If you weren’t in Virginia Beach, Virginia for the U.S. Navy’s Navy Warfare Development Command Junior Leadership Innovation Symposium earlier this month, you might have read LCDR BJ Armstrong’s posts on the career of Rear Admiral William Sims at the U.S. Naval Institute Blog, here, here, and here.
However, if you’re like me and functionally illiterate, you’ve been missing out. Well no longer! The videos are now available:
My friend BJ has also invited commentators to “talk about how goofy I looked trying to talk to a circular room. What was Shakespeare thinking with the “in the round” stages?” Fire away.
Navy Warfare Development Command’s Junior Leader Innovation Symposium was a great success. Thanks to LT Rob McFall and LCDR BJ Armstrong for their presentations – they were truly a highlight of the day and both presenters graciously plugged the NextWar blog. Also, the Naval Institute’s Sam LaGrone was on hand to talk about USNI’s new “News and Analysis” platform. This is a daily must-read, especially today’s piece by Dr. John Nagl on the submarine force. As a proud USNI member since 1997, I find the speed at which USNI is adapting to the new media landscape is truly impressive. Finally, the staff at NWDC is consistently welcoming and encouraging to junior naval professionals. Rear Admiral Kraft even took time out of a busy day to chat with this humble blogger. If you have an idea to make the navy a more combat-effective organization, NWDC is the most fertile place I’ve seen to grow that idea into something tangible. Get in touch with them!
But the title says this is about gladiators versus ninjas, you say. Where’s Russell Crowe? Allow me to digress…
Another of yesterday’s speakers gave me some food for thought – the Office of Naval Research’s Dr. Chris Fall. During his talk, he discussed using social platforms to vote for innovative concepts. Similar to the “like” function on facebook, these web applications promote innovative proposals based on the votes of other users. Dr. Fall specifically cited the Transportation Security Administration’s IdeaFactory as an example of this type of system. One aspect of the platform Dr. Fall mentioned raises several questions about innovation: all IdeaFactory proposals must be submitted publicly, using the employee’s real name.
To what extent does innovation have to occur in public? Does anonymity promote or inhibit innovation? What is the career consequence for those who make more radical proposals in this system? As these questions came to my mind, I likened the public option to being a gladiator: your work is intensely scrutinized in full view of an audience. Anonymous writers are like the ninjas of feudal Japan, striking from the shadows.
We always seem to start discussions of professional writing and innovation with a discussion of career risk. As a writer working in both web and print, I want to throw out the disclaimer that the decision to speak, write, or blog publicly or anonymously is deeply personal and depends on circumstance. I don’t begrudge anyone who writes under a pseudonym, which has a venerable lineage extending far before “Publius” and The Federalist Papers. That being said, I think that writing publicly carries some advantages:
Attaching one’s name and reputation to a piece of writing creates a drive for excellence difficult to replicate when writing anonymously. None of us wants to be criticized, so public writers have more incentive to hone their arguments; ultimately, the better arguments will stand the best chance of adoption and implementation.
Writing anonymously allows people to speak truth to power, but it also diminishes responsibility. As a result, anonymous writings can often devolve into mere complaint and invective. Public writing, while less able to challenge authority, also produces more measured, balanced prose and often proposes solutions instead of merely lamenting a problem.
Being creatures of ego, we want credit for a winning concept. Public writing best enables that credit to be given fairly in the marketplace of ideas.
In other words, public writing may be a means to mitigate career risk rather than the source of that risk. There is certainly a time and place for writing anonymously, but if you have something to say about the Navy, consider your subject and your objectives. The smart move might involve attaching your real name to a point paper or blog post. We romanticize both the gladiator and the ninja in art and cinema. But each only makes sense when rooted in their particular historical and social circumstance. So it is with professional writing. If you have an innovative idea, the smart bet might indeed be to step into the gladitorial ring.
LT Kurt Albaugh is a Surface Warfare Officer and Instructor in the Naval Academy’s English Department. 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.
With so much to read in the naval blogosphere this week, don’t forget about Navy Warfare Development Command’s Junior Leader Innovation Symposium. The event is this Wednesday, and all the other details are here. Importantly, you don’t have to be in Hampton Roads to attend – you can also do so virtually via Defense Connect Online.
Events such as these provide an opportunity to network with like-minded officers and Sailors and build the intellectual and social capital to advance the art and science of naval warfare, particularly at the operational and tactical level. The author of a recent USNI Blog post on tactics, LT Rob McFall, will be there as will manyotherimportantpeople. Don’t miss this opportunity!
If you can’t make it, I will definitely be writing up some thoughts in a post later this week.
No greater modification of any [of Her Majesty’s] ships that I proposed would have had the smallest chance of acceptance at that time. Prior to the First World War, the navy had no war experience for a very long time; and a long peace breeds conservatism and hostility to change in senior officers. Consequently, revolutionary ideas which were readily accepted when war came, were unthinkable in the peacetime atmosphere of 1912. Circumscribed by the then existing limitations my proposal was the furthest one could hope to go. – Lieutenant Hugh Williamson, RN (Page 192)
Fiscal austerity is forcing naval leaders to think about innovation: how do we use scarce means to provide the strategic ends we need? Over at Small Wars, the USNI Blog, and others, the term “disruptive thinker” has surged to the forefront of military professional discourse. At issue: do our military institutions produce and value disruptive thinkers and disruptive thoughts to foster innovation? The US Navy, however, beat everyone to the punch with little fanfare. Back in February, it quietly instituted a program to solicit disruptive ideas for development and potential adoption. In a US Fleet forces Command message (DTG 290708Z FEB 12), the Navy announced a new concept development program run jointly between Fleet Forces and the Naval Warfare Development Command. The message goes on to say:
VALUABLE IDEAS CAN COME FROM ANYWHERE, AND THE NAVY CONCEPT GENERATION AND CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM...WAS ESTABLISHED TO PROVIDE A COLLABORATIVE APPROACH FOR HARVESTING NEW IDEAS AND DEVELOPING THEM INTO CAPABILITIES FOR THE FLEET.
In January, I published an article in Proceedings jointly authored with a Chief from my previous command. He received the Fleet Forces message and phoned me immediately to push our idea through this program. I was initially skeptical: would our idea disappear into an invisible morass of bureaucracy? Would we ever receive feedback? Is this just a relief valve for unorthodox concepts?
Today, I can say firsthand that this new concept generation and development program is one of the most open and transparent processes I’ve ever seen. Action officers at the O-5/O-6 level worked with me to submit a concept proposal and have kept me regularly updated regarding its potential adoption. Senior officers and civilians at Fleet Forces (many of whom finished careers in the Navy and Marine Corps) are hungry for new ways of fighting, or of manning, training, and equipping the fighters. Junior officers and enlisted Sailors are a focus of this initiative.
For those disruptive thinkers out there, the Navy is waiting to hear from you. Cultures change – even ones that value tradition as much as the Navy. That’s because no one cultural narrative ever fits perfectly: the US Navy places great value not just on tradition, but also on independence and decentralization. We already crowdsource warfare. This model equally applies to peacetime innovation.
The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author 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 other agency.