Tag Archives: Leadership

Making Good Leaders Great: Recommendations to Improve U.S. Navy Leadership

Leadership Development Topic Week

By CDR Will Wiley

“For in this modern world, the instruments of warfare are not solely for waging war. Far more importantly, they are the means for controlling peace. Naval officers must therefore understand not only how to fight a war, but how to use the tremendous power which they operate to sustain a world of liberty and justice, without unleashing the powerful instruments of destruction and chaos that they have at their command.” These words delivered in 1961 by then Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Arleigh Burke ring as true in 2017 as they did when he uttered them during his Change of Command address. Leaders today must be expert operators on technologically advanced submarines, ships, and aircraft. They must operate these platforms on seas and in skies which are increasingly more crowded and cluttered. They must motivate their teams to accomplish the assigned mission and serve as effective ambassadors for the nation during foreign port calls. Additionally, leaders are challenged to motivate their subordinates to follow in their footsteps and pursue a career in the Navy. Finally, they must make quick decisions about how to respond to aggressive peer competitors without having the luxury of discussing it with their superiors. Some of these challenges come naturally to those in leadership positions, but taken in total, Navy leadership in 2017 is difficult for even the most prepared leader. 

Therefore, it is wise to analyze the question, “Does the Navy equip its officer and enlisted leaders, at all levels, to meet the challenges faced on any given day in America’s Navy?” The recent release of the Navy Leader Development Framework provides a guide for leaders to develop themselves in a world “that is changing quickly and becoming more complex.” However, the Framework, signed by CNO Admiral John Richardson, leaves the details to each naval warfare community to determine the specifics on how it develops their leaders over a career.

These warfare communities do an outstanding job of making the individual a master of their craft, be that as a submariner, surface warfare officer, naval aviator, SEAL, etc. The Command Leadership School, Senior Enlisted Academy, and other Navy leadership courses develop the individual for the leadership and character challenges they will face in their upcoming job. Informal mentorship, personal development, and experience further prepares the individual for leadership positions. But there are areas where this leadership development is lacking. This paper will suggest some items for consideration to improve the leaders of today and tomorrow. Some will require funding streams, while others just require forethought and creativity by the leader. These recommendations, when coupled with the immense amount of formal training leaders receive, can make the Navy an even more formidable force today and in the future.

Leaders are Warfighters

Above all else, the job of a naval leader is to prepare to fight and win the nation’s wars. Too often in the daily grind of processing paperwork, preparing for an operational inspection, or conducting routine maintenance tasks, leaders forget the reason the nation has a Navy and why they serve. Captain John Paul Jones was not obsessing over getting fitness reports turned in on time when he said in 1778, “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm’s way.” Most individuals who join the Navy do so to operate the amazing platforms used by the fleet today. They desire to fly planes and drive ships rather than sign their name or make powerpoint briefs. 

While there is a time and place for mundane tasks, leaders must constantly remind their team they are working toward an important mission. This mission is not training for the next major inspection, but rather preparing for forward deployment or combat operations. Leaders must look for opportunities in peacetime training environments to simulate these operations. This can be done in simulators or on the actual platform. Place the team in a realistic scenario and challenge them as they would be challenged in combat or on a deployment. This will tap into the reason most of the individuals joined the military and will produce a better team ready to execute forward deployed operations.

Each warfare community in the Navy has a rich history leaders must pass to the next generation. Leaders should look for creative ways to infuse these stories into the daily routine of a command to motivate the team. Whether it be the VIRGINIA-class submarine crew reading a World War II submarine war patrol story before every engineering training or the crew of the USS ZUMWALT reading about the Battle of Midway throughout the year rather than just during the Battle of Midway celebration, the important thing is to consistently remind sailors in 2017 about the gallant exploits of their predecessors. 

Leaders should not only use history to their advantage, but also celebrate the work other ships in the fleet are doing today. Inviting counterparts from a returning deployer to share their experiences with your team will motivate a command to complete the numerous tasks required to begin a deployment. In the submarine force, there are stories of World War II submarine commanding officers describing experiences to each other from their war patrols over beverages on a Friday afternoon. Too often today these discussions are forgone due to packed schedules. However, an argument could be made that they will do more to prepare the leader for the upcoming mission or deployment than anything that is keeping the individual on the ship.

It is easy for leaders to focus on paperwork, rewrite radio messages, or improve powerpoint animation. None of these items will win the next engagement with the enemy and they do not motivate a team to work long hours to prepare for a deployment. Therefore, leaders must use creativity and a little bit of planning to put the team into realistic situations and consistently remind them of what they may be asked to do many nautical miles away from homeport.

Leaders Must Read

With the end of the Cold War in 1989, the world shifted from a relatively easy-to-understand bipolar international system dominated by the U.S. and Soviet Union to a more complex, multi-polar global community. In recent years, a resurgent Russia has taken aggressive action toward U.S. Navy ships and aircraft with desires to reclaim its place as a dominant world power. China is expanding its military and area of influence with its island building campaign in the South China Sea. The Middle East remains a tumultuous region. Non-state terrorist organizations like ISIS and Boko Haram continue to further their aims. 

The scene described above is just a small taste of the world where the naval leader conducts operations in 2017. The only certainty is that it will change. Therefore, the leader must stay abreast of this environment through consistent reading of current events. The CNO has an excellent reading list, which should be utilized, but it cannot be the sole source of information. Books that make this list and other reading lists often lag world events. To stay up-to-date about the challenges in the world, leaders should consume a daily newspaper like The New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal and a weekly news magazine like Time or Newsweek. Many of these publications focus on domestic issues, while a periodical like The Economist offers a more international perspective. This consistent study will be helpful for leaders who find themselves overseas often and must understand U.S. domestic policies and the challenges facing the international community. 

It is also important for the leader to have multiple news sources with differing political leanings. Subordinates and fellow leaders may filter out unwanted viewpoints or facts in the news. Leaders must be aware of the differing views about a story and use multiple sources of information to understand it and effectively communicate it to their subordinates.

As a young LTJG on a submarine conducting TLAM operations during the opening moments of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, I remember being asked by several of my subordinates why we were conducting these operations. I relied heavily on my U.S. Naval Academy and Georgetown University education, but I also used my reading of news periodicals to properly answer this question. Therefore, leaders must commit to a steady diet of information about the world.

Finally, the leader should realize the periodicals and newspapers listed above will keep the leader informed of world affairs as they develop, but may not always offer the in-depth analysis on global trends or the world leaders who shape the landscape of geopolitics. To bridge this gap, leaders can choose from a wide range of writing from foreign policy experts located in academia and the think tank community. Professional military journals like USNI’s Proceedings are also a good source of information and analysis. Additionally, full-length books by respected historians or experts can round out the leader’s need for insight.

The world is a dynamic place in 2017 and will not become simpler in the years ahead. Therefore, leaders must develop a reading plan to understand the complex planet where they conduct operations.

Leaders Should Leverage Social Media and Smartphone Technology

In some form, a social media platform is in the hand of almost every member of the Navy and is being used on a smartphone. Therefore, ignoring the technology or choosing not to deal with it as a leader is unwise. The young Sailors in the fleet and even some of the not so young Sailors do not remember a world without a smartphone or Facebook. Leaders would be wise to leverage the connectivity of a smartphone and ease of use of social media to run a more effective command. 

Below is just a short list of how social media and smartphone technology could be employed at a Navy command:

  • Use a private Facebook group as a means to recall a crew in port.
  • Use a private Facebook group to disseminate information to crew members and family members.
  • Create an Instagram or command Facebook page to highlight awards, community service projects, etc.
  • Create a command You Tube channel to live stream award presentations or shipwide activities.

The above ideas can be tailored to any level of the chain of command. Leaders receive minimal formal training on how to use these platforms with the exception of a reminder to not violate Operational Security (OPSEC) rules. Once leaders develop best practices they should filter lessons learned up the chain of command for distribution across formal leadership courses. Navy Personnel Command could create a feedback email address to allow the fleet to explain their creative uses of these platforms. In the meantime, leaders should figure out how best to use the social media and the smartphones already in every Sailor’s hands.

Leaders Must Understand the Cyber Domain

Adversaries will continue to look for ways to infiltrate military platforms using the cyber domain. This military domain is not uncharted territory for the Navy, but future conflicts will be just as heavily contested in the cyber domain as they were in the air, land, and sea in the past. Therefore, leaders must understand this domain and how their platform can remain secure from attack while using it to exploit the adversary’s cyber vulnerabilities. The U.S. Naval Academy is teaching all midshipmen a cyber curriculum, which is an excellent first step to equip leaders with a basic level of knowledge about the uses of cyber. However, the Navy needs to expand its efforts to ensure it is in each warfare community’s formal schools. Too often, leaders divest their cyber responsibilities to someone else, but as future conflicts occur in this domain they cannot simply say someone else will handle that part of the battle.

Leaders Can Improve Personnel Management

The individuals who voluntarily decide to serve in the Navy are the service’s most valuable assets. John Paul Jones said, “Men mean more than guns in the rating of a ship.” However, leaders often overlook or minimize the importance of helping Sailors manage their own careers. Often, senior officers provide career management advice to junior officers in the same community due to familiarity with the process. However, officers often fail the enlisted personnel who serve under them by not fully understanding enlisted personnel policies, which are somewhat different from the officer personnel rules. Considering about 85 percent of the personnel in a command are enlisted, it is imperative to fully understand more about the enlisted personnel system. 

Individual communities are attempting to improve the personnel level of knowledge in the force, but what would help leaders at all levels is simply putting at their fingertips knowledge of when critical career milestones are occurring or must be decided on by their subordinates. A tailorable iOS or Android application with an associated desktop program could be used by any member of the command to access this information from the Navy personnel system. Imagine if the Executive Officer (XO) of a command could see on one application, who was transferring within the next three months, who was arriving within the next three months, which Sailors are eligible for a Selective Reenlistment Bonus (SRB) and how much that bonus could be, and where 1306 requests or Planned Rotation Date (PRD) extensions are in the personnel systems. Currently, a member of the ship’s office tries to build this information for the XO by logging on to various personnel systems for the information. 

Leaders could use this same technology throughout the chain of command with the leader’s viewing permissions limited to their subordinates. The individual Sailor could also use the application to see their own information and make wise career decisions. This technology would not be expensive and efforts such as the Billet Based Distribution (BBD) system are welcome upgrades to the personnel system, but the leader needs it to be much more accessible. 

Leaders Should Master Task Management

This paper has explained some of the myriad of challenges facing a leader in today’s Navy. Without a method to process tasks and understand which ones require action a leader will fail. Surprisingly little time in Navy schools is used to teach a leader how to manage daily, weekly, monthly, or annual requiring tasks. It is left to the individual to just figure it out. Some do, others require significant oversight to execute these tasks, while some simply fail. Most leaders fail not because they cannot pilot the aircraft or drive the ship, but instead due to their inability to effectively manage their area of responsibility at the command. The breakdown here seems to be between the first and second sea tour for both officer and enlisted personnel. The first sea tour is relatively easy to manage. These leaders are not leading many subordinates and the task list can be managed in their head. When the individual gets to the second sea tour, there are more responsibilities than can be remembered without a task management system. 

There are numerous task management systems an individual can employ, but one worth highlighting is described in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. In this book, Allen teaches how to process tasks confronting leaders on a daily basis. He also teaches leaders how to generate a recurring task list in a trusted system. The concepts allow you to get mundane task lists out of your mind and free it to do more important things. For the military leader, these concepts free you to be the better mentor or leader to your subordinates and focus on vital tasks like succeeding on the upcoming mission. One does not have to follow the teachings of David Allen to the letter, but in order to succeed in the Navy, leaders must have a trusted task management system before the second sea tour.

Conclusion

The Navy Leader Development Framework is the first step in the work to improve leadership at all levels of the chain of command. However, the world is moving too fast and the challenges facing a Navy leader in 2017 are too great to wait for the development of the perfect Navy leadership course to serve as the panacea for the fleet. Most of the recommended improvements written here require very little money, but if implemented, will reap large dividends for the leader who chooses to employ these strategies. Therefore, leaders should look for ways to employ these strategies to improve themselves and their command. As CNO Richardson said in the Framework, “Let’s get to it.”

Will Wiley is the U.S. Navy Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and a submarine warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not represent the official position of the U.S. Navy, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Oct. 13, 2016) Vice Adm. James Foggo III, Commander U.S. 6th Fleet, addresses the crew of USS Ross (DDG 71) Oct. 13, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Theron J. Godbold/Released)

Deliberately Innovate – A Challenge to the Fleet

By LT Jason Knudson

My challenge to the Fleet, the Navy, and the rest of the Department of Defense is to not just seek out “innovation.” For many reasons, just seeking out innovation is not enough. I challenge the fleet to be “deliberately innovative,” taking deliberate steps to drive innovation and change into the organization.

One way we at the SEVENTH Fleet Innovation Team are accomplishing this is through “Illuminate Thinkshops” presented by Leadership, Equality, and Diversity (LEAD). These workshops were held in conjunction with the U.S. Fleet Forces Green Team at Atsugi, Sasebo, and Yokosuka Naval Bases from January 23 – February 3, 2017.

The Thinkshops reached over 2,000 Sailors, Marines, and Navy civilians stationed in Japan. In addition, Command Triad Thinkshops “illuminated” over 150 command triad members on how to deliberately lead and support a diverse organization of problem solvers. Innovation can not survive without top cover and support of the chiefs and officers in charge of the organization.

The actual key to success of deliberate innovation in SEVENTH Fleet, however, is the creation of the Fleet Innovation Network (FIN). The SEVENTH Fleet FIN is a key node in the SECNAV’s Naval Innovation Network. It is made up of the more than 170 Command Innovation Facilitators we trained through the Illuminate Thinkshops. These Facilitators will be a place potential innovators can to go for guidance, mentorship, and more importantly, to connect with other facilitators in the network.

Below, I will discuss some of the thoughts I had as we organized the Thinkshops and discussed the role of innovation in the Navy and at SEVENTH Fleet.

For more info on the LEAD Presents: Illuminate Thinkshops, go HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Being Deliberately Innovative

“We need to build a culture of innovation into our organization at all levels from the Sailors and Marines on the deckplates to our senior leaders and our civilian workforce. We cannot sit back and simply hope for innovation to happen.” – VADM Joseph Aucoin, Commander, SEVENTH Fleet

Innovation is all around us. This morning, I poured a bowl of innovative cereal. My computer, it’s innovative. The last brief I received on a future military weapons system – innovative. Innovation is an easy buzz term. “My product isn’t just new, it’s innovative!” I hate to break it to my cereal company, but when everything is innovative, nothing is.

The term innovation has been so misused it has started to lose its punch. Innovation has become synonymous with “new.” As many of us can attest, new things are not necessarily good things. I feel frustrated because innovation isn’t just about new things, it is about new things that may bring a strategic advantage. As the Fleet ages one more year, it is increasingly obvious that we need the right new things to replace outdated equipment or we will continue to fall behind potential adversaries. To gain back our strategic advantage, we need to bring real innovation. That means we need to deliberately shape how and, more importantly, who does innovation in the Navy.

Innovation is not just getting the right things. Innovation is also about controlling the processes we use to get the effects we want. We have layers upon layers of regulation, rules, and processes that are out of date, wrong, or just plain inefficient. In order to do what we need to do, at the time of our choosing, we need to control the processes we use. In some cases, this means changing or rewriting our rules. Rules and regulations should aid us instead of standing as barriers. Largely, we should first look at removing the barriers to innovation completely, which means eliminating entire sets of rules and regulations. We own the process; we need to stop acting like the process owns us.

To take back ownership, the Chief of Naval Operations has challenged the Navy in his “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” to implement high velocity learning. The high velocity learning concept was influenced in part by a book by Steven Spear, The High Velocity Edge. High velocity learning is not just about learning faster, but it is about the learning that is associated with becoming an organization that can sustain its advantage over others. Steven Spear calls an organization that is able to continually maintain an edge over its competition a “high velocity organization.” A high velocity Navy will be able to sustain its advantage over potential adversaries.

7th Fleet Commander VADM Joseph Aucoin speaks at LEAD Illuminate Thinkshop. (U.S. Navy photo, 7th Fleet)

A high velocity organization is organized and empowered to rapidly identify problems and inefficiencies and fix them. In today’s Navy, eliminating variation often feels like the primary business of the entire organization. In a high velocity organization, when a problem is identified, the entire organization must swarm on the problem and solve it. This often means rapid and dynamic changes to the organization. High velocity organizations are intolerant of workarounds, but are tolerant of failure that helps them improve. In the Navy as it is today, change is minimized and failure is verboten. In a high velocity Navy, change is embraced and failure is a part of the process. Problems are identified and solved by the whole organization.

When the organization identifies problems, the solution is often real innovation – either a technological solution, or a modification to an existing process.

A key aspect of high velocity organizations is they share the solutions they have learned widely and at all levels. When a problem is identified, the organization puts all of its resources behind solving the problem. This is the essential part of high velocity learning. The organization itself must be able to take advantage of all the ideas it is capable of creating, implement them, and share them widely. To do this, it must be deliberate in seeking out inefficiencies, developing innovative solutions, and implementing them.

Innovation doesn’t happen by accident.

The Rub

Why don’t we as an organization embrace high velocity learning and innovation as the drivers of a high velocity organization? That is a complex question, but ultimately, Navy and Department of Defense cultures do not support it. What is it about our culture that prevents the deliberate application of innovation?

The Navy has a Culture of Zero Risk Tolerance

In the late 1980s through the early 2000s, the Navy focused on Total Quality Management and Lean Six Sigma. These management theories sought to eliminate all risk in processes through the implementation of controls and data-driven management. As a result, large organizations were developed to measure, test, and evaluate performance and to mitigate risk. Initially, costs went down as we eliminated waste. Workplace injuries and work defects declined considerably. These were largely successful programs that helped the core business of keeping ships, submarines, and aircraft afloat and maintained.

However, the same risk mitigation processes were hostile to innovation. Innovation, by its nature, will disrupt the status quo. It can be evolutionary, like the spiral development of a weapons system, adding features systematically. Sometimes it is revolutionary, making an entire section of Navy business irrelevant. Implementing an innovation is disruptive to the core business of the Navy, and so, under Total Quality Management and Lean Six Sigma (as practiced by the Navy), innovation is a risk to be mitigated. Failure of a system within the core business is to be avoided, even if the system is out-of-date or inefficient. The system is designed to mitigate all risk to the system, even that risk that is beneficial.

Compare this to a common mantra in the startup culture often associated with Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley businesses are encouraged to: “Fail Early, Fail Often, Fail Cheap, and Learn Always.” This philosophy allows tech businesses to rapidly iterate through successful and unsuccessful trials of new ideas. Businesses mitigate risk by creating minimum viable prototypes and testing them in operationally relevant environments. They further develop successes, and learn from, celebrate, and discard failures.

The Navy needs both systems: one system that mitigates risk in the core business, and another that accepts risk as a part of development. We must be conscious of the risk to our core business of bringing in new innovation, but also be hostile to the core business practices that are maintained simply to mitigate risk. We need to iterate faster than our adversary, and so, we need to build a culture that can appropriately evaluate, accept and celebrate risk.

The Navy has a Culture of Busy-Ness

In April 2016, Major Crispin Burke wrote an article called No Time, Literally, for All Requirements. In it, he identified a major issue with training requirements in the Army. He writes, “Fast-forward to 2015, wherein a study at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., revealed a training deficit of 258 days—so nearly 20 months of annual mandatory training crammed into a 12-month calendar year.”

The Navy has a similar problem. Add this to the number and priority of collateral duties required for promotion, as well as command-sponsored fundraising events, mandatory fun events, and community outreach. Then, add boards, qualifications, watch, professional development, and if you’re lucky, family time.

Innovation and process improvement requires time to think, pause, and evaluate if the processes we are using are relevant, efficient, and right. Implementing innovation is disruptive and has a bureaucratic cost to it. It may even have a short-term mission cost. For a watchfloor with limited personnel to implement a major training initiative, it may mean standing down the watch for a little bit of time. The culture of the Navy is biased against stopping operations to implement improvements, even if the improvements will save time overall.

A high velocity organization does not have time to waste on efforts that do not move the organization forward. A high velocity organization is not afraid to stop unnecessary efforts and remove inefficient processes. In business, this is how a high velocity organization stays ahead of the competition. For the military, eliminating bureaucratic bloat and focusing on warfighting effectiveness is how we prevent, and if necessary, fight and win wars.

And so, here again is where deliberate innovation comes in hand. The organization must have the ability to identify wasteful work and eliminate it. It must provide time for thinking, reflecting, and rest. A culture of busy-ness isn’t a sign of a healthy organization. It is a sign of an inefficient one. Innovation must become a priority, because a culture of innovation is the only thing that can overcome a culture of busy-ness. A culture of innovation is a culture with a job to do.

The Navy has a culture that does not adequately support innovators

When we talk about innovation, there is a temptation to make the claim that we should all be innovative. In reality, an organization filled with only innovators is as ineffective as an organization with no innovators. For every innovation, there must also be a group of people able to transition the innovation and sustain it into the core business.

In his 1962 book Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers describes the diffusion of innovation as a bell curve, breaking up the population based on their tendency towards innovation. The first half of the curve includes the Innovators (2.5%), and the Early Adopters (13.5%). The bulk of people fall into the Early Majority (34%) and the Late Majority (34%). The last group is the Laggards (16%).

The diffusion of innovations according to Rogers (1962). With successive groups of consumers adopting the new technology (shown in blue), its market share (yellow) will eventually reach the saturation level. (Wikimedia Commons)

While there has been no specific study to prove it, we can assume that the distribution in the Navy approximates the general population. Those who may identify, and act as active innovators within the organization will only make up between 2.5%-10% of all individuals. The rest of the group will (and should) focus on the core business aspects of the Navy.

Innovators tend to stray from the status quo. By nature, they break the rules, which is necessary for innovation. When asked by the Marine Corps at the Force Development 25 Innovation Symposium where to find innovators, Chief of Naval Operations’ Rapid Innovation Cell Project Lead and Illuminate Thinkshop creator, AT1 Rich Walsh responded, “First look at those who have been to mast.”

Inevitably, those who challenge the status quo will run into problems in the military. They are a minority within a system that works to minimize variation within the organization. In addition, to gain access to the resources and sponsorship necessary to implement their innovation, they often have to interact at very high levels in the chain of command. This creates risk in the perception that the innovator is skipping the chain of command, especially for junior enlisted personnel.

One of the best analogies to being an innovator within the military is like being an organ in an organ transplant. The innovation organ is necessary for the body to function, but the body identifies it as a foreign body and attacks it with antibodies. Without support and suppression of the antibodies, the organ will very likely be rejected, and probably harmed in the process.

Being an innovator is hazardous work, and so we often see  innovators leaving the service early, further diluting the distribution of innovation in the higher ranks.

The solution is to build a culture that is capable of supporting the innovator, while protecting the core body. The difference between an organ transplant and a tumor is purpose and intent, and so an innovator must be given both purpose and intent. This has to occur at all levels of the chain of command.

The Golden Triangle of Innovation

I recommend creating a “golden triangle” in order to drive innovation within an organization. First, you need a young-minded innovator. Innovation holds no age or rank, but is an attitude associated with youth. Innovative minds have a higher propensity to take risk and a greater resiliency to failure.

Second, find a senior mentor or “greybeard.” This person provides top cover for the innovator, advice, and knowledge of the system. In addition, senior mentors are often connected to resourcing for innovation. The senior mentor’s primary job is to protect the innovator from antibodies, and to remove barriers to innovation. The senior mentor also reduces risk to the system as they can properly direct the innovation to minimize disruption to the core business. The senior mentor is often the Commanding Officer of a ship or Flag Officer with access to resources.

Third is the technologist or policy guru. This is the person who can take the idea and put the technological and policy rigor behind it so it can fit into the system. A common mistake made in innovation is to transition the idea from the young-minded innovator and transition it wholly over to the “expert.” Because of the diffusion of innovation, it is very likely that the technologist or policy guru is not an innovator or early adopter. In fact, it may be desirable that the technologist is not an innovator or early adopter. The technologist is the immunosuppressant that ensures the body can accept the innovation.

A high velocity organization isn’t just about innovation, nor is it about the innovator. It is about building an organization that can support innovators and innovation as a driver for the high velocity organization. This requires the entire organization – both innovators and supporters – to be involved. To build a high velocity organization, the entire culture must be positioned to support innovation and innovators.

Casey Dean, an Army Officer, Naval War College Graduate, and a Member of the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum writes in an article entitled “Not an Innovator, but Still in DEF:

“If not an innovator, what am I? I am a sponge, a moocher, your lazy brother-in-law. I feed from the energy of DEF. I appreciate the true innovators in the group and I want to take part. I’m a facilitator, attempting to connect the DEF community and its message to a larger audience. I feel like…a Tummler; a Yiddish word originally titled for a person who gets folks to dance at weddings.”

In order for a culture that supports innovation to take off, the Navy needs to develop more Casey Deans. The Navy needs more Tummlers to support our innovators.

Conclusion

Innovation within a bureaucracy as large as the Navy and the greater Department of Defense does not occur spontaneously. It exists behind the scenes. Without a deliberate attempt to bring innovation to the forefront, innovation will continue to occur as the exception to the norm, instead of as a core part of our business.

We cannot address innovation without addressing the Navy culture. It is not enough to wait for other organizations like the Office of Naval Research or the Systems Commands like NAVSEA, NAVAIR, or SPAWAR to deliver innovation to the Fleet. No, the entire Navy, the Fleet, each command, and each individual, must deliberately be aware of innovation as a driver of change. We as a team must set the conditions for the organization to accept and transition innovation, and we must protect innovators as the valuable, low-density resources they are.

We also cannot think of innovation as an island unto itself. We must drive towards being a high velocity organization, following the Chief of Naval Operations’ vision of implementing high velocity learning at all levels. This means identifying ideal processes, being intolerant of inefficiencies and workarounds, swarming to bring forward solutions through innovation, and then sharing the knowledge broadly across the entire enterprise.

This is an all hands effort.

We have to be willing  to experiment, be unafraid of failure, and iterate quickly on our results. This is just the first step. Next, we hope to stimulate the Fleet Innovation Network to begin driving their own events, to identify issues in their own commands, solve them, and share them. We will build the Fleet Innovation Network over the next year, and we will highlight our failures as brightly as we do our successes.

This is what being deliberately innovative is. It is a culture of continuous improvement that drives our organization its highest velocity and to achieve its highest potential. We are not there yet, but we are taking the first steps.

LT Jason Knudson is the U.S. Navy’s SEVENTH Fleet Innovation Officer. He is passionate about innovation, design thinking, and the unbridled potential of connected human beings. Contact him at lead.c7f@fe.navy.mil.

Thoughts and ideas are his and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or SEVENTH Fleet, however he hopes they will. External links are for reference and are not meant to be an endorsement by the above organizations.

Join the conversation at facebook.com/navyleads and on twitter @navyleads.

Featured Image:PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 01, 2015) Operations Specialist 2nd Class Taiese Gaono tracks a course on the chart board aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) during Exercise Dawn Blitz 2015 (DB-15). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Brandon Cyr/Released)

Call For Articles: Leadership Development

Articles Due: March 1, 2017
Week Dates: March 6-10, 2017

Article Length: 1000-3000 Words
Submit to: Nextwar@cimsec.org

By Roger Misso

In a letter to Robert Morris, dated 17 October 1776, John Paul Jones wrote the immortal words, “…without a Respectable Navy, Alas America!”

Twelve score years later, America and her Navy endure; yet not without frequent doubt as to her necessity or controversy about her integrity. Indeed, if we were to write a letter similar to Jones’ today, we might say, “…without Respectable Leadership, Alas Our Navy!”

Yet, when it comes to leadership development, few topics have engendered more buzzwords or grandiose programs and policies. The latest foray in this genre is CNO Richardson’s recently published “Navy Leader Development Framework,” which outlines “how the U.S. Navy will develop leaders that demonstrate both operational excellence and strong character at every level of seniority.” It is worth a read and thoughtful consideration.

However, leadership development cannot merely be a top-down exercise. Those who would be leaders must seize the initiative, engage in thorough self-study and honest self-awareness, and boldly balance authenticity with a never-ending quest for personal growth.

To that end, CIMSEC announces our first “Leadership Development” Topic Week. We want to read what you have to write on the future of leadership development, and what it means to become a leader in the maritime services.

When we think of the concept of leadership, we too often tend to narrow our stories to those told by officers. Unfortunately, this myopic view ignores where most of the leadership is exercised: at the enlisted, civilian, and even Congressional and retiree levels. Therefore, we welcome and encourage submissions from the widest possible audience.

We look forward to your submissions and continuing the ongoing discussion on how to develop the next great generation of maritime leaders.

Roger Misso is the Vice President of CIMSEC.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (Dec. 6, 2015) – Commanding officer, Capt. C.D. Alexander talks to the crew on the foc’sle aboard Arleigh Burke-class guided missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG-59) during an all hands call. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Eric Coffer/Released)

I Held an Amazon “Flipped” Meeting At My Squadron and Here’s What Happened

By Jared Wilhelm

The Innovation Imperative

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson frequently talks about High Velocity Learning (HVL) and Innovation. You can tell his focus on this topic is working thanks to one clear litmus test: eye rolls and mocking from some of the Fleet’s junior officers. The CNO has spread the gospel so well on this topic that is has become a buzzword throughout wardrooms and squadrons around the world, and now “Innovation” has achieved just enough notoriety to be misunderstood.

The eye-rollers are often resistant to change, cling to the status quo, and most importantly have an ahistorical perception of innovation within the naval service. What they don’t quite comprehend is that innovation is nothing new. Commander BJ Armstrong enumerated the proof of our rich innovation history in consecutive years at the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, first in 2013 with his lecture on Admiral William Sims that led to the book 21st Century Sims, and then followed by a look at Marine Corps’ forward-thinking embrace of the helicopter in the post-WWII era

We have innovated before, and we will innovate again. But the CNO makes the case that the quadrupling of worldwide maritime traffic in the last several decades, combined with the free and fast flow of technology and information, creates an innovation and learning imperative like we have never seen. Our maritime superiority, our relevance, and potentially even our Sailors’ survival all depend on it.

Just Do It

It can be a daunting task for an operational leader to lead innovation efforts in the context of the worldwide rise of near-peer adversaries and vague direction from the Pentagon to learn, rapidly iterate, and embrace risk.  Where can you even start?

Using the old mantra, “Think Globally but Act Locally,” I decided to tackle something that everyone in our squadron, officer and enlisted alike, always unite to grumble about: meetings. You know them–they pepper the plan of the week like the last pieces of candy in a box of chocolate that no one wants to eat; they draw scowls of dread when you see another two, three, or four in your future. They all start the same with a PowerPoint slide deck, introductions, rules of engagement for the presentation itself, proposed courses of action, “quad slides,” and graphs with labels so small you have no idea what is going on. 

tailhook-ppt
Figure 1: An actual PowerPoint slide from a Bureau of Naval Personnel briefing at Tailhook 2016 that a Captain attempted to explain to the crowd.

Several months ago I heard about a best practice from the civilian industry that caught my attention: the “flipped meeting” utilized at Amazon by billionaire innovator Jeff Bezos. Could the Amazon model work at a Naval Aviation squadron? Would the time continuum explode if officers filed in to the wardroom and didn’t see a standardized PowerPoint screen projected on the wall? I walked to OPS, asked for a meeting to be put on the schedule, and decided to find out.

I used the Navy’s HVL model based on Dr. Steve Spear’s “High Velocity Edge” framework to approach the flipped meeting:

1. Define the problem: Too many meetings in our squadron are dependent on low-learning-level presentations, and almost all exclusively use Power Point.

2. Postulate a solution – and what you think its effects will be: There are countless solutions in other organizations and the corporate world on how to increase learning and co-working levels in meetings. One specific solution is the Amazon flipped meeting, which I guessed would increase learning levels at my squadron.

3. Try out a solution: We did!

4. Do a gap analysis between what you saw happen and what you thought would happen.

5. Update your approach/solution and run it again.

One Specific Solution: The Origins and Upsides of a Bezos “Study Hall”

Fortune Magazine revealed the secrets of an Amazon executive team meeting in their 2012 profile of Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of the tech and retail giant.  Reporter Adam Lashinsky explains:

Before any discussion begins, members of the team—including Bezos—consume six-page printed memos in total silence for as long as 30 minutes….  They scribble notes in the margins while the authors of the memos wait for Bezos and his minions to finish reading…. Writing a memo is an even more important skill to master. “Full sentences are harder to write,” he says. “They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

So instead of building PowerPoint slides and sweating font consistency, proper margins, bullet styles or punctuation uses, those privileged to brief Bezos focus on the ideas and content themselves. The genius of it is in the simplicity: the purpose of the meeting is to work together on the ideas or content, and the “flipped” meeting allows the ideas or content to be the focus, not the slide deck.

Blogger Walter Chen also identifies a second order effect of these type of meetings, one that Bezos surely intended: 

The real magic happens before the meeting ever starts.  It happens when the author is writing the memo. What makes this management trick work is how the medium of the written word forces the author of the memo to really think through what he or she wants to present.  In having to write it all down, authors are forced to think out tough questions and formulate clear, persuasive replies, reasoning through the structure and logic in the process.

Bezos calls the memos “narratives,” and in his opinion they have many advantages over PowerPoint, as he told Charlie Rose in 2012

The traditional kind of corporate meeting starts with a presentation. Somebody gets up in front of the room and presents with a PowerPoint presentation, some type of slide show. In our view you get very little information, you get bullet points. This is easy for the presenter, but difficult for the audience. And so instead, all of our meetings are structured around a 6 page narrative memo.

Some other advantages include:

1. Silence is golden. How many times have you presented an issue, only to see several egos in the audience try to take over or derail the brief based on their own interests? Everyone reads the narrative in silence and the discussion comes after in the Bezos “Study Hall” model. 

2. No read-ahead required. Bezos believes “the act of communal reading guarantees the group’s undivided attention.” Several times in my career, I have wondered if the person I was briefing had time to review the read-ahead, or if they were getting the message I was trying to convey during the PowerPoint. In a flipped meeting, the audience has no choice but to read the narrative (unless they want to daydream).

3. Eliminating premature questions saves everyone time. “If you have a traditional PowerPoint presentation, executives interrupt,” says Bezos.  “If you read the whole six page memo, on page two you have a question. By page four that question is answered.” 

4. Ideas and content trump presentation polish. Sometimes, the best ideas come from those who are nervous or just-plain-bad public speakers. Other times, polished presenters with million-dollar-smiles can sell bad or incomplete concepts because they can manipulate the audience into what they want to hear. With the Amazon narrative, the content speaks for itself.

5. The meeting leader is a coworker, not lecturer. The concept of a “flipped classroom” revolutionized education, and Bezos is trying to do the same for the business world. Normally a presenter lectures the audience. An Amazon lecturer is no longer verbally “pushing” communication to the audience; instead the content is “pushed” through the narrative, and then readers can “pull” knowledge from the presenter with informed questions. This creates high rates of learning compared to the traditional model.

It seems that a flipped meeting is effective based on Amazon’s stock price and global reach. But could such a meeting work outside the confines of Silicon Valley boardrooms? Would a bunch of flight-suit wearing naval aircrew be receptive to something so far from the norm?

That Awkward Silence

My unsuspecting teammates filtered in and took seats at the conference table. I hadn’t posted “Amazon-Style Flipped Meeting” on the flight schedule because I thought it might create some sort of bias or discourage full attendance. I simply listed the topic: “Squadron Innovation Culture Workshop.” This subject especially lent itself to a flipped meeting because it was difficult to summarize our squadron’s innovation culture in a deck of PowerPoint slides. 

The junior officers filled the dead space before the kick off with the usual banter and jokes. I noticed several check the clock and glance toward the powered-down and blank presentation screen as I passed out copies of the six-page narrative I’d spent the previous week perfecting. It was apparent that several were wondering why there was no laptop connected and no PowerPoint. 

The top of the hour arrived and people started leafing through the document. We were still missing two important players who I knew had planned on attending.  I decided to give them the usual five-minute grace period in a normal day filled with other tasks and meetings. One finally arrived, so I ventured out to the office of the last straggler, one of my fellow department heads. I told him we were about to start, but he was justifiably delayed in the midst of “putting out a fire” with an urgent travel issue requiring his attention. “I’ll be there in a few!”  I knew he probably thought he could catch up with the PowerPoint when he walked in. “We can wait a couple minutes more for you before we start off…” I offered.  “No, go ahead.  I’ll be down there soon.”

I returned to the assembled group and quickly explained the flipped meeting, the “study hall” reading and the 20 minutes of silence. Everyone nodded in agreement and began. The most awkward part for me was the wait. In this context, 20 minutes felt like an eternity. I already knew the narrative well as the organizer and author. I read through it again while I scanned the faces of my coworkers as they made notes or flipped pages. I found a couple of punctuation errors that I had missed. And then I waited.

The most interesting thing was the late arrival of the last participant 10 minutes into the study hall. He was a bit confused to walk into a room of us all sitting there silently with no PowerPoint in sight. He then tried to catch up on reading the narrative. In the future to help all attendees get the highest rates of learning, I think it would be best to notify everyone in advance it will be a flipped meeting and that study hall will start on time.

Next, I facilitated the discussion. At first people were hesitant to express their opinions, but after a few questions by some of the other forward-leaning members of our squadron, we were well on our way to a 40-minute co-working session. By the tail of the hour the discussion was going strong and we could have continued for another thirty minutes. We decided on a collective course of action to take on the meeting’s topic and agreed on another future meeting.

“PowerPoint Makes Us Stupid.” -Gen. James N. Mattis, USMC, 2010

The backlash against PowerPoint is well documented.  This repository of articles compiled by Small Wars Journal counts more than twenty leading media or blog examinations of the detrimental effects of its use. Many leaders like the now-retired General Mattis either loathe it or outright ban it; others see it as a necessary evil.

Reporter Elisabeth Bumiller’s piece about the U.S. military’s use of the program in the New York Times in 2010, titled “We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint,” seems to foreshadow the rise of Bezos’ corporate use of the flipped meeting: 

Commanders say that the slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold, and that they relieve the briefer of the need to polish writing to convey an analytic, persuasive point. Imagine lawyers presenting arguments before the Supreme Court in slides instead of legal briefs.

The most compelling defenses I’ve heard for military innovation do not involve completely new ideas or inventions. Instead they focus on finding creative best practices in sometimes-unexpected places that could be applied to military problems. Maybe “flipped meetings” won’t catch on to replace old methods completely, but they could become one tool for leaders to use when an occasional respite is needed from the groundhog-day-monotony of PowerPoint briefings.

I would encourage other leaders to challenge the status quo in your unit’s meetings. These resources by Fred Zimmerman and Walter Chen can guide you to figure out how to best write your own flipped meeting narrative.

There are myriad other ways to shake up a meeting, like using the “design thinking” approach or an organizational retreat made famous in Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The solution you use will depend heavily on the topic and purpose of the meeting. For example, it is difficult and counterproductive to attempt to give chart-centric “course rules” brief using thousands of written words when visual aids are most appropriate. Even if your first instinct is to use PowerPoint because of the visual nature of the topic, there are several alternative programs like Prezi or Haiku Deck that could bring extra engagement to your audience. The most important concept to remember is that PowerPoint is just a tool, not something good or bad. We need to focus as leaders on using whatever the appropriate tool is for the specific job, not simply revert to the familiar tool just because it is habitual or easy.

Gap Analysis

So how did my flipped meeting experiment match up to what I thought would happen when I postulated the solution? I think it was worthwhile and I’m looking forward to doing it again. I wasn’t laughed out of the squadron or told by my bosses to go back to exclusively PowerPoint meetings. I saw the light in several of my coworkers’ eyes (despite some initial uncertainty) as they scribbled on parts of the narrative and debated sections they had pulled from it. We had an in-depth discussion about our innovation culture that could have been brought about with a PowerPoint brief instead of the “study hall,” but the discussion would have been less nuanced and with less time to collaborate. Usually presentations are designed for 45 minutes with 15 minutes of questions and discussion at the end. We invested 20 minutes up front during the flipped meeting to silently immerse in the topic, leaving us more than double the discussion and co-working time.

The flipped meeting can’t be considered a complete success, though, until we are achieving high learning rates from our gatherings on a consistent basis, no matter what tool is used to get there. If I started a conversation or sparked an idea in the wardroom, it was worth it. 

Every meeting I’ve gone to since, I enter the room and look at the briefer, the table and the wall. One of these days there will be no PowerPoint and a stack of six-page narratives waiting for me to pick up. Here’s to “study hall!”

Jared Wilhelm is a U.S. Navy officer and Maritime Patrol Instructor Pilot with experience in four operational theaters flying the P-3C Orion. He is a passionate writer focused on innovation and meaningful reform, all to help maintain the U.S. military’s superiority over adversaries in the short and long term. He served in Argentina as an Olmsted Scholar from 2014-2016 and won the U.S. Naval Institute’s 2015 General Prize Essay Contest. He is a Department of Defense Spanish linguist who holds masters degrees from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School (Systems Engineering and Analysis) and the U.S. Naval War College (National Security and Strategic Studies), as well as a B.S. in Systems Engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not reflect the official position of any other entity or organization.

Featured Image:  U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jackie Hart.