Rejoinder to “Ears Open, Mouth Shut”

CRICJon’s recent blog seriously, and rightfully questions the semantics of innovation.   He obviously has spent a good deal of time thinking about what the Navy is trying to do well beyond what is merely signified by the word ‘innovation.’  

 
Buzzwords have plagued the Navy, every organization, and even society for probably as long as language has existed.  It’s easy to throw out a single word or phrase that summarizes a vast concept such as ‘innovation’ does–certainly there are wealthy authors who’ve made their living doing just that.  As, I am fairly certain that a significant portion of the issue we grapple with today is the language that is regularly found concerning this subject, I will refrain from using the word ‘innovation’ henceforth, neither any other overly used catch phrase to denote what the the current generations of the Navy have embarked upon in the last few years.  
 
Historically, the CRIC and CRIC[x] aren’t radically different from what has ever been done. Sailors tend to not give enough credit to the methods the Navy has utilized time and time again to improve its war fighting abilities.  As long ago as 1833, these words were spoken: 

 

We, the Officers of the Navy and Marine Corps, in order to promote the diffusion of useful knowledge,- to foster a spirit of harmony and a community of interest in the service, and to cement the links which unite us as professional brethren, have formed ourselves into a Society, to be denominated “The United States Naval Lyceum.”

 
An ad hoc organization, not too dissimilar to what’s being done with CIMSEC today, of interested and like-minded maritime professionals compelled to advance professional knowledge and competence.  Indeed, the Lyceum is the predecessor to the United States Naval Institute.  
 
Perhaps it’s that the human condition is predicated upon being ashore, that causes Sailors to almost innately seek out the otherwise alien knowledge of how to live, flight, and secure victory at sea.   Anything being done by those wearing the uniform today is only derivative of what has been done before us.  Each generation of sailor merely has a unique combination of geopolitical realities, emerging technologies, social temperament to hash through in finding a way forward for their Navy.  
 
Our deckplates have been a consistent hub of building upon professional knowledge, the doings of Sims in developing a better way to shoot.  With Nimitz and company in developing underway replenishment, Moffett and Curtis developing naval aviation.  TheTurtle, the Hunley, the unique build of the original Six Frigates.  How the United States Navy has done business has been anything but business as usual, as defined by other maritime powers.  We are not unique, today is not different from yesterday.  It’s probably a safe assumption that Sims would chuckle to himself were he privy to today’s Navy, as it would be familiar to him. 
 
What the Navy is today, is a mere continuation of what Sailors have always been.  The internet, and this vaunted information age has not changed the substance of the Navy or its Sailors.  Rather, what has changed – what is unique in our ‘realities, technologies, and temperament’ – is how we communicate the ideas sailors pursue in bettering and distinguishing the Navy from other maritime powers.  Quite simply, communication is the genesis of substance.  One person, one ship, one command with a better way of doing something isn’t of much use to the Navy–one person, or one ship will not win a war.  In other words, being “selfish” is only the first step. While surely the first step is where bettering our services begins, enabling others to follow that lead is vital.  Indeed, that was the entire reason for being with the Naval Lyceum, as it is the purpose for the Lyceum’s progeny The US Naval Institute, as it is also the purpose with the CNO’s Innovation Cell ‘to promote the diffusion of useful knowledge’ to the wider Fleet.  
 
More over, communication isn’t done with by shutting one’s mouth.  Communication is an exchange, a conversation. Both one’s mouth and ears must be open in order to communicate.   Despite the promises of the internet to rapidly change the world, cultures still change at a generational pace.  The senior levels of the Navy telling its sailors that change is beneficial and wanted, is a previous generation enabling the subsequent generation of leaders to adopt a methodology they, so late in their careers, can only slightly grasp at.  What is being promulgated by the Navy in their campaign is only something we’ve always in significant ways done.  It has never had to be forced, nor is it being forced now.  
 
Rather, the opportunity to act upon a good idea is being expanded.  The road blocks to communicate up the chain of command and across the Navy are being removed.  Starting with Sims having to personally write Roosevelt. We now approach a reality where mid-level support for maturing an idea is provided, ensuring critical thinking, and that something from the mouth of a petty officer sounds useful to an admiral’s ears.  
 
What is certainly not being forced is how the CRIC is going about its business, or even what its business will become.  Each member has their own discreet project that is decided upon by the CRIC member alone.  The method utilized in pursuing that project is mentored and advice is offered, but all leg work is done by the member their self.  What’s more is that any money for that project is found by the member promoting their project to entities that may want to literally buy-in to their proposal.  
 
For the CRIC, the goals are actually rather modest.  In terms of 3D printing, there is little hyperbole in simply seeking to work through such mundane notions of how divisions aboard ship could share a single 3D printer, or how shore infrastructure must support a unique capability like 3D printing.  Such an effort is building a little, and testing a lot; with hopefully placing the Navy at the ready for when 3D printing truly matures.  
 
The CRIC is not an end in and of itself.  Indeed, regional and local meet-ups sponsored CIMSEC and conferences like West are crucial to the success of the CRIC, and on a more granular level to every Sailor which wishes to help improve their Navy.  The hope for the maturation of CRIC and CRIC[x] is a construct through which ideas can move and find the right Sailor, in the right place, at the right time so that they, and the Navy can do the best with ‘what they have, where they are.’  

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