Waterfront Athena Roundup

By LT Dave Nobles

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We cross-posted this article a few weeks ago with our friends at CIMSEC.org. Recently, I’ve gotten quite a few questions on many of the projects presented, so I thought it would be appropriate to post this on our blog in an attempt to connect the dots of ideation across the fleet. Message Athena on Facebook or Twitter at @AthenaNavy to learn more about any of our projects!

A month ago, a group of young innovators met in a brewery in Point Loma trying to change the U.S. Navy.

We hosted our third installment of The Athena Project at Modern Times Beer on October 25th and for the first time, we opened it up to the entire waterfront. Even though the presenters were predominantly from USS Benfold, the birthplace of Athena, a few change-makers from other commands presented ideas. About 15 different commands represented in the crowd, many coming from the Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC) here in San Diego. In addition to the Navy contingent, representatives from the University of Southern California (USC) Institute of Creative TechnologiesSPAWARDisruptive Thinkers, and Harris Corporation were among the more than 70 in attendance. We had a phenomenal turnout – better than we expected. It feels like just the beginning, though.

Before we get into the roundup of our last event, here’s a quick summary of how The Athena Project works. Presenters are given five minutes to pitch their projects to the crowd, who vote on each idea based on quality, actionability, and presentation. We’ve found that the short pitch time and lack of powerpoint forces each presenter to get to the heart of their idea quickly and to distill it down to the essential points. After every presentation, the floor is open for five minutes of questions and comments from the crowd. When all the projects have been presented, votes are tallied and the ADM Sims Award for Intellectual Courage is announced.

The winning project gets to form a small functional team and receives command backing to make their idea happen over the next quarter. That, and of course bragging rights.

So, we had our friends from USC select the first name, and away we went. Here’s a summary of each of the ideas presented:

Idea 1: Psychology-Driven Division Officer Assessments – LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell, USS Benfold

The foundation for LTJG O’Donnell’s idea was trying to help junior ensigns develop their leadership skill set. She proposed working hand-in-hand with the Human Systems Integration department at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, to generate a survey that could be given to an officer’s division to evaluate leadership traits. LTJG O’Donnell envisioned a breakdown similar to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to give young officers feedback and action items for strengthening traits.

Idea 2: Hydro Wave Power Generator – ET2(SW) Erika Johnson, USS Benfold

Petty Officer Johnson and her husband proposed utilizing cranks and netting in littorals to build a network of power generators that would double as a passive sonar system.  She explained the technology, then offered multiple design-types leveraging materials currently in use.

Idea 3: Peer Resource Sharing – LTJG Sarah Eggleston, Destroyer Squadron ONE

Citing a great deal of frustration in maintaining version control of current instructions and guidance, LTJG Eggleston proposed a sharepoint-like system in which naval personnel could share lessons learned, updated messages, and recent notices among other information. Feedback from the crowd suggested utilizing current channels such as Navy Knowledge Online to grow the database and function as a type of Navy Wiki.

Idea 4: Benfold University CLEP – STG2(SW) Gina Stevens, USS Benfold

Onboard USS Benfold, there is a program called Benfold University in which Sailors who have a passion and knowledge base for any topic can teach their shipmates about the subject. Since its establishment in early 2013, the program has hosted classes in writing, welding, photography, Spanish, finance, nutrition and Japanese. Petty Officer Stevens, the program’s first teacher, proposed using free resources provided by Navy College for the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) to teach Sailors the knowledge necessary to gain college credit for a course.

Idea 5: Active Sonar Defense – ENS Joshua Corpus, BDOC

A game-day addition to the presentation list, ENS Corpus proposed taking technology found in noise-cancelling headphones – reciprocal noise generation – and applying that concept to ships’ sonar to act as a defense against active prosecution. ENS Corpus defended his assertion following his presentation as engineers in the crowd questioned the technology. During a break in the action, the concept was a hot topic, bringing several innovators together to discuss the feasibility of the idea.

Idea 6: Optical Database and Information Network – FC2 Robert VanAllen, FC2 Michael Owen and FC2 Lisa Stamp, USS Benfold

The winners of the ADM Sims Award for Intellectual Courage, this group of Petty Officers dominated the peer voting in every category with their presentation. The group proposed building an integrated database that would combine information from existing sensors to assist in identification of surface contacts. Characteristics from ships such as radar cross-section, electromagnetic emissions and heat signature would be combined with new visual-profiling software to build an electronic profile. That profile could then be compared to a database of surface ships and ranked by probability, resulting in rapid identification of long range surface targets. They also gave many examples on how the system could be developed in future iterations, including integration with seaborne drone systems and crew served weapons mounts. The pitch was well received and engineers from USC immediately pounced on the idea, offering to work with the team to develop a rapid prototype for proof of concept.

Idea 7: Electronic Division Officer Notebook – LTJG Isaac Wang, USS Benfold

Trying to solve the problem of maintaining paper records for Sailors, LTJG Wang suggested leveraging existing technology, like Neat Scanners and handwriting recognition software, to digitize the contents typically kept in Division Officer notebooks. Documents like counseling sheets, signed evaluations, history forms and the like could be scanned and kept together. Many in the crowd viewed this idea as “low hanging fruit” and claimed it would be simple to implement onboard a ship. LTJG Wang took the recommendations in stride and aims to institute his plan onboard BENFOLD.

Idea 8: Cosmogator – LT William Hughes, USS Benfold

LT Hughes, the navigator onboard Benfold, developed a concept for a system that would automate celestial navigation. He proposed that the system, consisting of optical sensors and a database of stars, could provide accurate positional data to the ship’s weapons systems in the event of a GPS outage. LT Hughes tested several mobile applications through his research and claimed that the technology to make this system a reality was well within reach. The crowd agreed, and his project finished in second place overall.

Idea 9: SCAT Tactical HUD – ENS Robert McClenning, FC1(SW) William Steele, FC2(SW) Amanda Curfew, FC2(SW) Justin Lagenor, GM3 Jacob Niessen, USS Benfold

This large group finished third in the peer voting for their proposed solution to the problem of command and control for ships’ crew-served weapons mounts. Citing difficulty in communications between the Anti-Terrorism Tactical Watch Officer (ATTWO) on the bridge and the machine guns on the weatherdecks, the team suggested utilizing augmented reality (AR) headsets for gunners and a touch screen tablet for the ATTWO to optimize the process. The team said that the headsets would be simplistic – only displaying commands such as “fire” and “ceasefire” – and would have to be hard-wired because a tactical wireless system would be easily exploitable by potential adversaries.

Idea 10: Metal Alloys for Energy – GSM2(SW) Robertson Acido, USS Benfold

The second of our game-day additions, GSM2 Acido proposed taking technology that’s being developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota to augment the power needs of surface ships. The engineers developed a new alloy that converts heat into energy. GSM2 Acido suggested using that alloy onboard ships – on anything the exhaust stacks for engines to solar-heated panels – to save fuel by allowing ships to have sufficient power without running their generators. GSM2 Acido formed a small team at the Athena event, including BDOC officers and SPAWAR engineers, to shape his pitch before presenting.

Overall, the event brought forth some tremendous ideas from the deckplates and provided some great networking opportunities, but the best part of it all: We had fun. The feedback on all the voting sheets was incredibly positive, and the support from the diverse crowd was amazing. It’s encouraging to know that there are so many people out there who want to make a difference.

We’re looking into scheduling the next waterfront Athena event for this spring, and hope that the innovation wildfire continues to spread – not only on the West Coast, but throughout the Navy. As The Athena Project continues to grow, so grows the chances that we’ll uncover the next big thing.

As Ben Franklin, among others, famously said, “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”

Challenge accepted.

LT Dave Nobles is the weapons officer aboard USS Benfold and a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. 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.

Three Keys to Building a Culture of Creativity and Innovation in the Navy

By: LT Dave Nobles

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Spoiler alert: They’re books.

In the time that I’ve been a part of The Athena Project, I’ve noticed something about the Navy that’s been pretty inspirational. It’s something that I’ve talked about quite a bit on this blog and something that I’ve seen in my short time as a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) as well. There are pockets in this organization that are motivated to spread and cultivate a culture of creativity and innovation. It’s not just the Navy either, it’s a theme across all the services and in many of the places where civilians and government employees support the litany of missions out there.

These little pockets of hope can manifest themselves in the form of organizations like the Defense Entrepreneurship Forum (DEF), the Innovator’s Initiative (I2) at the Naval Academy as well as Athena and CRIC, but they’re also brewing at nearly every command out there. There are groups of innovators, intrapreneurs, disruptive thinkers committed to bringing about a change in culture within our organization. The culture of creativity, where all opinions are valued, where design thinking is king and where failure is not a career-killer.

So, how might we connect those dots and make the culture go viral?

I feel like I’ve been on a bit of a hot streak lately in terms of books, and a few that I’ve read lately and some old classics might hold the key, when we consider the lessons they teach us together. I feel like there’s a sequential order in those lessons, but all three are key to spreading a culture of innovation:

1. Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley. 

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This book is the new bible of innovative thought, by two brothers with a boatload of street cred: Founders of the innovation design firm IDEO as well as the Design School at Stanford University. What the Kelley Brothers teach us in this book is that there’s inherent creativity within each of us, but the decision to harness that is a conscious one that each individual has to make on their own. Further, they speak to the power of design thinking and creativity as a natural process through a series of stories and examples. Some specific examples in the book, at corporations like Intuit and 3M, even have a similar look and feel to The Athena Project!

The book is also full of creativity exercises that zealous creative explorers might use to brew the innovative mindset in their organizations. The exercises are great tools that we can use to spread the culture and identify those who have made that important decision to be creative. Those that choose to strive toward making things better.

Not only does this book help us find out who we are and can be on a personal level, but also what our organizations are and could be at a much higher level. It’s a tremendous read and essential to help shine a light on who the innovation movers are – for those who seek their partnership and to those who seek to find the spirit within themselves.

2. Good To Great by Jim Collins.

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By most accounts, this book is a modern classic on how to build organizations that transcend success into greatness, a peak that few companies ever reach. The reason why this book is second on the path to building and spreading the culture of creativity in the Navy is that it preaches identification of the right people before careening toward the goal.

One of the main points that Collins hammers home in the book: First who, then what. It’s important to put the right people in the right seats on the bus often times before setting the final destination. While the corporate examples mentioned have different constraints and capabilities than we do in the military with regard to recruiting and retaining talent, the message and its relation to our cause is clear.

The book does have its criticisms, however. It’s dated, and of the companies referenced throughout the course of the book many have continued to sustain great performance, including Kimberly Clark, Walgreens and Wells Fargo, while others identified, like Circuit City and Fannie Mae have not. Nonetheless, the points regarding harnessing the human capital first and setting a clear vision for the organization are enduring and provide a sound lesson for a culture shift.

First who, then what. Identify the creative explorers, and then spread the culture.

3. Contagious by Jonah Berger.

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Which brings us to ideas worth spreading, which is precisely the sermon that Wharton professor Jonah Berger gives throughout the course of his book. Another relatively recent publication, Contagious differs from book-club-favorite, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell in many respects. While Gladwell focuses primarily on the personality types required to make a message, style or idea spread, Berger focuses on the content of the message or idea and gives a checklist for success. In fact, on his web site, Berger provides worksheets that help the development of the idea that goes viral.

Berger gives us the ingredients that make a viral message In his STEPPS, an acronym for Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value and Story. Now, while each message need not have all of those ingredients in the final dish, the more that are baked in, the better it will taste.

So, I propose this trilogy of books as our roadmap for spreading the innovative culture. We identify and cherish the creative volunteers, put them in the right seats, and build a message that we all want to share. If you’ve read any of these and have feedback to offer to those that want to pursue this vision, please leave it below. Otherwise, I ask that you give these three a try, and leave your thoughts below.

Let’s work together to build the culture that we want. Let’s turn those pockets of innovative thought within our organization into a movement, and make the Navy what we want it to be.

Here’s to the dreamers, the doers, the thinkers and the movers: All engines ahead flank.

LT Dave Nobles is a Surface Warfare Officer assigned as Weapons Officer aboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He is also a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us!

If You Give an Engineer a Toy: Building a Better Command Center

Here’s an article about design thinking and prototyping leading to real innovation in the fleet. Cross-posted in partnership with our friends at CIMSEC.org

At Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Newport we recently began an internal investment project—the Seamless and Intuitive Warfare Workforce Development Project—to develop the next generation of “system of systems” engineers. These engineers will ideally be trained to view problems and develop solutions in a holistic manner, breaking from the stove-piped designs of legacy systems.  As an underlying theme for the effort, NUWC Newport focused on the “One System” vision for submarine tactical systems.  This idea was originally conceptualized at the Tactical Advancements for Next Generation (TANG) forum and further advocated by the submarine fleet.  In pursuit of this vision, the team explored potential improvements for submarine combat system interfaces and for the control room as a way to improve the information flow and the effectiveness of the control room’s contact management team.

Our approach:

1. Team Formation: We recruited and selected a cross-departmental team of 10 young engineers, typically with 3-7 years experience, from the Sensors and Sonar Systems, Combat Systems and Electromagnetic Systems Departments at NUWC Division Newport.

2. Baselining on Current Combat Systems: We cross-trained the team using military personnel  in the Combat Systems Collaboration And Fleet Experimentation (CAFÉ) laboratory on an end-to-end layout of a Virginia-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) control room, driven by a Submarine Multi Mission Team Trainer (SMMTT) system with sonar and combat control watch teams.  An imaging simulator was even used to populate the periscope view with surface contacts when operating at periscope depth.

Virginia Class layout

Virginia Class layout

3. Innovation Process: The team brainstormed initial concepts for next-gen integrated tactical systems, generating around 40-50 ideas, from which about 8 concepts were selected by the team for early prototyping with mock-ups (see Figure 2 below for evolution of original ideas to early prototypes).  These mock-ups were cut-out model representations using basic materials such as foam-core, cardboard and coloring sheets; and served to focus the team’s attention on details of scale and placement that would not have otherwise occurred.

Evolution of initial ideas into quick prototypes

Evolution of initial ideas into quick prototypes

Matt Puterio of the Sensors and Sonar Department, described his participation in the process of innovation and prototyping:

“Today’s Sailors are accustomed to immersive video games, advanced smart phones and tablets, intuitive multi-touch applications and can easily navigate the highly networked and always-connected world in which we now live in (so-called ‘digital natives’).  Our project aims to leverage this natural affinity coupled with advanced technologies such as high resolution multi-touch displays, and mobile computing devices, and new software concepts such as cloud computing and virtualization and apply them to the demanding needs of the tactical warfighter.  Sailors should be able to seamlessly adapt their high-tech civilian skills to the world of Undersea Warfare with minimal re-training and Seamless and Intuitive USW is focused on making this goal a reality.”

The innovation process we followed was modeled after one developed by design and innovation consulting firm IDEO; the same process used by the TANG workshop. Generating a series of “How might we…” questions (called HMWs), the group brainstormed ideas for what improvements could be created.  The  members of the brainstorming group then  came up with ideas to answer the questions (e.g. “redesign the layout of the control center!”) and wrote their ideas along with descriptive pictures to better explain the idea on sticky notes; one idea per sticky.  Emphasis was on rapid and not necessarily well thought-out ideation along with quick sketches for each idea.  The fast-paced nature of this exercise kept team members excited and stimulated creativity.

Brainstorming in action!

Brainstorming in action!

After investigating each idea, the group voted on the ideas they found most interesting, most powerful, or most disruptive.  Sub-groups of 2-5 team members were formed, and each sub-group picked a high scoring response to a HMW question that they would like to prototype.  This stage of prototyping was very basic; 4-K displays, iPads, iPhones, Android tablets, cloud computing, and multi-touch monitors took a back seat to foamcore, construction paper, hot glue, whiteboards, Sharpies, and dry erase markers.  The immediate goal wasn’t to get an actual product out to the fleet—rather to build a better mental model of the top ideas before laying the groundwork for an actual system.  Some of our prototypes at this stage included an operator workstation stack built out of foamcore, models of how we envisioned the layout of futuristic control rooms built from construction paper and foamcore (complete with popsicle stick sailors), and a 3D-display made from transparency sheets and foamcore.

Building rough prototypes literally turns words on paper into tangible objects.  Tangible objects are easier to work with since they do not require the imagination of onlookers and fellow team members.  A 3D-display may seem unnecessary until a fellow team member shows a physical model with a clay “ownship” submarine at the center and contacts of interest at various ranges and bearings on the display, directly modeling the actual tactical picture in the current environment.

Ideation straight to prototyping.

Ideation straight to prototyping.

From here our Seamless & Intuitive USW group branched out in two directions; software application development and virtual worlds (VW) modeling.  The “App Team” focused on taking the most promising and realistic rough prototypes (in terms of team skills and project timeframe) and prototyped them in an actual software environment.  This year we had access to a Perceptive Pixel multi-touch workstation with the Qt development environment that enabled us to quickly put together a few simple applications to interactively demonstrate the same concepts we prototyped using the arts & crafts materials.  One example was a “Multi-touch App Manager” which allowed a user to pull open a menu of “available apps” similar to the app icons on Android or iOS, and resize and drag individual “apps”—simply static tactical screenshots in our prototype—around the workspace. Other examples included a demo of three different ways to select a trace on a display and a “Five Finger” multi-touch menu that enables users to pull open an intuitive menu simply by placing their right or left hand on the display surface.

Some of the ideas we brainstormed couldn’t adequately be represented in software.  Rather than build a full-sized model submarine control room, the other branch of our group, the “Tiger Team,” employed their modeling skills with Second Life, a virtual world simulator.  The Tiger Team worked with the “Virtual Worlds” group at NUWC, a team with expertise in creating realistic virtual models of Navy ships, submarines, and facilities in Second Life.  The Virtual Worlds group assisted the Tiger Team in building realistic models of concepts such as new control room layouts, next-generation displays (such as the previously mentioned 3D-display), and even interactive displays by utilizing Second Life’s VNC capability.

Futuristic Command Center conceptual layout in Virtual Worlds.

Futuristic Command Center conceptual layout in Virtual Worlds.

The next step from here is implementing these prototypes on live data-streams, and integrating them as advanced engineering modules into a tactical system.  So far we have given various demonstrations of our concepts, and have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our colleagues, internal NUWC management, and fleet representatives from Submarine Development Squadron TWELVE at the annual DEVRON12-NUWC Tech Exchange.  The simplicity of the design-thinking process allowed our small team of engineers to go from ideas on sticky notes to working software prototypes and virtual models in several weeks.

We are eager to continue our work on Seamless and Intuitive USW. In addition to being an excellent platform for idea formation, this project was fun, exciting, and served as a vehicle to achieve our objective of developing the next generation of “system of systems” engineers. Working with next-generation technology is always a pleasure, and the expectation that our ideas will make it onto a shipboard system and help sailors perform their functions better makes our work even more worthwhile.

Contact Information:

Project Lead: chidambar.ganesh@navy.mil 401-832-3887

Co-Lead:  raymond.j.rowland@navy.mil 401-832-8207

Don’t Force It

By: LT Dave Nobles

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As I’ve been sitting around in lay-up for the past couple weeks, I’ve opened up the ‘ol laptop quite a few times trying to figure out the next post, but nothing had come to mind nor fingers.

So, I whined to my wife about the lack of creative inspiration, and she told me simply, “Don’t force it.” Clearly, she was giving the Heisman to my incessant moaning, but what she said not only highlighted a problem that I was having for this post, but also summed up some of the issues we have with ideas in the fleet.

Too often, when it comes to innovation, we force it. And we shouldn’t.

Now, I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t schedule out brainstorming and design thinking sessions, or challenge a group to find solutions to a specific problem. What I mean is that we shouldn’t direct or attach incentives to the generation of new ideas. The unnecessary pressurization of the otherwise open activity of idea generation tends to cause people to force it, and the results could be ugly.

In his book Drive, Dan Pink references a study by researchers at MIT, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Chicago on the topic of incentives and performance. The study used three tiers of bonuses, offered to individuals based on their performance in cognitive tasks as well as physical tasks that didn’t require much thought. In both cases of the experiment, one conducted at MIT and one conducted in rural India, the results were the same: Bonuses had an inverse effect on performance for cognitive tasks whereas the rewards led to better performance for those rudimentary, mechanical, wrench-turning tasks. Pink gave an awesome TED talk about it, check it out here.

Since idea generation is a cognitive exercise, if we pressurize the process we can expect the same negative correlation. In the example of the study, it was rewards that pressurized the process, but an order can have the same effect because of the stress it creates. This is a phenomenon that’s been explored time and time again by sociologists, psychologists and economists.

Dan Ariely uses several examples in his book, The Upside of Irrationality, to illustrate that people actually behave less rationally the harder they try. Though some innovative ideas can seem a little bizarre at first, introducing irrationality into the idea incubation process is just asking for trouble.

Green Day Portrait Session

In the words of rockers and guys-who-look-like-they-stayed-up-all-night-watching-anime Green Day, “You can’t go forcing something if it’s just not right.”

That’s why The Athena Project is not, nor will ever be, a mandatory event. Not to attend, and certainly not to present. By keeping it open, only the passionate people who actually want to contribute do, and the results are pure and usually a higher quality because of it.

The Athena Project belongs to all of us, and it’s open. If an initiative like The Athena Project was a directive, then it would transform from an event where Sailors share ideas because they want to into a mandatory event in which Sailors “mail in” thoughts because they are required to.

LT Dave Nobles is a Surface Warfare Officer currently assigned to USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) as Weapons Officer. He is also a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.

One Ear For You, the Other For the Band.

By: Todd Richmond, Ph.D.

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Sometimes people get locked into certain ways of thinking, or look to the same places for inspiration or ideas.  Often the best lessons for your work can come from totally unrelated areas of your life like sports or music. 5-time Grammy winning bassist Victor Wooten tells a story about one of his first studio sessions in Nashville. He was a young, hot-shot bass player with amazing chops.

Victor was recording with the Memphis Horns, and at the end of the session he came out elated. He had nailed the material, and was playing at the top of his game. But much to his chagrin, one of the leaders of the Memphis Horns pulled him aside afterwards and said, “you know Victor, one ear is for you – the other ear is for the band.”

Victor knew exactly what he meant, and took that phrase with him on every gig since then. It doesn’t matter how good you are at what you do. Invariably tasks as accomplished by groups, and if you’re not “listening” to others, your individual skills will not be enough to carry the day. I learned a variation on this directly from Victor when I was attending one of his Bass/Nature camps in Tennessee. Our group was working on improvisation, and while he and Anthony Wellington played a rhythm figure, students, one by one, took turns playing a solo.

When it came time for my turn, I played some of what I thought were my “best licks”, and was largely error-free. At that point Victor stopped, smiled, and said, “you know Todd, you had some really interesting things to say. Unfortunately you weren’t talking about the same subject as Anthony and me.” That hit me like a lightning bolt, and while part of me wanted to find a hole to crawl into and hide, the other part of me “got it.” I was listening to myself with both ears. Point taken. Another thought that I take to every gig.

The beauty of these stories is that the underlying lesson applies everywhere in your life – especially in the workplace. Have you ever sat in a meeting where you were thinking so hard about what you wanted to say (in order to sound smart), that you didn’t really listen to anyone else? (I have). How about being so focused on what you want or need that you don’t hear reasons from others on why you may want to course-correct? These are all symptoms of the underlying problem of keeping both ears for yourself.

I’ll give you a related situation that happened with one of our projects some time back. We were about 2 weeks away from showing a beta version of a game for training dismounted counter-IED concepts. I was the project lead, and my team had been working very hard in order to hit a crazy deadline (3 months from project start to first delivery). We had a play-test and things went reasonably well from a technical perspective. The code was fairly stable and there were no major bugs. But at the end of the play test, I wasn’t happy. The team gathered to debrief and we went around the room with everyone (programmers, QA, artists, management, etc) giving their plusses and minuses. Then it came to me since I get the last word. I knew my team had really pushed and I wanted to give them the kudos they deserved. But sadly, after doing the play test I knew that the game just wasn’t where it needed to be.

Projects often come to these types of situations. And there are different ways to deal with it. I chose my words carefully, and said, “instructional games ideally need to do two things – they have to train and they should be fun. Right now we have a game that is neither.” I could see the blood drain out of the faces of the team. It sucks to work hard and hear that it isn’t good enough. Now some would have just dropped that grenade and walked out of the room, leaving the team to figure out how to fix it. And sometimes you need to do that. But my “ear” for the team told me that if I was going to tear it down, then I needed to lead them to build it back up. So I went up to the white board and we went through what worked, what didn’t, and how we were going to rethink the problem. After an hour of that we had a new plan of attack and the team was energized to crank out the next version.

So along with keeping an “ear for the band,” this episode resonated with another line I learned from Victor – “feel the groove before you play.” There are a number of different ways to run a project, lead a group, or play a song. But every situation has an inherent “groove.” And it can change from day to day even with the same people involved. So before you speak or make a decision, try and find the groove of the room and the group. It is more art than science, but it turns out if you’re doing the listening thing, the groove generally follows.

If this resonated with you (and even if it didn’t), there are more “aha moments” to be found in Victor’s book, “The Music Lesson.” If ever there was a book that was about far more than its title indicated, this is it.

By day, Todd Richmond is the Director of Advanced Prototypes and Transition at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. By night he is a bass player in a number of bands (www.nostatic.com), is a photographer/filmmaker, and waxes philosophic on the nature of analog and digital. He welcomes comments, feedback, and people disagreeing with him. After all, if we all agreed, we wouldn’t learn anything new.

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.

Never Get Too Comfortable

By: LT Dave Nobles

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As a Weapons Officer, I consider myself privileged to work with some pretty amazing people – Gunner’s Mates, Fire Controlmen and Sonar Technicians as well as a few fresh Junior Officers. It’s a great department and I’m lucky to be a part of it.

Whenever things are going relatively well in the department, I’ll tell the guys something that they’re probably tired of hearing me say: “Don’t get Polaroid on me.”

Whenever those words stumble out, it usually elicits a groan or two, maybe even an eye-roll. But after my chops are adequately busted, the team nods because they know the story. And nobody wants that to happen to them.

Polaroid, founded in 1937 by Edwin H. Land, is best known for instant photos. The company rolled out its first instant photo camera in 1948, ushering in a new era for photography. In the 1960s and 1970s, Polaroid was THE “it” company, with some even likening the company’s influence and style to Apple’s today. Polaroid was trendy, cool and dominant.

From the glory days through the 1980s and even into the 1990s, Polaroid owned the industry. Polaroid even forced Kodak out of the instant photo realm in the mid-80s. The company was edgy, aggressive and innovative. And life was good.

So then why did Polaroid file for bankruptcy (for the first time) in 2001?

Because it got too comfortable and the digital imaging revolution roundhouse kicked the company in the face.

Even though Polaroid produced a digital camera in 1996, relatively early in the revolution, their lack of investment into the future caught them flat footed and they failed. Now, the once-great corporation is now a niche product, relegated to dusty photo albums and the hands of bearded hipsters (to take pictures of their record players).

In its heyday, Polaroid was so popular that it was verbed AND nouned. Like many companies and products – Google, Xerox, Sharpie, and more – that’s when you know you’ve really made it.

Well, for the purposes of motivation, we’ve verbed and nouned it too. But to us, it means something else.

To Polaroid is to lose when you could have won. To miss out on an opportunity because you weren’t prepared. To fail to see the distant elephant and end up getting trampled by it.

We try to avoid going Polaroid by keeping the press on. Instead of kicking our feet up, we’ll continue to work with the future in mind. We’ll ask ourselves – “What’s next?” – and apply that methodology to stay ahead of the game. Whether it’s planning maintenance or dreaming up an idea for the next Athena Project, the mindset should remain the same.

Remember these guys?

Remember these guys?

Polaroid was a victim of disruptive innovation and its story isn’t rare. Advancements in technology leave case studies littered along the side of the road: CRT televisions, VHS tapes, the music industry, bookstores, and the list goes on and on. Companies that got rolled didn’t see it coming until it was too late.

While may not be trying to maintain market share in the camera industry, we can easily fall victim as well if we don’t stay focused, pay attention and put in the work.

So, go be Nikon or Canon instead. And don’t get caught on your heels.

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