Middle East Asymmetric maritime security analyst for Delex. Take a look at Episode 5, our revisit of African security issues (DOWNLOAD) after African Navies week:
African Navies Week: Al Shabaab Is Only the Beginning
Searching for a Somali Coastguard
East Africa: More Than Just Pirates
Nigeria’s Navy: Setting Sail in Stormy Seas
Balanced Public/Private Effort for West African Maritime Security
East Africa: A Historical Lack of Navies
Particular to James Bridger:
Egyptian Instability and Suez Canal Security (Part I)
Crafting a Counter-Piracy Regime in the Gulf of Guinea
From Fighting Piracy to Terrorism, the PMPF Saga Continues
Re-examining the Gulf of Guinea: Fewer Attacks, Better Pirates
Pirate Horizons in the Gulf of Guinea
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.
As we continue through our naval history journey, keep in mind that for much of recorded history, one of the only other non-manpowered methods of propulsion on the high seas was wind. Raises the obvious question of what do when the wind dies. Today we discuss a piece of equipment called a “sea anchor” and how the most famous ship in the U.S. Navy worked to solve the problem of no wind during the War of 1812.
Women in the military today is the norm, but this was not always the case. Today’s object, a non-descript woman’s naval officer uniform, helps tell the story of the thousands of women who blazed the trail for the women serving today. This podcast is the first of several episodes that will address the broader narrative of women in the Navy. And since these objects all are located at the Academy, today’s episode focuses on the first women to enter the Academy in 1976. This is the first of a two part episode. The second half is an interview with Sharon Disher, member of the first class of women at the Academy and author of the book First Class.
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.
The Pacific Campaign of World War II was the greatest naval war ever seen. The names of Chester Nimitz, “Bull” Halsey, Arleigh Burke, and nearly countless others will ring through history for generations. These naval leaders were so great in part because they were incredibly aggressive and willing to take the risks necessary to sail directly into harm’s way and face a peer – if not superior – adversary at sea. Since winning WWII, the Navy has not been seriously challenged at sea, so there has been no need to take great risk for the potential of great gain. This has resulted in the aggressive and tenacious culture necessary to confront a peer or near peer adversary gradually dwindling. That void has been filled with the need to continuously mitigate risk, and this culture has expanded far beyond tactical risk taking to include taking risks which could adversely affect someone’s career.
The result has been developing a stagnating case of atychiphobia – the fear of failure. This affliction has been taking hold culturally since the conclusion of WWII and has now spread to virtually uncontrollable levels. The current system does not give any permission to fail. Not even a little. This removes a valuable learning mechanism from the professional development of leaders. The emphasis placed on leadership development from the earliest stages of training focuses on preventing mistakes and risk mitigation. Risk is too often associated with recklessness. While aggressiveness and calculated risk taking can be necessary to win a conflict, recklessness has no place on the battlefield. Reckless leaders may succeed in the short term through sheer chance, but recklessness will ultimately bring failure throughout sustained operations. Properly mitigating risk is essential to good operations, but when it becomes the mantra of an entire career, or worse, that of an entire organization, it quenches virtually any chance of professional invention or innovation.
Learning Instead of Failing
History has many examples of failure being essential to learning. Thomas Edison’s quote, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” referencing his repeated attempts to invent the light bulb, is quoted much more extensively. But when discussing leadership development, Mark Twain probably described it better when he said that “good judgment is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgment.” So many great minds have proclaimed that they have learned more through failure than success. The most robust professional development does not come through repeated success but through the proper recovery after failure. Organizations and individuals who fear failure to debilitating levels cannot learn or learn at rates so slow that they effectively stagnate and are surpassed by ones who are willing to fail, learn, and adapt.
What does failing even mean? Is it not getting the specific results that were expected? Is it results which have an adverse effect on an individual or an organization? Is it adverse effects which result in the termination of an individual or organization? There are many degrees of what people refer to as failure, but the professional view within the Navy tends toward the extreme that anything which is not perfect must be a failure. A false claim has been made that this impossibly high standard drives everyone to strive for perfection, and as a result moves the organization forward. This is illogical. True perfection is impossible, so the only alternative to avoiding failure and adversely affecting a career is to generate the illusion of perfection. To have the illusion of perfection, one does not have to accomplish great or even good tasks. All they must do is avoid negative marks on their record. This directly drives an apprehension to doing anything and is a perfect recipe for stagnation. This removes all chance of the inventiveness and creativity necessary to move an organization forward.
Sorting Instead of Failing
Failure is viewed as a very strong word with clearly negative connotations. No one wants to be a failure, but is not being selected for the next milestone on a certain career path always truly failing? Can this not simply be finding one of the things that do not work? Hopefully it does not take 10,000 attempts to find the career that someone is best suited for, but failing can be a healthy part of the process. Everyone cannot be good at everything, but virtually everyone is good at something. The only way to know is to try something and see if it works out. If it does not then it is time to try something else. Someone who is not suited for a particular job within the Navy is most likely not a bad person, they have just not found what they excel at. Instead of a failure, it should be viewed as an opportunity to try and find what fits.
If no one takes risks and everyone just shoots for the average, it becomes virtually impossible to determine who is good at what. The sorting function is unable to perform as necessary. Through the selection process bad commanders will slip through and potentially good commanders will not be recognized. There is also the added disadvantage of robbing a potentially good commander of the valuable lessons they may require from some healthy failures in their professional development. These are lessons that they could bring with them to command and as a result make the entire force stronger.
The cultural shift toward atychiphobia was gradual and unintentional. It was not the conscious decision of a few within leadership, but instead the natural tendency of an organization on the top of its field. For over half of a century the United States has had the privilege of possessing the greatest Navy that the world has ever seen, but history has proven time and time again that all glory is fleeting. Aggressive and tenacious leaders wielded a fleet which was fueled by American technological innovation. The present day fleet is full of many technological innovations. One can only hope a lack of aggressive tenacity bred from a fear of failure will not bring a fall from glory.