AT AFA, USAF SECRETARY CALLS FOR INNOVATION By Aaron Mehta (w/DeM Banter)

DeM Banter:  Powerful words below…but I really wonder if the USAF has an ecosystem that can really support and/or encourage innovation.  You can not simply just demand an organization to innovate and expect it to happen….leadership must create a space that encourages innovation and creative thinking.  As we continue to cut people, programs, systems…are we allowing our people the time they need to innovate?  Or…are we simply contracting that responsibility to organizations like RAND and DARPA and hoping they come up with something.  Think about the early leaders of the USAF… Mitchell, Doolittle, LeMay, Kenney,Tunner…they were the kings of innovation. We have spent a good bit of time ponding this at the Mastermind Century Group…and it’s all about Orbiting the Giant Hairball… and fighting C3 with the 3Cs.  Just not sure the USAF is ready for that…heck we are the only service that does not even thing a Leadership Center is worth funding.

DefenseNews.com
September 16, 2013
orbiting-giant-hairball-inside-previewNATIONAL HARBOR, MD. — The acting Air Force secretary warned on Monday that his service needs to double down on innovation in order to survive budget reductions.

“Are we spending more and more money to gain only marginal capability in tomorrow’s battle space?” Eric Fanning told an audience at the annual Air Force Association Air & Space Conference in National Harbor, Md., just outside Washington, D.C.

Continued Fanning: “Where is the next game-changer in airspace and cyberspace? And if we can’t name it off the top of our heads, is that a red flag that we are not paying enough attention to strategic innovation?

“We need to take a long hard look in the mirror. And ask ourselves how are we going to shape an Air Force that is affordable and sustainable over the long term.”

Fanning’s comments will likely set the tone for the conference, which brings in top generals and industry officials alike.

Despite widespread pessimism over declining budgets, Fanning told the audience that he remains confident in the Air Force.

“The Air Force is truly the nation’s innovative service,” Fanning said. “If we make the right choices today, building on the innovation, we will be the dominant service in the foreseeable future.”

Part of that solution may come from further partnerships between industry and the Pentagon.

“Without the industry partnership, there is no Air Force,” Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, said during the ribbon cutting to officially open the show.

4 Replies to “AT AFA, USAF SECRETARY CALLS FOR INNOVATION By Aaron Mehta (w/DeM Banter)”

  1. Great point. As you noted, great innovators came from the field not the office space. We tried with the Battlelabs, but after a few years, it got co-opted by the staff agencies and lost its effectiveness.

  2. Hi Bill,

    I have a few thoughts on the next game changer. I think generally, the next game changer will be something that is today perceived as “not sexy”. It likely won’t even be directly lethal or air breathing, and like the A-10, it will have to wait for the right moment to get the attention it deserves. The insidiousness of this game changer will be a surprise to many, and likely realized only after the fact. Most importantly, the next game changer will be so fundamental that no one realizes how important it is today. A key part of that game changer is an organizational climate that encourages people to challenge the status quo. Without that, no good ideas escape dreamland into reality. After all, one only needs to look at Mitchell’s example and ask how that impacted a recent AFCOS to see the negative impact an organizational climate can have. Without the right climate, none of the ideas for anything you, I, or anyone else may dream up will stand a chance of seeing daylight regardless of merit. Such a climate requires a lot of humility and a commitment to serve others down the chain from leadership. People are ready and willing to innovate. The real question becomes, is the institution and its leadership ready to hear what they asked for from the Airman with the great idea????

    Just a thought,

    Ben

  3. For the love of innovation- we will survive as an AF if I NEVER have to complete another Form 1800 again! I am struggling not to come off as jaded here…but the Chief cannot simply say these words without bold action. FOUR years ago I supported an effort to identify “things we need to stop doing right now.” An initiative that had its roots in USAFE. A very long EXCEL spreadsheet was produced with many different items and sent to the CSAF. Things like the AF Form 1800. You know, that checklist you must run every time you operate a GOV. Check the oil, headlights, turn signals, wipers, each individual tire pressure, etc. then sign your name as proof you’ve completed these requirements. This form must be reproduced, distributed, filed, audited all according to a regulation maintained by a functional staff who exists to create, review and update these regulations and inspect AF units worldwide for compliance. FOUR years after we submitted the list of “things to stop doing right now” …. I filled out a form 1800…..heavy sigh….today.
    This summer I spent the better part of my evenings across several weeks compiling data for an idea that I submitted to the AF’s “Every Dollar Counts” Campaign run by the VCSAF. I submitted the idea and supporting data online. I never received so much as an acknowledgement they received my submission, let alone a response. When I inquired I received a pat response that because of the enormous number of submission (17,000), review of each one would require much time so please be patient. A reasonable response. And yet if they received 17,000 submissions, how many success stories have we heard from this? Answer: barely a handful. There has to be more than a handful from 17,000!
    We are paralyzed by our own self-made hell. Afraid of the lawyers and the functional experts populating UCI teams ready to discredit battle-proven commanders who fail to comply with every detail. Chief, time to stop talking and swing the axe. I am sure the lawyers and functional experts in the Pentagon will form a line outside your door to defend the endless list of appointment letters, training certifications, file plans, forms, binders, etc. Stay strong, keep swinging…. And by the way, I still have a copy of that spreadsheet….

    1. Preaching to the choir for sure. I was a bit embarrassed by the email the VCSAF your idea and you too can be famous. If that is our culture of innovation we are sunk! 17,000 ideashere is what they did with those sent them all back to the units. So we received several great ideas that sort of apply to OTS for us to workstaff had not vetted most were already in work. But if the idea was to sent the ideas to the HAF for the HAF to send them to the MAJCOM and then to the unit to workguess what we were already doing that.

      The innovative ideas we came up with in the 15 AMOS and the 100th were mostly grass roots from smart guys doing the mission that felt they could bring their ideas forward and if they were sound leadership would champion the concepts up the chain and we would see what we got. We did some amazing things at both units because we did the best we could to build an ecosystem that supported and encourage innovation. In the OG we built an office called OGC (C for creative) NOT a CAG but a place where people could come and dump ideas on a captain and have them vetted and discussed. WE NEED that on a macro levelat the Wing to the MAJCOM to the HAF not sending emails into the black hole of the Pentagon to have them shot back to the units to work.

      ARGH!

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