Tag Archives: cric

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.’  

CRIC Podcast: Fostering a Culture of Innovation

safe_imageApropos of the most recent episode of Sea Control, Scott has given me an opportunity to introduce the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) podcast to the readers of cimsec.org. The CRIC is an organization of 15 junior officers and enlisted. Our goal is to empower and enable emerging U.S. Naval leaders to rapidly create, develop and implement disruptive solutions that tackle warfighter needs while advocating for, and inspiring, deckplate innovation throughout the Fleet.

Part of fostering a culture of innovation is bringing stories of innovation, as well as information on the projects that are being worked on, out into the open. With that said, the CRIC podcast has been created. The CRIC podcast features discussions with innovators and CRIC members across the Fleet, both military and civilian, and shares their stories and projects. If Sea Control is the Economist, we’re Wired! (And if you’re enjoying Sea Control, you can help spread the word by going on iTunes, subscribing, and rating them the star review you think they deserve [ed. note: obviously 5 stars each])

We hope you’ll take a moment to check out the CRIC podcast on iTunes (also available here: http://navycric.libsyn.com/rss). Also, if you’re interested in further information about the CRIC, we can be found on facebook and twitter: @navycric.

We don’t pretend to know all the answers, but we’re not afraid to ask the tough questions and encourage our shipmates to innovate and keep the American spirit alive in our military.

Jeff Anderson is an electronics technician assigned to LCS 2 (USS Independence). The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Innovation Files: Automated Plan of the Day (autoPOD)

There’s been a big uproar lately about innovation in the Navy throughout message boards and the blogosphere – what is innovation, what it’s not, and what method Big Navy should be taking to jumpstart innovation among the fleet, if any at all.  LT Jon Paris and LT Ben Kohlmann, both of whom are very involved in the conversation, had a great discussion about the topic on CIMSEC’s Sea Control Podcast, hosted by LT Matt Hipple.  LT Paris followed up with an excellent blog post.  While there are some contrasting views, it seems like one thing that’s agreed upon is that the deckplate innovation already occurring in the fleet sometimes doesn’t make it “up and out” or isn’t as publicized as it should be.  In that capacity, LT Hipple, and some members from the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, offered a challenge to start publishing examples of innovation in the fleet.  I’ve decided to take this up head on in a series of “Innovation Files”.

Nearly every command has a “Plan of the Day” (POD) – a widely distributed one-page agenda with at least the current and following days’ schedule of events.  Depending on the command, certain PODs are very long and many regularly contain dozens of events per day, some at overlapping times.  Early on, I noticed a couple glaring inefficiencies particular to my command.  First was the process – A yeoman would be specifically assigned to “do the POD” for the day, a duty rotated among the junior yeomen that nobody wanted.  This task started by opening the previous day’s POD, changing the date, piling through various e-mails and files on the shared drive, and then writing the new daily schedule by hand.  After an hour or two, it would get routed up to the ship secretary, personnel officer, admin officer, training officer, operations department, various department heads, command master chief (CMC), and some others before finally getting to the XO.  Every position in the chop chain had their own changes and events to add, and it required the yeoman to literally go around the ship looking for each of these people, and then going back and correcting the changes for each correction or addition.  It wasn’t uncommon to print in excess of 15 POD drafts before the final revision.  As you can imagine, POD duties were an all-day event, and since the POD needed to be finalized and signed by the next day, it kept everybody around well into the evening.

After much thought, the XO, personnel officer, and I agreed on a plan to create a public calendar on Microsoft Outlook to streamline the POD process.  However, PODs have a very specific format, and Outlook can print nothing close to the format.  For example, asterisks had to be next to times if the event was to be announced on the 1MC, events had to be in bold lettering if the CO was attending, and everything had to fit on the page in two neat columns.  It wasn’t as simple as hand-copying every single event into the old POD format though; the daily schedule constantly changed throughout the day, and there was no process in place to ensure if any late additions or modifications in Outlook were included in the POD.  This, along with other human errors, severely complicated the process, and made it essentially as inefficient as the old method.  If only there was a better way!

autoPOD-1Introduce the automated POD (autoPOD).  We decided to devise a macro app on top of Microsoft Publisher, a computer publishing tool, to automatically translate events on Outlook into the same easy POD format everyone was used to seeing.  Macros are essentially programs, coded in easy-to-learn VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), that are built on top of application documents (in this case Publisher’s and Outlook’s) meant to automate tasks within these programs.  Because of this attribute, it gets around IT policy requirements, which prohibit the introduction of specific executable programs not pre-approved by SPAWAR.  Microsoft Publisher was chosen over Word because it’s specifically designed to manipulate documents with multiple dynamic text boxes.  Through an appropriate script reference, the app asks the user permission to reach out to any designated public Outlook calendar.  Then all the user has to do is click one button, and it automatically inserts the daily schedule into the POD publication – complete with dates, events, headers, etc.  The layout is easily manipulated by different codes inputted into the appointment screen on Outlook.  For example, for an event to appear “bold”, which indicates the CO is attending, an actual Outlook invitation for that appointment is sent to the CO, which is then designated on the user interface with a specific user name.


Along with events, the app supports all sorts of informational headers put in by different users through Outlook tags – for example, the operations officer puts in the appropriate command duty officers and duty sections, and the quartermasters put in sunrise and sunset times into Outlook.  The app supports time structures displayed as “All Day” or “TBD”, and all types of recurring events.  Different permissions (ie: read only, add, or modify/delete) can be granted to different users to modify the Outlook Calendar, and the program is set up for an administrator to view when and who is putting in the events, so it’s not possible to sneak a last minute evolution for the next day without the XO and CMC knowing.

AutoPOD was eventually customized for several other tasks.  By request, we built an automated Plan of the Week (POW) 10-day printable outlook on top of Microsoft Excel for the Planning Board for Training (PB4T), which mimics the POD format each day, for planning purposes.  Other ships had a weekly or monthly outlook summary with important events listed on the back of their POD, and autoPOD was customized for these commands as well, using the “priority” attribute to determine if the item should be displayed on a weekly summary.  We have continuously refined AutoPOD to accommodate every ships’ POD format, meaning there will be little, if any, visible change to the Sailor.  For example, there are options to autoPOD-3modify the font, size, and width for the time and subject columns.  Additionally, it’s designed to be plug-and-play – all contained in one publisher file – so it can be used immediately and without any complicated installation procedures.  Detailed documentation is provided on how to install the program and manipulate the schedule via Outlook.

It is worth noting that the initial concept of autoPOD was not received well in its early stages.  For example, the yeomen were used to a certain way of doing things, and didn’t want to move over from Word to Publisher.  Despite comprehensive training, some department heads and department lead chief petty officers continued to send e-mails to admin with their events, instead of deconflicting and scheduling it themselves in Outlook.  However, after much dedication and patience, everyone slowly acclimated.  The new system is now second nature, and it’s hard to think of how life even functioned in the past.

To date, autoPOD has been distributed to over a dozen ships, across several waterfronts.  It has undoubtedly made the POD process less frustrating, and has saved countless manhours and time, from the junior yeoman who can produce a POD in minutes, to the XO who no longer has to micromanage the process.  Unfortunately, we recently hit a bump in the road when asked to set up the app on a ship that finished an extensive shipwide IT refresh known as a Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES) installation.  At the time, CANES strictly restricted ships from creating and using shared calendars, along with other security settings that prevented the app from working properly.  A workaround is in progress, but it illustrates a point that has been brought up in the recent discussions – many Navy policies and procedures are around for valid reasons, but often come at the expense of productivity and innovation.  It’s essential to collaborate between the fleet and appropriate project managers / designers / policymakers to figure out an optimal mix.

Zachary Howitt is a proud American, Naval Officer, and Tech Entrepreneur. He is a designated operations analysis subspecialist and has served in two warships forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan. His opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, or any command.

Sea Control 12: Innovation

CIMSEC-LogoWhile some might claim military innovation is an oxymoron, many fight that sentiment every day to build a flexible and effective military force. Join Jon Paris, Ben Kohlmann, and Matt for a podcast about military innovation, the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, and Professional Military Education. Remember to bother everyone you know until they listen and subscribe to the podcast. We are available on Itunes, Xbox Music, and Stitcher Stream Radio. Enjoy Sea Control 12: Innovation (download).