I always look forward to attending the U.S. Naval Institute/AFCEA WEST conference. It’s an energizing time to listen to speakers who have strategic influence and insights, meet dynamic leaders who are getting it done at the deck-plates, and gain exposure to new technologies, products and services that help keep us on the cutting-edge of national defense capability. Each year I’m entirely impressed with this event and I walk away smarter. Thanks to a unique addition to this year’s line-up, this go around was the best yet.
Bunker Labs – a wildly cool company that incubates veteran startups – co-hosted “Bunker Burst” with the U.S. Naval Institute. The intent was to engage participants through workshops to curate catalytic insights, big idea thinking, and exciting engagement for workshop participants. The mission was well accomplished.
I walked into the San Diego convention center not knowing what to expect. Having moved up to the Bay Area last year to launch a technology company with my partners, I’ve attending dozens of workshops and entrepreneur oriented technology and networking events in Silicon Valley and San Francisco with varying degrees of utility. I was excited to be apart of Bunker Burst and hoping it would deliver.
When VADM Daly, USN (Ret.) gave the opening remarks and articulated the reasons why the U.S. Naval Institute was partnering with Bunker Labs to sponsor a “big blue arrow” problem solving workshop a light bulb went off: of course the institution dedicated to promoting disruptive thinking and change advocacy among officers and enlisted leaders in our sea services would be involved in leveraging the proven techniques and processes used to solve some of the greatest problems facing technology companies in design to solve some of the greatest problems facing our sea services in how we fight our wars and maintain readiness and retention.
That morning we learned about Bunker Labs from their energetic and passionate CEO, Todd Conner, who explained his organization’s goal: launch and accelerating veteran-owned businesses, channeling the energy among veterans to become entrepreneurs and business owners and create a new forum for high-performing veterans to meet and collaborate. This story and message resonated deeply among a diverse audience of active duty, reservists, industry professionals and businessmen and women. We were divided into small groups and immediately jumped into the cold pool of learning with both feet and spent the morning learning about design thinking and applying the process to a sample use case.
At around lunch we used what we learned that morning to address key questions posed by the CNO, Marine Corps Commandant, SECDEF, Undersecretary for Personnel and 8 other senior leaders. Because the first step of the process is reframing the broader question to achieve an outcome based question, some of what we arrived at looked wildly different than what we expected – which was absolutely part of the enjoyment of discovery.
Each team worked throughout the afternoon on solving 1-2 questions and at the end of the day we pitched our solution concept to the group. This was one of the most enjoyable part of the day with some groups resembling a professional pitch team asking for money on Sand Hill Road, to others offering what looked like a short one act play. I was really impressed with the responses, the originality of the presentations and the very different approaches each group took to solving the problem. These solutions are going to be sent back to those that posed them, and I’m excited to see their responses.
The afternoon closed with a networking event atop a beautiful hotel in downtown San Diego and the conversations from the day played out past sun down. In the end, I was very impressed with the first ever Bunker Labs and think that it should be an event that remains a part of WEST in the years to come. Not only did we break down barriers, learn new problem solving techniques, and expand our professional network, we also had fun. Which as we know is a big part of the culture of any high performing problem solving team.
The hallmark of the Naval Institute is that it provides a forum to make us better – to try things out of the box and to explore ideas that challenge the norm. It also serves to remind us about the importance of the lessons of our own naval history so that we may be better leaders, thinkers, innovators and citizens. To that end, Bunker Burst was absolutely consistent with this legacy and I hope it continues in the years to come.
Claude Berube has accomplished a masterful work with the release today of his most recent novel, THE ADEN EFFECT. Berube’s story is fast-paced, action packed, and full of wonderfully developed characters supporting a believable but creative narrative that keeps the pages turning.
The story follows Connor Stark, a former naval officer who lives anonymously in the rugged Hebrides of Scotland after having been dishonorably discharged until he is called back to service by the American Ambassador to Yemen, C.J. Sumner, to assist with countering the threat of pirates as she is embroiled in negotiations intended to gain access to oil fields off the coast of Socotra. Stark soon discovers a greater threat to the region and the country after uncovering ties with a prominent shipping company and Yemen’s ruling family which leads to a deeper chance discovery that carries the action even further.
From drug trafficking, to Somali pirates to high stakes politics, Berube has knocked this one out of the park. Steven Pressfield was spot on when he commented that the author “has given us the toughest, brainiest, and most interesting new hero since Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. The Aden Effect is the think man’s military thriller.”
Sales of The Aden Effect start today. I highly recommend you pick up a copy to give yourself an entertainment alternative from all of the electoral theater that’s forthcoming. Unlike this year’s politics, this story will not disappoint.
I had the great pleasure of attending the first day of the Navy Development Warfare Command’s Pacific Rim Innovation Symposium at SPAWAR in San Diego yesterday. It was an invigorating afternoon of debate, discussion and lectures. To set the tone, we heard from ADM Haney, PAC FLEET COMMANDER, who challenged us to think, question, debate, read, write and communicate. We also had the great pleasure of hearing from RADM Terry Kraft, the Commander of NWDC, Navrina Singh, who gave a fascinating talk on innovation at Qualcomm, and Dr. Larry Schuette, who offered some incredible insight to his work supporting innovation and science as the Director of Innovation at the Office of Naval Research.
During our breakout sessions I listened as SPAWAR scientists and the Commanding Officer of the Cape St. George discussed surface warfare innovations and white fleet concerns…needless to say I was very much out of my league, but happy to he apart of the debate even as an active listener.
Today I’ll give a talk on Innovation, as it relates to what I’m calling the small unit eco-system…I’ll post my remarks tonight.
If you have time, tune in for today’s session: https://www.nwdc.navy.mil/ncoi/pris
It’s events like this that give me great pride in our naval service and a hearty appreciation for the fact that they are leveraging their greatest strength – their people – to change the navy for the better!
On the day after the 237th birthday of the U.S. Navy, and two days after the 139th birthday of the U.S. Naval Institute, this is a wonderful thing indeed!
Walk the Prank: Secret Story of Mysterious Portrait at Pentagon
Navy Man, Lost at Sea in 1908, Surfaces at Parties; ‘The Project’
This story about ‘Ensign Chuck Hord, Lost at Sea’ should remind us all of the wonderful spirit and traditions (and sense of humor) carried by the brave men and women of our beloved Sea Service.
I would like to take this opportunity to start a campaign to have this portrait displayed proudly on the walls of the prestigious and hallowed halls of the U.S. Naval Institute…
If you agree, please share this story – pass it along, and do not let one of the greatest pranks in the history of our Navy (and an even better portrait of Ensign Hord and his blow-dried hair) go forgotten and uncelebrated.
Today Captain Carroll “Lex” LeFon’s life was celebrated and honored on the sacred grounds of old Fort Rosecrans in Point Loma, California. The events transcended what is a typical mortal ceremony to honor our fallen; today’s ceremony was a deeply powerful afternoon reflective of such a deeply fine man. And Lex was cut from the sort of life-fabric most of us have only read about in our favorite works of adventure-fiction…he was a man full of passion, gusto, emotion, courage, intellect and love and he lived a life complete. He was a devout father, warrior, naval aviator, countryman, and writer. The tragedy of his passing is not made any easier by these truths. And yet there was, today, a certain majesty of the landscape, a certain power of the moment and crispness of the air and righteousness of ceremony that made that sadness not more powerful in despair but more more powerful in redemption: that this man lived as he did. I was in tears from the moment I had my place on the grass among the hundreds that came today to pay their respects. And so was everyone else there to honor this giant of a man.
As I drove away I thought this: how lucky we were to have had a man such as this in this world, brief though his time on station was. And I thought of a short poem often read to me when I was a child that I had thought was long forgotten but wasn’t and said to myself out-loud as I descended from Point Loma’s hills…
I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be.
I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in Heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the chart were given.
Rest easy now Lex. We have the watch.
Naval Academy graduate and Marine Officer Brian Stann is one hell of a fighter-leader. In a culture that worships professional athletes that excel at playing children’s games for millions of dollars, here’s a real life hero-professional sportsman we can all look up to…Semper fi Captain Stann. Keep attacking.
As a general rule, no matter how bad I, or others around me may feel, I find the use of overly sensitive, politically correct feel-good-isms to band-aid the moment a totally insufferable social exercise. This is an essay about my hatred for those language band-aids and those that use them…it is also an essay that presents a positive leadership solution that, like all leadership solutions I have used or continue to use, I have blatantly stolen from someone much smarter than myself.
A based on real-life example of someone I hate using false-language to assuage a real problem.
Situation: John loses his job. Meets his buddy, “Guy”, at the local Starbucks. “Guy” is a save-the-world from his air conditioned apartment on his MacBook Pro type. John is an urban laborer. Not a lemming. Just a normal guy. John tells Guy that he just lost his job. Guy provides his Oprah Winfrey-widsoms.
“Well, John, man, that’s tough, but, ya know, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
They both take a pull from their $4 concoctions and stare at the hot barista, thoughtfully. John leaves with a shrug having gained nothing from Guy’s kind words. Guy feels better about himself, opens his MacBook and blogs about places he’s never seen.
The problem with Guy’s feel-goody response (there are many) is not only that it was a corruption of a very important aspect of Nietzsche’s philosophy, but also that it was just plain stupid.
Nietzsche’s point was, ultimately, arguing that suffering is an imperative, not something that could or should be avoided, but rather that it is a natural life’s event that must be endured, embraced and overcome. To the point of being really stupid, Guy’s feel-goody adage-du-jour is so fantastically obtuse that he actually believes that John, who has a wife, two kids, a mortgage, and a mother with cancer that he is supporting, will actually find comfort being reminded that he is not, at this moment, actually dead. Thanks Guy, that helps me out a lot right now. You’re really stupid. I don’t need sympathy. I need a job. Also, your blog sucks.
I don’t say all of this because I’m cynical – I say all this because I’m a believer. I’m a believer in the good fight; I believe that humans can endure, and things can work out, if and only if we admit that it’s not going to be easy. And that’s why I hate Guy…
Such careful idioms and soft expressions are self-serving, indistinct and just plain boring. Feel-good words spoken to instantly connect with another in pain, sadness, or misery do much less to inspire confidence and much more, I think, to highlight a human being’s emotional ineptitude, in general, and our cowardice of character, specifically.
Better I think to shrug when we don’t have the answer and tell that person “I’ll be here for you” than to deliver a professorial speech on why “everything is going to be ok.” I say this because, well, everything is probably not going to be ok. Everything is probably going to be very, very bad. And no, it will not get better soon. Bad things usually get worse (much worse) before they get better. And isn’t it better to hear this from a friend? Or at least NOT hear that things are going to be just fine?
Such undemonstrative word fluff is predicated on the (incorrect) belief that everything in life (literally, every single minute) is supposed to be ‘great!’ (as if being ‘ok’ or, just plain ‘good’ means an unacceptable slip into some state of pre-depression) – this all firmly rooted in the (again, incorrect) belief that the state of nature is, in fact, one of disco, leisure suits, and Picardy breezers (or whatever your particular Utopia might be).
If I tell you that I’m having a bad day, your anemic moralizing does nothing to help me limp into the next minute of my life, collect myself, listen to my heart, gather my strength and continue the attack…that’s what dogs, stiff cocktails and old country music is for. I don’t expect you to have the answer, I just expect you to listen and pay for this round of drinks.
What’s even worse than the language fluff itself is when the person spewing the toxic blather actually believes that what they’re saying makes sense. I’d much rather be lied to for the sake of decorum than preached to for the sake of redemption – but I will listen to both forms of nonsense if you are buying the drinks.
All this leads me to the point of this article: if not PC-sensitivo, then what?
I found the answer to this question in the same place that I found the answer to most of life’s most important questions, in the Marine Corps.
In early 2006 a team of two traveling missionary-visionary-activist-adventurer-patriots came to our combat outpost along the Euphrates. We were all uniquely struck by these two men’s pluck and character. I attended their sermon, despite the fact that I hadn’t been to church since I was a child. They delivered a fantastic talk and what I took from that day I’ll never for the rest of my life forget…
Prior to their arrival that winter, I was a young lieutenant having trouble dealing with the grumblings of the junior Marines. I didn’t like to hear complaining, and it really angered me. Problem was, much of what the grumblings were about were legitimate complaints. I decided I didn’t want to hear it anymore, so I told my squad leaders to make sure no one complained around me. And the Marines, being the disciplined warriors they are stopped complaining within earshot of me. Ah. Much better. No more complaints from the men. (Personal leadership failure #254 that deployment = make decisions that make you “feel better” and leave your men feeling worse.) I’d walk around before a patrol, “hey there, Lance Corporal So-and-so, how are you today?” “Just fine, sir,” he’d reply. “Fantastic. Fantastic.” Then we’d push outside the wire into the strange world we were in, me feeling great about morale, country and Corps and that young Marine feeling terrible and sad because he’d just found out his fiancé was sleeping with the entire starting line up of the AA baseball team in his hometown.
And then I went to that talk by those two traveling missionaries. They told stories about their work in Africa and South America. They regaled us of adventures about some of the most poor and desperate people in the world and how, ultimately, it was a positive attitude and a certain honesty that led them to drive forward. Then they told us one of the most important leadership tools (and life lessons) I have ever heard: “and that’s just the way I like it!”
What does it mean?
Whenever a person has a complaint, they can tell you. Anything. Any complaint under the sun. The only catch is that they have to follow the complaint with the robust and positive affirmation: “and that’s just the way I like it!”
I loved this avowal! It was strong. It was exciting. It was revolutionary.
I rushed to my squad leaders and told them that anyone in the platoon could now say anything about anyone or anything, just so long as they finished it with, “and that’s just the way I like it!”
It changed our attitudes, lifted our spirits, and was, in my mind, a combat multiplier.
“Hey Lance Corporal So-and-So, how’s your day?” “Oh, sir, you know, I haven’t seen my friends or family in 200 days, my old man just lost his job, my boots melted to the asphalt yesterday and I’m about to go on a four hour patrol in 120 degree heat on the most heavily mined city in the world – and that’s just the way I like it!!”
“You don’t say! Well, have a good patrol.”
And then, not being able to do anything about the weather or his father’s job, my platoon sergeant and I could go and put in the paperwork for some new boots.
The Marines now had a vehicle that they could use to voice honest concerns, worries and complaints and get some of that darkness off of their chest, and I not only had the benefit of hearing those complaints as their platoon commander (and thus could be a better steward to them) but also had the advantage of not having to hear their complaints as complaints – they were now, somehow, an aggressively positive affirmation of what Marines believe anyway. That IS just they way we like it.
And so, in a world full of feel-goody false wisdoms and soft band-aid approaches to real problems, I recommend the actual “that’s just the way I like it”-wisdom of two pretty fascinating adventurers. It worked for us in combat. And it works for me today.
And in this way the philosophy of the Marine Corps, the traveling adventurers and Nietzsche are uniquely analogous…they did not promise us a rose a garden. We didn’t get one. And that’s just the way we like it.
As our ground wars in Asia come to an end (for now) we’ll need to come together as a nation and seriously address the long term needs of our warriors who have been to hell and back again.
Brave men and women, all.
Your Tuesday moment of Zen…
I had the opportunity to attend the premiere of Act of Valor at the beginning of the month. In all, I found it an exciting and entertaining piece of cinema.
If you’re looking for a good way to spend a couple of hours this winter weekend, go check out this action packed film.
My detailed review can be found at Proceedings Online:
Also, you should read a better written and more relevant review by friend, teacher and SEAL Bob Schoultz:
For more detail on the film, check out the following reviews: