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The Frozen Middle and the CRIC

February 2016


The Navy is at a tipping point. With the rapid rise of advanced technologies in the commercial sector and shrinking defense budgets, the Navy is being forced to modernize at the same time that it is contracting. Near peer adversaries like Russia and China, regional actors like Iran and North Korea, and even terrorist forces are able to take advantage of social networks and personal communications devices to organize, communicate and provide command and control of their forces.

In many cases, the tools they are using to communicate – iPhones, Twitter, and Facebook- are superior in some ways to the tools our Navy uses to communicate. Our potential adversaries can leverage the power of social media and collaboration in ways the Navy has not mastered. They do it cheaper, faster, and with more agility than the US Navy. The Navy seems to be frozen in time.

Technology is the simple part. The existence of the right technology is not the problem. Low-cost computer systems are powerful enough to run nearly any software we like. The exponential development of microprocessors and storage has driven the cost of commercial software and hardware to the point of making these essentially disposable. Software designers can program vehicles to drive autonomously and coordinate over the air communications for hundreds of millions of people every day.

The problem is, the Navy as a business enterprise is not able to take advantage of low cost, disposable solutions. The Navy enterprise is made up of people and people make decisions. In the aggregate, the decisions the Navy makes are not leading to a leaner, more lethal force. The current culture of the Navy is designed to reinforce maintenance of the status quo.

The Navy has a culture problem. The CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell tried to fix that problem.

The Chief of Naval Operation’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) had two missions. The first was to rapidly bring new concepts and technologies into the Navy. The second was to build a culture of innovation within the Navy. For the first mission, the CRIC was wildly successful. The CRIC, in three years, brought additive manufacturing to ships, highlighted augmented reality in the workplace, and used data analytics and machine learning in new ways to drastically reduce the time and cost of integrating systems of maintaining aircraft. Two CRIC projects, a cyber security project and a project on rapidly reconfigurable mission packages, shifted over $1 billion in Navy investment. None of these projects cost the Navy more than $2 million and most took fewer than two years to complete.

The second mission, building a culture of innovation, has been harder.

CRIC was founded in the middle of sequestration and as a result has had a prejudicial mark against it from Congress since its beginning. As a result, CRIC was unable to grow and accept additional funding from outside sources. The mark against the CRIC was a procedural step, likely meant to set a firm stand against small, pet projects. It was an easy cut for a staffer in Congress to make.

CRIC members have included Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard personnel in the ranks of E-5, E-6, O-2, O-3, and O-4. Despite the direct relationship to the Chief of Naval Operations, CRIC members universally received strong resistance to their implementing their ideas. This resistance came from a single group.

The people who were barriers to innovation for CRIC members were E-7 to E-9, O-5 and O-6, and GS-15 in the civilian ranks. Without exception, those who have a tendency to resist innovation, and the power to do something about it, are the senior managers in the Navy. This group is the “frozen middle” of the Navy. It is both the group that is most resistant to change, and also the group that is most needed to carry forward change.

The enlisted sailors had it the worst. There were several enlisted CRIC members who were unable to continue in the CRIC simply due to the pressure they felt from the Chief’s Mess at their parent commands. In some cases, enlisted sailor’s careers were only salvaged when they transferred out of their commands. The success of many of our enlisted CRIC members was only because of influence from our CRIC director, and in some cases, intervention by the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy himself. The CRIC was often toxic for enlisted sailors. It gave them hope they could change things in the Navy.

The culture of the Navy does not support enlisted innovators. It is not clear that has changed.

On the officer side, life was only marginally better. The Navy has a culture that supports officers speaking their ideas. Essays in Proceedings and USNI Blog are evidence this culture is strong. It is a different thing altogether for junior officers to implement their ideas.

Resources for innovation are only held at the flag officer and senior executive level. The O-5, O-6, and GS-15 of the Navy are the gatekeepers. Those resources are hotly contested and subject to large councils of stakeholders, who make decisions on if and when the resources will be allocated. For the senior officer on the council, their ability to maintain funding and support for their project portfolio is paramount. New ideas, injected in the council, especially from those twenty years their junior, may disrupt projects that span decades. As a result, those people responsible for maintaining those programs are resistant to, if not openly hostile to CRIC ideas.

The problem comes in when the new idea is actually better than the old idea. There is little opportunity to supplant the old idea because the gatekeepers knowingly or unknowingly block access to the meetings and resources. When ideas are considered, the administrative requirements to present an idea from the junior lieutenant level up to the decision-maker provide additional barriers to innovation beyond what the senior manager is required to provide.

Despite it all, the CRIC was successful in getting projects completed faster, cheaper, and more effectively than the rest of the Navy. The CRIC accomplished this in part by recognizing the importance of the “golden triangle.”

For any successful enterprise, three roles are critical. First is the junior-minded individual with an idea. This person is important because they provide fresh perspective to problems and youthful energy. The second is the mentor. That is the senior person who provides wisdom, experience, guidance, and often resources. The third is the technical expert. This is the person who has the technical acumen to actually take the idea into reality. The technical expert could be an engineer, policy maker, or acquisitions professional.

In the CRIC, the Chief of Naval Operations played the role of senior mentor, providing the ultimate top cover. Each successful member of the CRIC had more than one senior mentor. The CRIC developed strong working relationships with many of the other flag officers and senior executives throughout the Navy.

The CRIC member played the role of the junior-minded individual. Junior-minded is key because the role is tied to a mindset, not an actual age or rank. CRIC was able to develop strong relationships with senior mentors because CRIC provided raw, unfiltered opinions and ideas directly to the leaders. Both groups were reminded that not only were there ways to do things better, but the senior leader had the ability to make consequential changes to remove barriers to innovation.

Technical experts varied. Arranged groupings between subject matter experts for a CRIC member’s project and the CRIC member usually ended in failure. The better way was when the CRIC member and the technical expert met each other and discovered a shared passion. The CRIC member often brought with them top cover and resourcing from the senior mentor.

There is another group critical in the CRIC’s success. There were key individuals in the ranks of the “frozen middle” that were not frozen. They may not have all been innovators themselves, but they were enablers. They provided top cover and process development for the CRIC member. They were the ones who took the initial CRIC idea and turned it into doctrine and policy. They were the ones physically removing language in the policy documents, and standing in those rooms fighting for resourcing for the CRIC projects.

Those Chiefs, Commanders, Captains, and Senior civilians became a part of the “golden triangle.” They embraced change and innovation and shepherded the Navy on a new course. There are small pockets of hope within the “frozen middle.”

The CRIC built a culture of innovation for junior sailors and officers and for a generation of senior leaders. The CRIC is fading away under its congressional mark, but its work is not over. It is time to unfreeze the middle in order to build the future Navy … even in today’s constrained fiscal reality.

The time for the CRIC to change the culture is over. The Navy needs to take the culture of innovation developed by the CRIC and transition it. That is a job for the newly unfrozen middle.

Posted by admin in Innovation, Navy | 14 Comments

The Navy seems to have an evaluation problem. Every time FITREP season rolls around, virtually everyone agrees that the system is not adequate but differs on the best way to improve it. Some of the common criticisms include: the system is outdated, it is too focused on timing and not on performance, we need more feedback, it does not accurately reflect performance, and so on, and so on. Is this an accurate portrayal? Is the current system used as it is supposed to? Can we make it better?


Before any changes can be proposed to enhance how the Navy evaluates its officer corps, let’s revisit how the system is supposed to work. How many people have read the Navy’s BUPERS Instruction 1610.10D on evaluations? Unless you were looking for something to help you sleep, you probably have not read it in its entirety. However, within the 217 pages of this instruction there are morsels of information that if implemented properly could enhance the current system.

For instance, one of the biggest critiques of the current officer evaluation system is that the feedback received is inadequate, untimely, and generally not reflective of a person’s actual job performance. If we return to the BUPERS INST (Encl 1, paragraph 5), it provides the following guidance for how to conduct a thorough counseling:

The objectives are to provide feedback to the member and to motivate and assist improvement. Performance counseling starts with a fair assessment of the member’s performance and capabilities, to which the member contributes. It identifies the members’ strengths and motivates their further improvement. It also addresses important weaknesses, but should not dwell on unimportant ones. It should avoid personality and concentrate on performance.

On paper, this sounds great. It is very cut and dry; you’ll discuss performance, address strengths/weaknesses, and be focused on the officer’s development. But more commonly, these sessions are treated more as a formality, where an officer’s timing in relation to other officers is discussed, vague generalities are exchanged, and the debriefing is attempting to cover roughly six months of work where the details of performance recalled from months ago have often faded from memory. The frequent result is an officer walking away from a session with the advice of “just keep doing what you’re doing.” Evaluations of our officers should not be confined to a twice a year sit-down with the CO. Evaluation, and more importantly feedback, must be continuous. In aviation, aircrews debrief every flight, yet somehow this same feature eludes naval officers when discussing leadership, improvement, and development as an officer in general. The guidance already exists; there is no reason why this feedback should be constrained to only counseling and FITREP debriefs.

What are we evaluating?

When examining a topic as broad as this, it is essential to step back and ask just exactly what is the point? What are we evaluating? Are we evaluating how you did at a job, or how you will do at the next one? Are we choosing who will be the next Department Head, or Commanding Officer, or Admiral? To this end, there should be two overarching goals of the Navy’s officer evaluation system:

  • Feedback
  • Promotion potential

Feedback needs to be an honest appraisal of performance. In the current paradigm, the norm is that officers write their own evaluation for their FITREP. How can your FITREP provide a candid assessment of your performance when YOU write your own FITREP? The process is intrinsically self-inflated, full of hyperbole, and over-embellished. In order to give an objective assessment of their performance, an officer’s FITREP should be written by his or her superior. At the same time, promotion potential must continue to be part of the system. It is imperative that officer evaluations and rankings not only address the past performance but also how well the individual could perform at future positions of responsibility and authority. We are, after all, training and advancing the Navy’s next generation of leaders. But rankings must reflect the job you did and not the job you are going to do. Poor or weak performance should not be overlooked in favor of advancing a career at a desirable future job. Typically, an individual’s past performance is a direct indicator of how they will perform in the future. The problem with the current system is when these sometimes competing objectives of past performance and promotion potential are out of balance with each other.

360-Degree Evaluations

There are existing methods of evaluation in other services that should be examined for application into the Navy. One method that is gaining traction in both the military and civilian sectors is the use of 360-degree reports, which uses feedback from an individual’s peers, supervisors, and subordinates. The U.S. Army currently mandates that all of their officers complete a 360-degree assessment at least once every three years on what is called the Multi-Source Assessment and Feedback Program (MSAF). Using MSAF, Army officers first answer a short self-assessment and then select the individuals they want to solicit feedback from, including peers, superiors, and subordinates. Responding to a MSAF request is optional and any responses are anonymous. A typical assessment takes only 5-10 minutes to complete.

So how is the Army’s MSAF program doing? According to a 2013 evaluation of MSAF, “approximately 50 percent of its participants said that the process revealed an unknown aspect of themselves, 33 percent said they discovered a weakness, and 17 percent said they discovered a strength.” 360-degree reviews can provide a worthy dimension to the development of our naval officers.

In April 2013, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey outlined his plan to implement a 360-degree system to evaluate admirals and generals with the feedback from their superiors, peers, and subordinates. Since then, there has been a rigorous discussion within the Department of Defense to determine if 360-degree evaluations should be implemented throughout the services at all levels. To determine the efficacy of 360s, the RAND Corporation was enlisted to conduct an in-depth study that was published in 2015.

The RAND Study had several recommendations and conclusions. The most notable was that they advised against incorporating 360s service-wide, at least for now:

Use of 360s without careful attention to content, design, and delivery can be harmful to an organization and not worth the time and money spent on them. Thus, mandating 360 assessments force-wide, even for development purposes, is not necessarily the right answer to solving leadership problems within the services and could waste significant resources. Rather it is more advisable to allow the services to continue on their current paths, expanding the use of 360s in a way that is tailored to individual service needs and goals.

The Navy should continue, as RAND suggested, to “expand the use of 360s in a way that is tailored” to Navy-specific needs and goals. As alluded to above, opponents of 360-degree reports primarily contend that they are time consuming and expensive to maintain. With respect to these arguments, RAND looked at 15 different leadership development practices currently employed by the Army, and MSAF was shown to be the least time-consuming and the least expensive practice. Furthermore, it is absolutely integral that we as an organization view this not as an expenditure, but as an investment, an investment in our leaders, an investment in our officer corps, an investment in our Navy, and an investment in our future.

Proponents of 360-degree evaluations argue that the direct supervisor may not be in the best position to evaluate, it adds multiple perspectives, and multiple raters are more reliable than a single rater. Currently, the Navy is the only service to have a single rating official on their officer evaluations. Fundamentally, 360s provide a viewpoint that would not typically be available. There is also empirical evidence that shows that employees have mostly positive reactions to 360-degree reports. RAND documented the work of Edwards, Ewen, and Vendantam (2001) that showed “responses to surveys of more than 1,400 employees in multiple companies revealed that over 75 percent of respondents reported that the program added useful information and improved process fairness, felt that feedback was helpful, and recommended the 360 process.” The Navy should immediately move to utilize 360-degree reports as a tool for officer development. Depending on the success, it could be reexamined down the road if 360s would play a bigger role in evaluation. This focus on development provides further feedback and opportunities to strengthen our collective leadership.

Innovation and interoperability

The military world and the civilian world are very different and yet very similar. Many of the same leadership principles and practices in top Fortune 500 companies are just as applicable in the military as they are throughout the business world. General Electric was founded by Thomas Edison in 1892 and has grown to become one of the world’s largest and most successful companies with over 300,000 employees and in 2015 ranked #8 on the Fortune 500 list. GE, once famous (or infamous) for their “vitality curve” evaluation system, where employees were ranked annually and the bottom 10 percent fired, is revolutionizing how they conduct their assessments and performance reviews.

In a world that is increasingly technologically advanced and progressively interconnected, information needs to be passed real-time. GE has deduced that the same principle must be applied with feedback and how companies evaluate performance. A performance system that reflects on the previous year is, by its very nature, already outdated. Therefore, performance feedback must be conducted real time. GE’s innovative new approach, very characteristic of the young tech-driven millennial generation, employs the use of a management app called “[email protected]” or “Professional Development at GE.” In this program, each employee has near-term goals or “priorities” and managers are supposed to have frequent discussions called “touchpoints” that specifically address progress on those goals. These “touchpoints” must note what was discussed, committed to, and resolved. The emphasis isn’t so much on grading and ranking, but on constant improvement.

Employees can give or request feedback at any point through a feature called “insights,” which isn’t limited to their immediate manager, or even their division. Normally, you never get that feedback unless you manage to track someone down the next day, which people rarely do, and only from a direct manager. If you wait for an annual review, any specifics are probably long forgotten. There’s an emphasis on coaching throughout, and the tone is unrelentingly positive. The app forces users to categorize feedback in one of two forms: to continue doing something, or to consider changing something.

Could this paradigm just as easily be applied to the Navy? Absolutely! The Navy has recently incorporated the use of apps in other areas and this could certainly be examined. Even without use of an app as the delivery device, all of the same principles need to be embraced. Continuous, timely, and pertinent feedback on performance and progress on objectives is imperative. Call it coaching, call it leading, call it whatever you want, but the incremental steps towards achieving small goals is what makes organizations able to accomplish big goals.

The Future

If we are to sustain an efficacious evaluation system, it is important to utilize the tools we have first. Everyone has a different leadership style and you always have to tailor your approach to different people and situations. For this, there can be no substitute for pure, unadulterated leadership. However, it is clear that junior officers are hungry for meaningful, timely, and reflective feedback in their evaluations. If Navy leaders moved away from the norm of having officers write their own FITREPs, embraced 360-degree reports for officer development, utilized existing metrics to provide feedback as originally intended, and continue to pull techniques from successful organizations, the current evaluation system could be greatly enhanced. Ultimately, the evaluation system needs to focus on feedback for an officer’s performance and his/her promotion potential. We need a system that fosters and encourages feedback. We need a system that weighs performance more than timing and personality. We need an innovative approach to this system.


Operation GET ON BASE

February 2016


The tremendous daily buildup of vehicle traffic at US naval installations represents both a critical safety and critical security vulnerability. Additionally, the backup and standstill of traffic obstructing the local neighboring communities is an impediment to the local economy. The buildup is not limited to any single element of the installations, infrastructure, or organization, but a combination of these elements. Ultimately, the question arises that if there were a major incident at an installation that required mission essential personnel to be rapidly recalled and available, could they affectively arrive at their duty assignment within a respectable amount of time? Innovative solutions must be sought and implemented to decrease the overall amount of heavy traffic at these locations, while sustaining the appropriate level of security measures.

Anti-terrorism/Force Protection (ATFP) measures seek to diminish and prevent the possibility of a terrorist attack against US military forces. These measures focus on a variety of implementations aimed at providing the optimal level of security, with the capacity to make adjustments as necessary. Since 9/11, naval installations worldwide have seen a dramatic overhaul of their primary access points; however, have the communities surrounding these installations made adjustments as well? ATFP and security measures are directly aligned to protect both the shore and afloat commands attached to each installation. It is certainly not an easy task, particularly at the large fleet concentration areas.

Every day thousands upon thousands of military, government civilians, contractors, and families pass through the access points to naval installations. For most of the military assigned to afloat commands, there are normally prescribed hours affiliated with commencement of the daily schedule. For example, most afloat commands have a liberty expiration time period of 0700, with a large majority of the contractor affiliated work commencing at this time as well. It can be assumed that ‘peak hours’ of arrival and departure are from 0530-0730 and from 1500-1700 respectively. It is also implied that the heaviest amounts of traffic in the vicinity of the installation are during these times.

The causes of these backups and delays actually appear rather obvious. Many of the issues surrounding the impairment and inefficiency of traffic flow are not complicated and they may/may not be strictly limited to any single point of failure. A delay in one location may have a ripple effect for delays at other locations throughout the access point, local community, highway, etc. After witnessing the traffic patterns at multiple naval installations, a variety of conclusions can be drawn as to the reasoning for these delays. Additionally, with each conclusion, simple solutions can be addressed to help fix this rapidly growing problem.

Organization: Operations officers assigned to both afloat and ashore commands (attached to an installation) should be meeting with installation command operations officers weekly to address security, schedule, and events. The deconfliction and alignment of identifying each command’s weekly priorities and the affects this might have are imperative! Furthermore, greater focus can be placed on individual commands making necessary adjustments to support the installation. This could include staggering working hours, altering the working hours to arrive/depart at different times, and realigning the daily schedules all with the intention of working to reduce and minimize traffic during ‘peak hours’.

Infrastructure: The patterns of roadways, traffic lights, intersections, etc. play a dramatic role on the overall movement of quantities of vehicles and personnel into the installation. The main access points are only designed to support a certain capacity; however, the surrounding infrastructure funneling into these points needs to be better aligned. This is of particular importance during ‘peak hours’, where alternative measures MUST be implemented to support the greater magnitude in traffic. For example, a stoplight outside an installation is inappropriate during ‘peak hours’. It creates a hindrance and buildup of incoming or departing traffic at the critical points of entry.

Local community cooperation / involvement: Installations should be reaching out to local communities and local government agencies to better align priorities and schedules. Substantial local community inhibitors include train schedules, construction, public transportation, and other activities that directly cause the traffic in the vicinity of the installation to be significantly affected or even cause alternative routes to be established. Simple communication can help enable better planning.

Technology: Creating a system analogous to the “TSA-PRE” security system could generate express lanes for installation entrance. This system would be designed to allow designated military CAC holders to enter the installation having been “pre-checked”. For security measures, a gate guard could be assigned and monitors could be placed for verification purposes. Furthermore, creation of an APP (password/security required) to show the traffic patterns, average wait times, gate changes, gate locations, etc. would assist in rerouting traffic. This would reduce traffic at specific locations and support relay of valuable information to motorists.

Driver competency and awareness: One aspect that cannot be ignored is the individual driver of the motor vehicle. Drivers need to be conscious of their surroundings and recognize they too have a direct impact. As a result, seek to reduce the distance between cars, have identification prepared to present, don’t fixate on one specific lane – seek the open lane and then readjust once on base, and don’t be that guy that runs the yellow light and gets stuck in the intersection! Numerous minuscule measures can make a tremendous difference.

The problem does not necessarily exist at the primary installation access point. It is a continuum of factors that each injects an effect. These factors can certainly be massaged to allow a much smoother flow of personnel, automobiles, delivery trucks, etc. I encourage every single person that commutes to work, entering a naval installation either on foot, bicycle, or motor vehicle, to pause for a few seconds and realize that we have a problem. Look for those inhibitors and barriers to efficiency. Look for those specific items that have a detrimental effect on traffic flow. This is a problem that CAN be fixed, it just requires a little “outside the box” thinking to address. Safety and security are of utmost importance to an installation; however, this is certainly threatened with the daily inefficiencies in traffic management.

*Writer’s note: Sensitivity must be observed while addressing this topic. The use of specific locations, specific installations, etc., should remain very general. Focus should remain on the various inhibitors to the overall traffic flow entering installations and what we can do to fix it.

Posted by admin in Navy | 7 Comments

Innovation Buzzkill

February 2016


I am concerned that the Navy will soon be mandated to innovate. Even worse, that the process will be bureaucratized. In a memo dated 31 Jul 2015, Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) Ash Carter directed the Defense Business Board (DBB) to “provide recommendations on how the Department can establish ‘virtual consultancies’ that engage our internal talent.” Six months later, the DBB approved a recommendation to designate an entity within the Office of the Secretary of Defense to champion innovation efforts and to serve as a forcing function for cultural change within the organization. While I agree with the spirit of the recommendation, I believe the Navy can – and will – be more successful by innovating through internal channels.

That being said, I still believe the number one barrier to innovation is organizational culture, in which individual leaders do not invite – or support – their subordinates to challenge the status quo. It’s easy to understand why. To invite change into an organization requires courage and effort. Courage to listen, disrupt, and possibly fail. Effort to mentor, follow-through, and champion. It also takes precious time away from the daily routine and more “pressing” matters.

The Secretary of Defense has certainly reinvigorated the innovative spirit within DoD, and many efforts are afoot to facilitate innovation initiatives. Examples include: CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), SECDEF’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), ATHENA, and Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) just to name a few. Innovative efforts, however, are not just restricted to the upper echelons. Enlisted members, Junior Officers (JOs), and DoD civilian are getting involved too – in big ways. Under their own initiative, they are self-organizing, collaborating, and making things happen across the Fleet. DoN should take note.

Good ideas have no rank

For example, Surface Warfare detailing (PERS-41) championed three JO innovation cells to undertake a broad series of initiatives to lead the Navy in recruiting and retaining top talent. In March 2016, a DC symposium – organized by JOs, for JOs – will tackle the challenge of how to better evaluate our officers. Later that month, a team of operators and domain experts will gather in Hawaii to develop human-centered solutions to the challenges of Integrated Air Missile Defense Mission coordination. Stakeholders – even very senior ones – are paying attention.

In a message dated 08 Feb 2016, Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus announced his 2015 innovation award winners – ranging from Third Class Petty Officers, Midshipmen, PhD civilians, and senior officers. These winners tackled a wide-variety of challenges to include robotics/autonomous systems, data analytics, additive manufacturing, energy, weapons, decision aide, and many others. Of particular note were the categories of innovation leadership and innovation catalyst. What can be learned from these innovation leaders? More importantly, what is their formula – or process – for inspiring a culture of innovation success?

Opportunities for Innovation

According to the Department of the Navy’s innovation vision, “the [Navy] must anticipate, adapt, and thrive in a rapidly changing environment, which requires freedom, the flexibility to innovate at all levels, and the ability to flatten the organization, break-down silos, and create cross-disciplinary synergies.”

Perhaps SECNAV’s guidance says it best:

  • Commanders at every level must create an environment which allows for the challenging of assumptions, the creation of novel ideas and strategies, and the support to follow-through and make an impact.
  • Commanders at all levels must identify the appropriate conditions for taking risks.
  • Prudent risk takers, and the failures which result in learning, must be recognized and rewarded.
  • Zero-Defect thinking must not permeate promotion boards or performance assessments. Failure that occurs in a learning environment ultimately benefits the organization.

The key to DoN’s innovation success will be a collection of individual leaders who inspire trust in their people – willing to listen, provide feedback, and champion good ideas wherever they may come from. Our DoN members are already partnering with internal Navy circles, industry, small businesses, and academia to organize projects, symposiums, innovation forums, and task groups. I urge Navy leadership to leverage the enthusiasm and creativity already resident inside our organization today. Innovation success relies on relationships and empowerment, not mandates and directives.


Developing Naval Guileists

February 2016


Guile: īl/ noun: sly or cunning intelligence. Oxford Dictionary

In the Aeneid, Virgil describes the contentious arguments between Achilles and Odysseus on whether the Greeks should adopt a strategy of force or one of guile to defeat their antagonists in the city of Troy. Odysseus eventually wins, with the famous Trojan Horse ultimately successful in this epic battle. Similarly, in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan rejects the advice of his advisors and opts to deceive Eve rather than face God in a battle of force. The philosophical debate of guile versus force has faced us since the beginning of humanity and remains relevant today.

The two preceding literary examples illustrate strategies based on guile rather than brute force. As a nation, we too must develop cunning options for state-level competition rather than simply relying on direct military action to achieve political objectives. This will only occur if we have the right personnel in our ranks. Historically naval officers, because of our decentralized and semi-autonomous control structures and their inherent ability to deviate from established doctrine, have been best suited for this task. During World War II, for example, rather than attack the most strongly-held islands of Imperial Japan, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps’s South Pacific campaign bypassed both Rabaul and Truk, attacking somewhat less-defended places instead.

Thoughtful naval experts paint a much different picture of the future than what the Pentagon is planning for today. Indicators clearly show future wars will be fought by smaller, dispersed units, with more sophisticated technology, in a data-centric environment. Success will be enabled by competency in skills such as real-time surveillance and analysis, machine-human teaming, data manipulation, and influence operations. In contrast, relying solely on the ability to “kill people and break things” through brute force will leave the nation woefully unprepared for the future.

China too seems to be preparing for modern conflict, as indicated in their recently announced defense reorganization. One significant change is the creation of the Strategic Support Forces (SSF).

…the SSF will consist of three independent branches: ‘cyber force’ with ‘hacker troops’ responsible for cyber offense and defense; ‘space force’ tasked with surveillance and satellites; and ‘electronic force’ responsible for denial, deception, disruption of enemy radars and communications systems. The SSF integrates the previous PLA General Staff Headquarters Third and Fourth Departments, responsible for technical reconnaissance, electronic warfare, cyber intelligence and cyber warfare, as well as absorbing the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the former PLA General Political Department, tasked with information operations, propaganda and psychological warfare.

Developing artful naval “guileists” to counter future threats will take deliberate effort and will certainly make many traditionalists in the ranks today, often incentivized to maintain the status quo, very uncomfortable. Yet these are the types of people we need to confront opponents who mix electronic, cyber, intelligence and psychological warfare. Four recommendations to achieve a more cunning naval force follow.

Unleash our thinkers: Bold, cunning thinkers cannot be limited to our special operations community and the clandestine service. We need to develop a generation of leaders who can follow a script when required but who can also apply ingenuity to tactical problems when the operational situation necessitates and that will not occur by happenstance.

Now that the mind-numbing debate on full gender integration has ended, we need to make this new reality an operational advantage. At the heart of the gender integration debate was the controversial Marine Corps Study. While opponents of gender integration pointed to the results of physical tasks, they ignored that mixed gender units scored higher on cognitive tasks than did all-male units. We are doing our enemies a great service if we continue to measure the value our Sailors and Marines, male or female, based on their ability to carry a box of rocks, or similar tasks equally well-suited for a donkey, rather than creative guile.

We need to prepare all leaders, female and male, who are sly and cunningly intelligent by nature, for a greater role in military planning, not simply being familiar with the mechanics of the planning process but actually crafting ingenious solutions. To do this, we need to create an environment where men and women are comfortable challenging industrial-age paradigms of warfare.

In addition, however, female officers must take advantage of increasing opportunities and must not hesitate to challenge traditional schools of thought and create new ones, when appropriate. If women bring different or better skills to the fight, they have the obligation to put them into practice, this is more important than simply trying to fit in. For example, female voices have been conspicuously absent from the recent discourse on military reform, defense innovation, and naval strategy.

As context, it has been my personal observation that non-white male officers tend to stay within the established “box,” because they continually have to prove themselves to be fully qualified. Their counterparts more freely operate “outside the box” because they are often assumed to be fully qualified. This dynamic will only change with greater heterogeneity in our leadership corps. And it is incumbent on our senior leaders to encourage all subordinates with good ideas to let them loose.

Create complex problem solvers: The current military education and training systems create excellent linear thinkers. Unfortunately, the problems they will confront on a complex and uncertain battlefield will be wicked problems that they are ill-prepared to solve.

Wicked problems are unique, complex ones which are often poorly defined and interconnected to other thorny problems. Using a linear approach to solve them often creates additional challenges or significant unanticipated consequences. While creating artful, cunning options is part of the solution, these actions must be placed in their proper context and the entire set of interconnected relationships must be examined before execution. Military officers must develop increased sensing and awareness to ensure an effective feedback loop is created.

Design thinking offers great potential to enable our military officers to adapt in a complex environment. This structured approach, widely used in today’s most agile civilian companies, should be added to our current training systems and fully integrated into the military planning process.

Purge the risk averse: Making cunning military decisions requires a heightened level of risk-taking. Today, we tend to promote our most risk-averse officers. Following established practices, making no waves, being overly deferential to rank, and adhering to conventional schools of thought are safe ways to advance careers in today’s military. This unfortunate reality will have disastrous results in the future.

DoD’s Force of the Future and other personnel reform initiatives in the Pentagon focus on managing actual talent and deemphasize simply hitting career milestones. To support these essential reforms, the military services must also overhaul their approach to assessing performance and eliminate the single top-down, subjective reporting of officer fitness. Leaders must reward subordinates who succeed by getting outside of the pattern.

Part of assessment reform must address an officer’s ability to understand and manage risk, and comfort with assuming it when appropriate. While sometimes operationally needed, many officers are risk averse simply to protect their careers or to keep their boss out of trouble, even when that boss may not share the sentiment. Being overly cautious is as dangerous as being reckless on the future battlefield and we need to purge the risk averse from operational leadership positions.

Defeat hubris: Around the Pentagon and within the operating forces, bombastic proclamations such as “fighting at a time and place of our choosing” or “using overwhelming firepower to achieve victory” are often heard. While useful for motivating (or perhaps deceiving) ourselves, in reality the United States no longer has this luxury. Our challengers fight us globally, and don’t count our divisions, air wings or aircraft carriers. Further, we believe our own questionable analytical models, used to support investment decisions and to defend outdated weapon systems, while overlooking the reality of our military performance over the past several decades.

To overcome this condition, a variety of tools should be used across all levels of the organization. Wargaming, red-teaming, simulations, and other forms of thought experiments will develop creative thinking skills while grounding military planning in reality. Unlike the Marine Corps, where officers are taught to conduct tactical decision games and to put themselves in the “enemy’s shoes” as second lieutenants, the Navy seems to reserve participation in these intellectually challenging environments for elite senior officers.

Finally, leaders would benefit from adopting the mind-set of the underdog, placing themselves in scenarios where they have limited critical resources or a numerical disadvantage. In reality, there are many scenarios in which these two conditions occur. Such circumstances are often ignored. To be successful as the underdog in any form of competition requires a different way of thinking than we observe from our military officers today.

Much has been made recently about the need to create naval strategists. But strategy devoid of guile or one relying primarily on brute military force to achieve political objectives will fail. We must create naval “guileists” who inject bold thinking and cunning ideas into the traditional ends, ways and means approach to strategy development, operational planning and tactical execution. With these we will be successful in the future.

Posted by admin in Navy, Policy | 2 Comments

This post appeared in its original form at CIMSEC.


Week Dates: Feb. 22-28 2016
Articles Due: Feb. 21 2016
Article Length: 800-1800 Words (with flexibility)
Submit to: [email protected]

Since we last discussed the Surface Navy’s operational concept of Distributed Lethality (DL) in July 2015, there has been a tremendous amount of progress on the topic. Distributed Lethality is the condition gained by increasing the offensive power and defensive hardening of individual warships and then employing them not only in traditional roles, but also in different ways than has been the practice in the past few decades. Distributed Lethality enables Naval Surface Forces to provide forward, visible and ready combat power for the nation. Operating forward, Naval Surface Warships execute military diplomacy across a wide geography, building greater transparency, reducing the risk of miscalculation or conflict, and promoting a shared maritime environment. Maintaining a persistent visible presence, Naval Surface Warships assure allies and partners and promote stability by deterring actions against U.S. interests. Providing credible combat power, Naval Surface Warships are ready to respond when called upon in times of crisis providing operational commanders’ options to control increased ocean areas and hold potential adversaries at risk, at range, whether at sea or ashore.

More recently, as highlighted at the Surface Navy Association’s annual Surface Navy Symposium, we were introduced to a deeper and more holistic update on Distributed Lethality, in terms of its value as both an organizational and operational concept. Organizationally, we heard that Distributed Lethality involves a comprehensive effort (much of VADM Rowden’s remarks discussed), that is focused on Tactics, Training, Talent and Tools (i.e., weapons, sensors and platforms; “if it floats it fights…,” of which the Director of Surface Warfare RADM Fanta’s presentation revealed). Operationally, we learned that Distributed Lethality involves harnessing 3 key initiatives to ensure we can fight and win in any environment: those initiatives are “to Deceive, Target and Destroy.”

There has been a significant investment in thinking about the problem throughout the past year. More recently, the approach to understanding the concept has been largely twofold: first, we’ve worked to understand what value DL could bring to the Surface Force and a step further, to the larger Fleet. We’ve approached this through three primary lines of effort: wargaming, analytics and operational experimentation. Studying the results of more than 15 wargames in 2015 alone, substantial analytics from multiple sources and operational experimentation deepened our understanding of the value that a distributed and more lethal Naval Surface Force can provide across a number of scenarios and ranges of conflict. We are training now for our first Adaptive Force Package deployment this Spring.

During the final week of February, CIMSEC will host a series focused on the next chapter of Distributed Lethality. The theme of the next chapter gravitates around the question of “how we fight” as a more lethal and distributed force. As such, we’ve listed some of the key issues that we seek to better understand. For example: How should the upcoming Adaptive Force Package be employed: including Tactical Situation (TACSIT) execution, organic and inorganic targeting, fielding of modified weapons, and improved integration with Amphibious Forces and Expeditionary Marine Corps units in support of sea control operations? What role does Distributed Lethality play in other joint concepts such as the DOD Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC)? How will the utilization and fielding of the F-35 (Navy and Marine Corps variants) contribute to the effectiveness of Distributed Lethality? What effect will cyber warfare have on the surface forces in the context of Distributed Lethality, both offensively and defensively? How can we better utilize the signature spectrum in a complex Anti-Access/Area Denial environment? How will the addition of a long range surface-to-surface missile affect both the deterrent and warfighting ability of the Surface Navy in the various phases of conflict? What are the legal implications of arming MSC ships, both for self-defense and for a more robust offensive role? How and to what extent should the Surface Navy incorporate other nations into Distributed Lethality? What are the risks of Distributed Lethality across the various phases of conflict?

Contributions can focus on the aforementioned key issues, or can explore Distributed Lethality in a broader strategic and operational context. Submissions should be between 800 and 1800 words in length (with flexibility) and submitted no later than February 21 to the CIMSEC editorial team at [email protected].

Note from CIMSEC: We have amended our topic week schedule to accommodate this opportunity.

Posted by admin in Navy, Policy, Strategy, Tactics | 1 Comment

CAPT Cooper’s “Retaining Our Most Talented…To Fight And Win” is both exhilarating and empowering. As a SWO and Officer Recruiter (OR) for all 3 accession sources, provided are actionable recommendations to support PERS-41’s goals in front-end talent management.

For USNA/NROTC, the first sales pitch is at grey hull cruise. Deep engagement is necessary and a responsibility that lies with the COs of ships. The Midshipman Early Ship Selection Initiative is on-target to emphasize this priority.

Within Navy Recruiting Command, there are opportunities. The following are immediate impact changes that parallel the paradigm shift from ‘most willing’ to ‘most talented’ for recruiting:

  1. Allow SWO to be third or below choice on applications. Currently, if an applicant desires SWO behind two other communities, their application is an immediate nonselect, regardless of qualifications or desire to serve as a Naval Officer in any capacity. This creates a barrier to entry for competitive nonselects of Nuclear Power, Civil Engineer Corps and Naval Aviation (all of which are prioritized via incentives for ORs).
  2. If selected SWO before next higher board convenes, work with SWO ORs to push sale for acceptance vice waiting. Once the next community selects an applicant, the offer for SWO is retracted. Alternatively, remove requirement for ranking of programs until after boards convene.
  3. In some cases, the SWO application is more cumbersome than others. Because we are competing so extensively with other communities for talent, our application should be streamlined to the least common denominator. By removing recommendation letters and test requirements, for example, our checklist requirements would match the Nuclear Power and Civil Engineer Corps programs.
  4. Create Board Precept to be disseminated to the field outlining attributes desired by the initial talent pool as well as quantifiers for recruiter identification.
  5. Insert a structured interview with an O-3 or above SWO into the application process.

At the “identify” step, the perception among ORs is that the SWO program is leftovers. This perception is valid in that our ideal applicant is poorly defined compared to other communities. In reality, a SWO prospecting plan is nonexistent because the profile of a SWO top-performer prior to commissioning is unknown.

Beyond the horizon, SWO can differentiate itself by evolving our selection process. Doing so will create a competitive advantage over other communities. While the rest focus on GPA and test scores, the opportunity exists to emulate Fortune 500 companies utilizing job analysis to identify which behavioral competencies are most suitable for their organization and then structuring selection to hire individuals with those attributes.

The OR is our strike capability. If we make SWO distinguishable and recognizable to them, via development and formal communications, the probability of a sale for SWO over another program when better fit exists will increase and reduce the risk that applicants choose another program when SWO may best serve them. This will allow us to attack effectively first in this zero-sum game of talent acquisition.



January 2016


The most dangerous threat to the safety and welfare of a nation is blind compliance. Nowhere is this more important than in the military where we have seen innumerable historical examples of the pitfalls befalling militaries unable to foster creativity and unwilling to accept change.

In the last fifty years, the American military has so embraced indoctrination, discipline, and obedience that it has strayed from its most important cornerstone principle: the spirit of rebellion. Our heroes have demonstrated those most important components of a successful military: educated dissent and independent action. We are steeped in fear of an environment overtaken by austerity; the mere possibility of consequence has transformed us into the very forces we have defeated in past wars. In our litigious, untrusting, and self-defeating system we have lost ourselves.

To bring back the true power of our military, we must look to the training pipelines that develop our junior officers. These officers must face an outdated system with a willingness to engage in honest evaluation and change as necessary. To reinvigorate the greatness of the American maritime forces, a culture which promotes honest, educated, and respectful dissent is desperately needed.

Creating the Culture

I am marked by even my brief tenure in the military. I have felt pride, shame, determination, and defeat in rapid and unpredictable succession since I first sought a commission. I am certainly not alone in cramming all of this experience into just a few intense years, which is why so many officers are deeply affected by their time in the service. Nowhere else are consequences so dire and immediate. Most of my civilian peers will have to wait a long time to learn lessons I am already tired of repeating. Success and failure in the private marketplace for most of my peers is a small gain here, a disappointment there. The reality of our lives is so exaggerated by the authority we bear in the military that it marks us permanently. The impression left behind brands us for life, no matter where we wander.

Therefore, it is the duty of senior officers to create and foster a service for which we can be proud. Yet, in reality, we are so crippled by many of the long standing bad habits of bureaucracy that this responsibility has faded to an unrecognizable nuisance.

Officers follow a predictable life cycle. We are born of idealism, suffer as those who have gone before us, and are faced with a choice: We can either become part of the system which has robbed us of much of our original intent and in so doing become a party to the suffering of future versions of ourselves, or we can leave. The problem with the off ramp is that it denies us the power to affect change. The system is victimized by officers being crushed under the unnecessary and obsolete practices of the very leaders who once spurned against it. Their strong-willed ideas for improvement are silenced before they are in a position to enact change. The system must reflect the opinions of the best and brightest, and embrace good ideas without regard for rank of the originator. We must build new and better habits to that end.

Encouraging Dissent

There are a handful of moments which have illuminated the problem for me; the common theme among them is dissent.

It took me a long time to realize that was the key, but my commanding officer reflected on it one day. We were trying to make a decision and I was filling in for my department head at a meeting. Two plans were briefed: the first clearly made more sense than the others for many of the departments, but it did not allow my department time to fulfill our requirements; the second meant accepting a slightly less-optimal plan for the other departments, but would allow my department time to succeed.

When we went around the table, only I supported the second plan, and rather than show any sort of creative friction in front of our commanding officer, only the first plan was presented to the CO. When agreement became the goal in order to please our commanding officer, instead of offering him honest information, we lost something crucial. In the end, though we strived valiantly, the plan failed because my department failed.

Similarly, in an ethics class as a midshipman, we were presented with a mission to take a small team out for reconnaissance. During the hypothetical mission, we were notified of a possible chemical attack and donned our protective gear. In the oppressive heat, and with no way to test for the presence of the weapon, we had to decide which member of the team to unmask to test if it was safe to remove the oppressive protective gear. Knowing only their rank and positions on the team, someone had to be put in harm’s way. Many decided to unmask themselves as the officer in charge and the few who protested were quickly silenced. The mission crumbled beneath the weight of their conscience.

Though these examples are not perfect, what we should be learning is how to make hard decisions and why it is worthwhile to endure the consequences. Silence, compliance, and timidity masquerade themselves as loyalty, humility and teamwork. If we are indeed born of idealism, it is no wonder that it perishes so early in our careers. The opportunity to dissent, respectfully and when the situation calls for it, should be something senior leadership desires. It helps keep all of us honest if truth outranks simple agreement.

Strength Through Dissent

The military needs a more comprehensive way of testing not just the intelligence of incoming officers, but their ability to think logically and critically. Many eligible and interested young adults in America are intelligent, but that is only a part of what goes into the potential to be a great leader. To cultivate a culture that supports dissention and allows for an honest exchange of information, what we need is not more intelligent officers, but something more difficult to identify. We must find those willing to disagree and be disagreed with without being unpleasant, and are wary of those who would take advantage of such liberties. By recruiting officers who are passionate about this common expectation and preserving that attitude past their initial commitment, we can build a stronger wardroom rather than simply a more intellectually entrenched one.

Innovation is the backbone of enterprise and resilience. As early as the training pipeline, prospective officers must be taught how and when to present different and ideas. If things do not make sense, officers should be encouraged to ask questions. This is far more difficult to teach and enforce; it opens up the door for perceived recalcitrance and disrespect. Yet instead of being threatened by improvement and boldness, we must seek those out as positive traits and put people willing to speak hard truths in positions of authority. A person who is courageous enough to speak the truth is worthy of our trust, whereas a person who would rather meekly go along does not fully serve our strong, modern military.

We are a country which prides itself on our rebellious spirit; a culture of dissent is only fitting for the military which protects it. We must be strong enough to stand up to poor ideas, to change systems which are not working, and to address those among us who are ill suited to the position. We must develop an unwavering desire to seek the best solutions and not simply the least offensive ones. Founded on the value of the opinion of the unheard, our country blossomed from a culture open to disagreement; its military should as well.

Ultimately, although decision making authority is and should be retained by senior officers, open solicitation of honest input from junior officers should be embraced and encouraged. What we need is not a delegation of authority, but a culture which values varied input and courageous officers.

In the military today, that rebellious spirit is strangled by the conformity required to attain promotion. This has cost us good leaders and good policy. It has kept us stuck in patterns we know are ineffective. It has led my peers to write scathing articles condemning the military’s unyielding ways as a final farewell to a career of which they were once so proud. If we want to keep the officers who see the system clearly, care enough to want reform, and are capable of bringing it about, then it is time to dissent.

Our forefathers were rebels. We are not a country of meek sheep, caring so much for ourselves that we cower before authority. The greatest Americans are those who revolt against the unfair, the outdated, and the unacceptable. Instead of teaching our fledgling officers to fall in line, why not teach them to respectfully disagree? It is time to embrace the foundations upon which our military and country were built. It is time for dissent.


The ATHENA Far East inaugural event is Friday, January 15th in the Commodore Matthew Perry General Mess “Tatami Room”, from 1245-1430.

The ATHENAproject was created onboard USS BENFOLD in 2012 – Led by Dave Nobles and a group of sailors who wanted to make BENFOLD and the Navy better by developing solutions to problems that Sailors see in the Navy – anything from developing new systems or retooling old systems, to new training plans, to fixing “broken” programs. By harnessing deckplate innovations and creating a cadre of forward-thinking, creatively confident Sailors, we are paving the way for the Fleet of tomorrow.

Presenters have five minutes to pitch their idea, then the crowd votes on the ideas based on idea quality, actionability, and presentation. The winner receives the Admiral Sims Award for intellectual courage, as well as command backing, leverage of the ATHENA Network, and a small functional team to make the idea become reality.

Growth and transformation within ATHENA is accelerating and we are breaking new ground in the amount of support and interest received from our surrounding military and civilian communities. The ATHENAproject has spread from the San Diego Waterfront to Norfolk, Mayport, the Pacific Northwest and now Japan. At previous events we’ve had scientists, engineers, folks from the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell and Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, professors from local universities, and local entrepreneurs coming to ATHENA to check out the amazing ideas Sailors are coming up with!

We WANT YOU TO PRESENT AN IDEA! You can present as a team or by yourself. The presentation materials and aids are also yours to decide – the only rule is NO PowerPoint.

Your idea doesn’t have to be perfect, ATHENA is all about a group of people helping each other with ideas to make our Navy better. Even Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is talking about ATHENA:

If you have an idea you want to present at ATHENA Far East, shoot us an e-mail – [email protected] or [email protected].

We hope to see you at the Commodore Matthew Perry General Mess on January 15th at 1245!

To learn more about ATHENA, check out our blog:, connect with our FaceBook page:, and follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.

Posted by admin in Navy | 2 Comments

ANNAPOLIS, MD --6/30/11-Today is Induction Day at the United States Naval Academy for the Class of 2015. Plebes read the Reef Points booklet- things they need to learn this summer like ranks and the mission of the USNA- as they wait in line before going through the "courtesies and customs" training. That training includes standing at attention, saluting, and wearing the "dixie cup" head cover. {Photos by Sun Photographer, Algerina Perna} md-usna-induction-p1-perna

One of the United States Naval Academy’s primary objectives is to develop not just leaders, but leaders of character. The honor program seeks to inculcate ethical behavior by immersing Midshipmen in an environment where lying, cheating, and stealing are not tolerated, in hopes that this culture will follow graduates into the fleet.

But does the Naval Academy’s ethical development curriculum work? Right now, the Naval Academy has only one metric to help answer that question: honor offenses (lying, cheating, or stealing). If honor offenses go down, it is assumed that the current policies are working. And if honor offenses go up, a course correction is made. To honestly use honor offenses to make decisions, though, we must more deeply dissect the metric into all its parts and see what it is really telling us.

The total number of honor offenses is a product of three figures: 1) The number of honor offenses that are committed, 2) times the percentage of committed honor offenses that are witnessed, 3) times the percentage of witnessed honor offenses that are reported. Lowering any one of those three numbers will generate results that suggest mission accomplishment.

In recent history, there was a sharp decline in the number of honor offenses that coincided with a strengthening of the deterrent against committing an offense. While it was not official policy, nobody was being retained after their second offense. And many were been separated after their first.

Putting the observed decline aside for a moment, how would we expect harsher punishments to affect the three component numbers? I think it’s safe to assume that the number of honor offenses committed would decline. The harsh consequences would deter potential honor offenders who are on the fence between lying or not. But there is certainly a question as to whether the deterred Midshipmen would be ethical officers or whether they would just resort to their natural behavior once the Honor Concept is no longer binding for them.

The second number would also probably decline. Those Midshipmen who do decide to lie or cheat will go to extra lengths to conceal their actions, knowing that they will be separated if they are caught. This is certainly not a desired outcome of the harsher policy, since it is plausible that their successful skirting of authorities will reinforce dishonorable character traits.

And the third number would decline as well, since it would be harder for close friends to turn each other in to the honor system when separation is so certain. They would likely choose to just remediate each other in person, at the lowest level possible. And fewer honor offenders would get the senior officer remediation that they need.

So, with harsher punishments we’d expect all three numbers to decrease and the overall metric to indicate success. But movement in the latter two component numbers is undesirable and the movement in the first is of questionable significance.

We can’t assume that a downward trend in honor offenses is a good thing, then. It could really be indicating a lot of unhealthy developments. There’s no way to know.

The Naval Academy needs a different way to measure success. Creating a Brigade of Midshipmen that doesn’t cheat on tests, or doesn’t get reported for cheating on tests, isn’t the big picture goal. Graduating a body of officers who won’t lie in the fleet is. An ideal metric would be able to track the long term impact of the Academy’s program.

Since the Naval Academy knows where its graduates are going to be for their first five years after graduation, it has the ability to gather data from its alumni for at least that long. The Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership (the research arm of the Naval Academy’s Honor Program) could annually distribute anonymous questionnaires to all Midshipmen and initial commitment graduates to gather information about the state of honor development at Annapolis.

Questions could ask about beliefs held before coming to the Academy, behaviors and beliefs held while at Annapolis, and behaviors exhibited in the fleet. Stockdale Center personnel could analyze the data to identify whether the Academy is changing attitudes and habits, or if it is just wasting its time. And anonymous reports from Midshipmen would give a more accurate count of committed honor offenses than does the current system.

Not too long ago, I took the first steps toward creating such a questionnaire and found out quite a few interesting things. With the help of Shipmate Magazine (a Naval Academy oriented periodical), I got around 700 alumni to answer questions about their attitudes before they came to the academy, what kinds of behaviors and attitudes they exhibited at the academy, and what kinds of behaviors they demonstrated in the fleet.

The results were insightful, but limited by the one-time nature of the study. The data showed that it doesn’t matter what kind of foundation in ethics you have coming in, the Academy can give it to you. In fact, those who have no ethical foundation, but fully buy into the system, show the lowest rates of lying in the fleet.

I found that cheating and lying were correlated to being 2 and 3 times more likely to lie in the fleet, respectively. The large difference in these two offenses is surprising and needs further study to be sure that they are enduring. With the knowledge of which offenses are worse than others, we can tailor punishments and remediation programs more precisely.

The most interesting result, in my opinion, is that of the relationship between habits, beliefs, and future behavior. A lot of the Naval Academy’s honor philosophy seems to be based on the idea that if for four years Midshipmen are forced to be honorable, that habit will continue into the fleet. That might be somewhat true, but the study showed that getting a change in beliefs along with habits was twice as effective as just habits.

Optimizing our honor program should be less about the beliefs of whoever is currently in charge and more about empirically backed approaches. There is no other institution in the world that is as well placed to develop these approaches as the United States Naval Academy. By building the tools to collect data about our student body’s interaction with the honor program, we can enable current and future generations to build techniques and strategies that can be applied not only at our institution, but around the world.

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