By: LT Dave Nobles
Since we’ve started making moves with The Athena Project, I’ve been a bit of a maven for the process. Often, the feedback is great. I see people get energized to participate and/or attend, and they almost immediately launch into impromptu ideation sessions for worthy ideas to showcase to the group.
Sometimes, though, I feel a bit like Harold Hill from The Music Man trying to sell trombones to a town that doesn’t listen to music. Or, more appropriately, a town that jams out to a different style.
Also, I’m told by my Navigator that that reference will be lost on many (Click the link! It’s a great musical!)
I started thinking about what might cause the negative response. Granted, I’m biased, but I believe Athena is a small step toward building the type of intellectually curious Sailor that our Fleet needs.
Part of the cause is the fact that there are folks out there who feel there’s no place for innovation or ideas to bubble up from the deckplates in our organization. They’re few and far between, but they’re there. Honestly, I feel bad for them, and I feel bad for those that have to serve under them. Leaders like that form a thick layer of permafrost in our organization, stifling ideas before they can melt through.
That being said, it’s the person with the idea that’s responsible for “heating it up” enough to break through that frosty layer.
That leads me to the other, more prevalent part. There are innovative minds out there that don’t think they can make a dent, regardless of where they are vertically in an organization. That discouraging thought can result in a failure to launch, a failure to believe that they can make a difference, and ultimately a failure to act.
Well, I’m here to tell you: That just ain’t true.
There are success stories from around our organization about people who have made their marks. Further, we have a rich history of brave innovators from within our ranks breaking through solid layers of icy bureaucracy to swing the hammer. Perhaps the most notable of these stories is the story of Admiral William Sims, who is the namesake of the award that goes to the winner of The Athena Project.
The Admiral’s story has been recounted by many, including this blog entry from the United States Naval Institute, so I’ll summarize. As a Lieutenant in the early 1900s, Sims knew that he had found the answer to gunnery methods that were plaguing our battleships after watching the British operate. He tried to send those concerns up through his chain of command, and they told him to get back in his box.
So, he told the Secretary of the Navy.
And it radically changed the way we fight.
Sims’ story is proof: It doesn’t matter what your rank is, you can make a difference. But you’ll never make a dent if you don’t pick up the hammer. But Sims isn’t the only one: Our Armed Forces are full of stories like this, from Admiral Grace Hopper bringing technology to the Fleet at a junior level to Army soldiers developing the Rhino to protect convoys against heat-activated Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detonations. Good ideas can, and have, been brought to fruition by passionate, junior personnel. These are the “Yelpers” – the people who are passionate enough about their idea to stand up and say something about it.
Damn the red tape, full speed ahead.
The Athena Project is linking up the people with ideas that want to make a dent with “makers” that can give speed to that hammer strike. It’s a place where you can go to present your vision and have it at least be considered by all those other people who are passionate enough about bringing fresh ideas to the Fleet to be there. It’s a place where your whisper turns into a shout, and a place where the connections that we’re welding can lead to some real innovation.
At the risk of transitioning from The Music Man to John Belushi’s famous Animal House speech: Bring your ideas! Present them at Modern Times Brewery on October 25th in San Diego and make that dent, regardless of where you are. You may be sitting on the next dent that completely changes the game.
If we make enough dents, together we can shape the structure to what we want it to be.
LT Nobles is a Surface Warfare Officer assigned to USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) as Weapons Officer.