Introducing, ATHENA Far East!

By LTJG Tom Baker

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USS BENFOLD (DDG 65), the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, and a team of innovation veterans from fleet concentration areas across the United States have teamed up in Japan to establish ATHENA Far East, our first permanent ATHENA hub outside of the continental United States!

Rooting itself at Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY), Japan, the opportunities to collaborate with Japanese and American sailors are tremendous.

The surface and submarine mariner of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces across Yokosuka Bay, an entrepreneurship professor from a local university, the talented civilian maintenance community, an aviation mechanic in Aircraft Carrier RONALD REAGAN…we will reach at every corner of civilian and military entrepreneurship to bring the same diverse conversation under one roof that has made every ATHENA so successful before us!

If you are in Japan, make plans now to join us on January 15th from 1245 – 1430 at the Commodore Matthew Perry General Mess “Tatami Room” on the Yokosuka Navy Base.

Any Military members or DoD Civilians interested in pitching ideas at this event can reach out on facebook or connect with us on the gmail account listed below!

Connect with Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail athenanavy@gmail.com!

 

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The Supply Corps: Cracking The Code on Military Internships

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Editor’s Note: For quite some time, many have called for improved internship opportunities for unrestricted line officers. From Esteban Castellanos’ DEF 2013 externships idea to CDR Michele Day’s pitch for Sailor internships at last week’s Waterfront Athena Five, folks within various communities in the Navy have been beating the drum for internship opportunities to strengthen their contributions to the service. As it stands now, the opportunities are rare and at senior levels, like the SECDEF Corporate Fellows Program – which is only open to Commanders and Captains and is usually post-command. The Navy Supply Corps, on the other hand, offers “Training With Industry” opportunities at more junior levels, and this post is the story of one experience with that program. It would appear that the other communities have a lot to learn!

By LCDR Shannon Walker, SC, USN

Would you like to enhance your supply chain skills and learn from an industry leader?   If so, your next set of orders could take you to Atlanta, GA, as a Training With Industry (TWI) Supply Chain Executive fellow.  My introduction to The Home Depot (THD) and the home improvement industry has been nothing short of great.  My selection for this wonderful opportunity was a direct result of following the career guidance Supply Corps Officers receive from the Office of Personnel via the road shows and advice from countless mentors.  Sustained superior performance is required to get you on the short list of eligibles for a TWI tour, and is mandatory to get the most from a year working as a member of THD’s supply chain; this ensures a valuable relationship between the Supply Corps and The Home Depot, a win-win situation for both organizations.

My career followed the typical path of a mid-grade Supply Corps officer and prepared me for success at THD.  Tours at the U.S. Fleet Logistics Center, Yokosuka, Japan and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) in Fort Belvoir, VA gave me the supply chain background necessary to be a valuable contributor and member of The Home Depot supply chain team.  As a member of Commander Pacific Fleet (N4) and a prior Flag Aide, I was groomed to understand the strategic picture.  Earning my master’s degree in business administration at the College of William & Mary ensured I had the formal tools necessary to contribute immediately.  In terms of education, experience, and skill set, Supply Corps officers stand toe-to-toe with our counterparts at THD, and in many cases, our career track is more diverse thanks to our experiences and broader perspectives.

Corporate Challenges & Key Take-Aways:

My duties as the Deputy National Account Manager and working with the comparative supply chain operations at DLA enabled a seamless transition to the THD Store Support Center.   The Supply Corps and THD have many of the same challenges including increasing stock turns, budgeting, and personnel management, although, I would submit THD has the benefit of autonomy in selecting their team.  A couple of big distinctions include the daily management of profit/loss statements and the drive to keep a step ahead of competitors.  Shareholder accountability and fiscal viability are top priorities.  They have to continually improve and innovate to maintain and grow their market share in their industry.  For example, their transition into the e-commerce sector with the opening of a new direct fulfillment center in Locust Grove, GA with two more on the way supports their interconnected retail strategy and adds versatility to their supply chain strategy.

Companies like The Home Depot have Core Values too --- and a lot more to offer!

Companies like The Home Depot have Core Values too — and a lot more to offer!

Culture Analysis:

Similar to the Navy, THD’s core values are the fabric of the company’s culture and are central to their success. THD has developed its culture based on 8 values:

  • Taking care of our people
  • Giving Back
  • Doing the right thing
  • Excellent customer service
  • Creating shareholder value
  • Building strong relationships
  • Entrepreneurial spirit
  • Respect for all

In fact, THD’s values are a competitive advantage in the marketplace.  Associate pride and its “orange-blooded” entrepreneurial spirit are distinctive hallmarks of the culture proudly symbolized by the  orange apron.  The THD value wheel is prominently displayed on every apron.  There are significant parallels in both THD culture and the culture being embedded by RADM Yuen including a “work environment characterized by communication, command climate, and collaboration”.

Business Operations: 

Operationally, THD is divided into the 3 divisions: West, North, and South.  They also have operations in Mexico, Canada, and China.  The supply chain supports each with divisional teams including: inventory planning and replenishment; transportation; distribution; direct fulfillment; finance; and supply chain development.  With the exception of direct fulfillment (eCommerce), the Supply Corps performs each of these various functions globally.  The Home Depot operations are further broken down into store operations and support – very similar to the Navy’s concept of line/unrestricted line and staff corps.

The battle rhythm is fierce and the pace is built around key events like the spring season and “Black Friday”.  The housing market and its recovery is a key driver and leading indicator of the home improvement industry and thus, THD’s success.

In support of my executive fellowship, The Home Depot provided me with access to meetings and reports, allowed me to travel to various locations in order to learn operations, and had me work with matrix teams in support of numerous projects.  A refreshing aspect of being assigned to THD is that they expect you to bring your experience and expertise to the table and contribute.  This tour will allow you to go as far as you want in terms of participation and involvement, providing left and right limits, and allowing you to problem solve.

I spent my first six months in transportation working on various projects including alignment of regional fleets and as the transportation lead for the realignment of distribution centers.  The regional fleet initiative was designed to reduce transportation costs by taking advantage of backhaul opportunities and improving equipment utilization by implementing continuous loops. I represented the transportation division as the point person for store moves in the North and South Divisions.  This included being the focal point of coordination for the transportation work plan ensuring we remained on task and schedule.  The work plan contained in excess of 200 tasks.

The last six months were spent in distribution assigned to the Southern Distribution Team.  My individual focus was on process improvements within the distribution centers (DCs) that helped drive increased operational efficiencies and productivity.  I participated as a member of a matrix team chartered to lean out processes and promulgate changes to other DCs in the network.  This was a great utilization of my lean six sigma green belt skills.

Unique Opportunities: 

My tour at THD provided several unique opportunities including weekly face-to-face executive level meetings, quarterly office calls with several senior executives, travel opportunities with senior executives including corporate travel via THDs private fleet, earning reports announcements, and Spring in the Store and Fall in the Field (unique programs that allow corporate associates the opportunity to work in a store 1 day a week during Spring and or Fall). I also attended two major supply chain conferences including Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals.  Senior Supply Corps leadership attended both conferences including RADM (Ret) Bianchi as the guest speaker for RILA in San Diego, CA.  Involvement with THD foundation was another benefit of my TWI Tour.

The Home Depot Foundation is the philanthropic arm of The Home Depot.  The Home Depot Foundation makes an impact in thousands of communities nationwide through cash grants, product donations and thousands of hours of volunteerism by Home Depot associates.  For every dollar or product donated and every hour volunteered, the goal is to support nonprofits that focus on repairing, remodeling and maintaining affordable housing for deserving families and individuals.  The Home Depot Foundation is dedicated to ensuring every veteran has a safe place to call home.  To achieve our mission, the Foundation has committed to investing $80 million over five years to nonprofits who specifically address veterans’ housing needs.  In addition, through Team Depot, our associate-led volunteer force, our associates will be volunteering their time and expert skills to repair and remodel veterans’ homes and facilities.

Imagine what the Navy could learn through symbiotic partnerships with any number of organizations!

Imagine what the Navy could learn through symbiotic partnerships with any number of organizations!

Personal Perspective:  What truly made this tour great is the unfettered access to the executive level leaders in the supply chain and throughout the entire organization including finance, merchandising, store operations, field level executives, the planning process, reports, etc.  The exposure to senior executives is unmatched unless you have had the opportunity to have been an admiral’s aide or worked on a Flag level staff.  I participated in daily and weekly meetings at the executive vice president, vice president, and senior director level to include business reviews, steering committee, and productivity reviews.  I was also privileged to be a part of executive outings including supply chain reviews and other educational opportunities.  To be in the conference room, car, or plane and participate in discussions and witness the thought process that goes into the decisions making process made my tour at THD invaluable.

During my year on board The Home Depot I came to realize there is a lot more to The Home Depot than the brick and mortar stores and the 10% discount.  Just as Supply Corps officers are in the background supporting the warfighter, behind all the commercials and advertisements there are lots of supply chain professionals.  They support much more, including, merchants, compliance, Home Depot University, The Home Depot Foundation, the many associate resource groups including the Military Appreciation Group, and many others.

I left The Home Depot a better, more well rounded officer and logistician who positively contributed to improvements in transportation and distribution operations during my time on board.  Naval Supply Systems Command Weapons Systems Support Philadelphia gained an officer with a less myopic approach to problem solving and more open to the change as the operating environment changes.  I attribute much of this success to the training and experience gained in my previous tours and the willingness of The Home Depot team to allow me use my skills as a member of the supply chain executive team.  I “earned my apron” and you can also.

The Launches Must Go On: Thinking Outside the Box and using AEGIS Assets to Support Space Launches.

By: LT William Hughes

ImageSometimes, solutions to problems come in the places you don’t expect, and it might not be in a field you are even involved in. Take me, for example: I’m a straight stick Surface Warfare Officer, but ask anyone on the BENFOLD I work with and they’ll tell you I’m the biggest space geek ever. I’m always reading some article or another about a new rocket design or a planned mission to some asteroid or moon. With that in mind, I also apply my SWO perspective to what I read about current space programs. I’m also constantly thinking about how we can make things better.

Space is still the final frontier, and we’re still sending rockets up to support manned and unmanned missions. The United States Air Force works with NASA to provide launch facilities for American space missions: Cape Canaveral in Florida, Wallops Island in Virginia, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California are all locations that have seen rockets slip the surly bonds of Earth. Whether said rockets are bound for a low Earth, geosynchronous, or polar orbits, or headed off even to the Moon or beyond to the outer planets and deep space, they all launch from the same pads and use similar infrastructures.

At each facility, powerful radars track every launch to ensure that supersonic rockets do not stray from their intended tracks. In addition to instrument packages that beam telemetry data back to mission control, Notices to Airman and Notices to Mariners (NOTAMs and NTMs) to warn people away from potential debris fields, and high tech cameras to follow the rockets on their downrange, technology exists to get the payload to orbit and get it there safely.

In March of 2014, a fire at a radar facility servicing Cape Canaveral caused enough damage to delay the launches of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V and a Falcon 9 built by SpaceX. ULA’s rocket was slated to carry a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, SpaceX’s was supposed to deliver several thousand pounds of supplies to the International Space Station. Both launches were delayed because a AN/MPS-39 radar was out of commission due to a fire.

What’s so special about this radar? According to the Army’s White Sands Missile Range, the AN/MPS-39 is a C-Band, phased array radar. With a search volume of 60 degrees by 60 degrees, its 5 mega-watt output allows it to track a 6 inch sphere at 120km. I wonder, is there any system out there that can do the same job?

Aegis ships, such as the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers and Ticonderoga Class Cruisers, are outfitted with SPY-1 radars. SPY has become the workhorse of the Navy, and with good reason: the radar is a beast and the rest of the hardware and software that comprise the Aegis Combat System are even scarier. SPY is an S-Band phased radar that can pump out 6 mega-watts. 60 degree search volume? SPY was designed to shepherd billion dollar warships through fast paced, multi-threat environments. It’s a set of fixed billboard emitters, but with the 4 separate arrays, provides 360 degree coverage from horizon to zenith. Where the AN/MPS-39 has to slew on its mount to gain the same coverage, SPY is electronically steerable and can simultaneously track while scan. Where the Air Force’s radar has a range out to 120km, SPY can see out to nearly 200km, and certain baselines can push out far beyond.

Aegis ships are more than capable to track rockets blasting off. It’s no strain on the radar resources, and having an Aegis ship on station actually gives range officials more options. In addition to the previously used methods to guarantee range safety, the ability of the SPY radar to simultaneously track the rocket and scan for other aircraft could be utilized to spot aircraft inadvertently entering the path of the rocket, and ditto for ships or boats by using the numerous surface search radars onboard. Each Aegis ship has an entire bubble of water space it can continuously monitor. The data links that would be used to pass track data back to mission control could also be used to share information between multiple ships, allowing for an even great degree of monitoring for launch activities.

Norfolk is about a day’s voyage from Cape Canaveral, and Mayport is even closer. On the West Coast, San Diego is a similarly short trip from Vandenberg. The logic is pretty simple: we can allow single point failures in radars to delay already costly launches, or we can use existing, mobile assets of equal and greater capability, already located in the same geographic region, to augment and keep launches on schedule.

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The process for solving this issue is the same as solving other problems in different fields. Keep your aperture open, pay attention to what you’re passionate about, and if some idea jumps out at you that seems a bit froggy, don’t be afraid to run with it. I’m not a genius. I don’t have some whamodyne degree in space science physics. I don’t even want to launch a rocket into orbit; I just want to track one.

 

LT Hughes is the Navigator on the guided missile destroyer, USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He’s detaching soon to work in the N96 shop at OPNAV in Washington, DC. A self-proclaimed “space nerd,” LT Hughes dreams of one day making a space family and taking space walks.

Interested in ATHENA? Come to our next event, Waterfront ATHENA Five, at Societe Brewing in San Diego, California. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @AthenaNavy. Want to present an idea? Message us!

 

More Than Just Nametags

By: LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell

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It has been a rough week.

Last weekend, I flew back to the East Coast to attend my grandfather’s funeral.  It was a very tough time for my family, but I was so thankful to be able to make it back and spend the weekend celebrating his life with everyone.  My grandfather had such a tremendous impact on my entire family, especially my twelve cousins and I.  He always encouraged us to follow our dreams, study hard, spend time with family, have fun, and have a strong faith.  After years spent together at Sunday dinners, vacations on Cape Cod and the annual O’Donnell Family Christmas, I only knew him as Grampy.

While celebrating his life this past weekend I had the honor of meeting the tremendous people that he had worked with for the past fifty years as a physicist and program manager for the United States Navy.  For the first time, I saw a different side of Grampy.  I always knew that he didn’t want to retire, and but I never truly understood why until this weekend.  After talking with dozens of his colleagues from Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, I understood why.

It was because of the people.

My grandfather truly got to know the people he worked with everyday and made every effort to mentor them and get to know them on a personal level.  He loved his job because of the people, and they loved him because he cared.

Just before my flight back to San Diego on Monday night I got news that I had lost a shipmate in an accident over the weekend.  Of course, I was very impacted by the news. News that you never want to get.  While I was on the plane I had time to reflect on the events of the weekend, and something really resonated with me: We are more than just nametags.  We are more than just our ratings, more than our ranks, more than our work.

We are people.

Each person that I work with everyday is someone special.  They all have a background, a family, and a past.  We all joined the Navy for different reasons and we all have a family at home, but now we are together serving as a “family” on BENFOLD. The weekend, while sad, made me appreciate that I need take the time to get to know the people I serve with as part of my ‘work family.’

We all have families outside of our work families.

We all have families outside of our work families that are waiting for us to come home.

In the Navy, our job revolves around the mission.  There is no doubt that as Sailors we come to work to get the job done everyday and we do whatever it takes to get there.  With the long hours we spend on the ship every day, not to mention the months spent away from family on deployment, we lean on each other for support and friendship.

I spent the majority of my last deployment standing watch in our Combat Information Center.  With six hours of watch everyday with the same team, I got to know them on a personal level.  Although we came from all over the country with different backgrounds and our ages ranged over twenty years, I couldn’t imagine getting through deployment without my watch team.

I would have never guessed that I would have bonded so strongly with the group, but when we took time to get to know each other we truly became a family.  My watchteam knew what team I routed for (obviously, the Patriots), how I took my coffee, why I can’t eat before I go on a run, and when I just needed my space.  Building the relationship we did on deployment made us that much more excited to go to watch together and allowed us to work together as a team when the mission called.

At sea, our teammates are our family.

At sea, our teammates are our family.

But sometimes we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the ship.  We get stressed out with upcoming inspections, certifications and maintenance.  To be honest, I am the first person to get completely stressed and focused on the next training opportunity or be caught up preparing programs for an upcoming inspection.  And although this is all extremely important for the mission, I realize I need to take time to get to know the people around me.

Life isn’t just about the next promotion you get or the next major evolution you reach, but the people you meet along the way.  So, when you’re sitting in the next meeting or waiting to get a chit routed, take some time and get to know someone.  Ask the sailor next to you how their weekend was or where they are from or what their kids are up to.  Get to know them from a different perspective.  Because at the end of the day, they are someone’s son, they are someone’s wife, they are someone’s father, mother, sister, brother, grandfather, grandmother, friend.

At work people see me as the Training Officer.  They actually might turn the other way when they see me coming because I am usually trying to get them to attend some mandatory training event or asking why they haven’t turned in their program reviews for the week.

But they would probably be surprised to see me when I go home to Maryland.  At home, I am the oldest of three children.  My brother and I are always competing and my sister and I are always sharing clothes.  My mom and I go for runs together and I ask my dad for advice.  My grandmother still makes the best crabcakes in the world and I am usually found on the floor coloring or playing dolls with my little cousins.  I am a daughter, granddaughter, sister, cousin, friend, and Navy officer.

This week I realized that everyone I work with has a story.  Everyone has a family and everyone deserves you to get to know them.

I challenge you to recognize the people you work with.  Get to know them and see them in a personal way.  You don’t have to be friends; you just have to have empathy.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, empathy is “ the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

Further, using empathy to understand people and how they act on the job can help us trigger insights that we might not have otherwise seen.  And that alone can be a breeding ground for innovation. Companies far and wide apply empathetic research to design new products for the end user, but who’s to say we can’t use this in the Navy to perform our mission better?

By learning about each other, we might just have more than the Navy in common.  And I’ll bet, that by getting to know the people around you it will make you that much more excited to come to work everyday.

So, the next time you get frustrated with a shipmate, take a step back and see them from a different perspective.  Remember they are someone’s brother, sister, son, daughter, father, mother.  Just because they do something differently doesn’t mean it’s not right.  When we get to know the people we work with we can better understand what motivates them, what frustrates them, and where they get their perspective.  The best part about the Navy is that we are a mixing bowl of people from all different backgrounds and experiences and each one of us brings a different perspective to the table.

The Navy may be about powerful warships, fighter planes, fast attack submarines and missile launches but in the end we are just defending our country.  We, the people, are protecting the people.  We all, from our own families, protecting families, and now part of another family – USS BENFOLD.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: Life is short.  Take advantage of the time.  Appreciate your surroundings.  Get to know the people you work with.  Give everyone a chance.  Consider the other perspective.

 

LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell is the Training Officer onboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). She’s a Marine Engineering graduate of Massachusetts Maritime Academy class of 2010.

Interested in pitching at our upcoming Waterfront Athena Event on February 13th at San Diego’s Ballast Point Little Italy Tasting Room? Message us!

Beware the Scenery: Noticing the Unnoticed

By: LT Dave Nobles

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Shipyards are filthy, filthy places.

There are a lot of things that I love about the Navy, but a prolonged stay in a shipyard for a maintenance availability just ain’t one of them. Nonetheless, my ship has been moored at BAE Systems Shipyard in San Diego for an extensive Combat Systems Modernization to AEGIS Baseline 9C.

As anyone in the Navy can tell you, the shipyard environment brings with it a unique set of leadership challenges. Not the least of these is keeping things clean. BENFOLD entered the shipyard in August, and I can tell you: We’ve been battling to maintain cleanliness in this industrial environment ever since.

Fast forward to Saturday. It was a typical duty day for me as Command Duty Officer, and I had just finished observing evening colors. After we’d finished up, my Section Leader and I walked back to our berthing barge (moored outboard of us, because the crew can’t sleep on the torn-apart warship) for 8 O’Clock Reports when I noticed something.

I looked over to my left on the way into the barge and noticed some dirt on a bulkhead (wall, for the non-nautical). Honestly, it didn’t even seem too dirty, so I reached out and touched it. When I did, my fingerprints left two bold white streaks through the layers of dirt that had built up there.

Now, this is a bulkhead that we all walk by on a daily basis on our way into the barge. As I said before, we’ve been waging war against the dust bunnies since we came in the yards, so how did we miss this?

Because it became part of the scenery. We fell into the entrenchment trap.

At a small level, it’s the Broken Windows Theory in action: A building with broken, unrepaired windows is more likely to be vandalized. By the theory, vandals believe that if the windows aren’t repaired, then it must be “all right” to break more. Eventually, that leads to increased crime of all types in a neighborhood.

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“Oh, this must be the land where vandalism is OK!”
-Vandal

In the shipyard environment, surrounded by filth, metal shards, discarded contractor earplugs and the like (trust me, there are many worse things, too) the dirty bulkhead became subconsciously “all right” despite our best efforts as a crew.

Well not anymore: Because we caught it. We fixed the window.

And as we scrubbed the filthy bulkhead together with warm, soapy water, I had some time to reflect. This was a microcosmic example of a bigger phenomena: When you’ve been in a place or at an organization long enough, things just start to become part of the scenery. Whether it be a process, a dirty wall, or a program, sometimes it pays to take a step back and view it with a fresh set of eyes. A critical set of eyes.

At all of our organizations, we may have grown accustomed to practices that may require a fresh take or a change. These, my friends, are the petri dishes of innovation.

So, what did I learn at the end of the day? Well, first and foremost, I got a good reminder to bring a more critical eye to the daily walk of my department’s spaces onboard the ship. But, I also learned that the same critical, fresh eye can be applied to any area on the ship and beyond.

In the book Creative Confidence, Tom and David Kelley advocate carrying “bug lists” of things that you may see with fresh eyes that could be done better. The idea being that the list will inspire idea generation for a movement, service or business that you could start to fix it. The book is also filled with examples of people who’ve gone the full distance when they found something that needed fixing and fixed it. Really inspiring stuff.

So, let’s do the same onboard our ships and within our organizations. Let’s don the fresh set of eyes and refuse to let things become part of the scenery.

Mahatma Ghandi said that we should be the change that we want to see in the world. So, let’s resolve to change what needs changing and fix what needs fixing, and let’s make things better. Because better is good.

Don’t forget the warm, soapy water.

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.

Interested in pitching at our upcoming Waterfront Athena Event on February 13th at San Diego’s Ballast Point Little Italy Tasting Room? Message us!

Artistry… from the Sea

By: LT Dave Nobles

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I was on a flight not too long ago when something stood out to me. Rather, some one.

It was just your run-of-the-mill Southwest Airlines flight from San Diego to Chicago, about a week before the rush of holiday travel with people clamoring to get home to family to enjoy a heaping helping of Thanksgiving turkey.

But this flight turned out to be exceptional, and the one who shattered the humdrum, monotonous chore of air travel was an energetic flight attendant. I can see how it would be easy for any flight attendant to slap on a fake smile, give a half-hearted, robotic safety brief, toss passengers some peanuts and tell them “buh bye” as they depart the aircraft on the way to their final destinations.

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Very easy to feel like you’re in an SNL skit on a flight.

But not this flight attendant. Her charisma was magnetic – contagious even. She joked with passengers, delighted everyone on the announcing system, gave an entertaining and informative safety brief and appeared to genuinely care about the passengers. She even sang the song, “Sweet Home Chicago” as we landed in the Windy City. All around, her effort made the flight enjoyable and memorable (at the very least, she made me forget about the painful “cattle call” seating experience!).

The great companies – The ones with endearing products that delight the consumer – have this same tendency to treat their work as art. Just like that memorable flight attendant. From Apple’s focus on getting even the smallest detail right to Stone Brewing Company creating amazing craft brews while having a blast to Whole Foods’ commitment to healthy selections and friendly service, those organizations that treat their work as art succeed. The effort is evident in the product.

In the Navy, our product is readiness. In a grander sense, what we deliver to our customers (American people) is freedom, but we do that by ensuring that our ships, submarines and aircraft are ready – Ready to operate forward, ready to deter aggression, and ready to win a fight if necessary.

The tough part is that readiness is difficult to quantify, and that sometimes impacts the motivation of our Sailors. The best measure of our readiness to complete the mission when challenged is often the final grade of an inspection. Over time, this has the potential to negatively impact Sailors’ performance – the grand question of purpose.

Was she focused on the bottom line for the airline? Profits and losses? Nope. She just wanted to be better. It was inspiring. It was working like an artist.

In the case of my flight, the genuine artistry of this amazing flight attendant resulted in a better flight. You could see it on every face on that airplane. For Sailors in the Navy, working like an artist is about being passionate and creative. It’s about finding ways to make things better and about killing the phrase “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

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Imagine a ship full of linchpins!

Entire books and blogs preach the practice of working like an artist. In the book Linchpin, Seth Godin offers a stream of quotables on the topic. He claims that rather than seeking a better job or boss, we need to all get in touch with what it means to feel passionate about our work, because people with passion look for ways to make things happen.

What can we do to make things happen, especially at junior levels? Look for ways that your ship, submarine, squadron or command can get better. Have the confidence to let your voice be heard, and the perseverance to see your ideas through. Spoiler alert: it’s going to be hard work. But, if we have courageous patience, we might actually get something done!

After all, like Godin said, “Transferring your passion to your job is far easier than finding a job that happens to match your passion.”

So, let’s all be passionate about what we do. Let’s work like artists and sing “Sweet Home Chicago” all the way to a better Fleet.

 

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, or e-mail ATHENA@ddg65.navy.mil!

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.

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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.

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

Creatures of Habit

By: LT Dave Nobles

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At every military unit, there is some single document that governs troops’ schedule. In the Navy, we have the Plan of the Day (POD).

Quoting from the top of the POD that’s sitting in front of me right now. Ahem…

“FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY – ALL HANDS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR KNOWING THE CONTENTS OF THE POD.”

Now, there are certain things you can just count on: Benjamin Franklin said death and taxes, while many have said that the only thing you can count on is change. Well, here on the mighty warship USS BENFOLD, you can count on ‘khaki call’ at 0630 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

The Executive Officer (XO) writes the POD and sometimes may miss adding in that essential meeting to the daily schedule, particularly when there are a lot of other moving parts in the daily grind. I’ll tell you what, though: Even if that meeting is not in the POD on a Wednesday, our entire cadre of leaders will still be standing in formation, bright and early on Hump Day.

Why? Because we’re creatures of habit.

Also, because the XO would scorch the earth if we weren’t there.

The point is that we all have routines and schedules, and the more you do whatever it is you do in alignment with your routine, the more effortless it is. Further, once something’s become habit, it just doesn’t feel right not doing what you’re supposed to when you’ve always done it.

Many books, like Charles Duhigg’s Power of Habit, talk about habitizing through repetition, making any process more natural. Almost automatic.

So, why can’t we treat innovation that way? Why can’t we make it a force of habit and put some time in our daily schedules for it?

Think. Ideate. Repeat.

In the surface fleet, our schedules are packed as it is with inspection preps, maintenance, training and meetings. I get it. But, can we really not find a half hour a day? An hour twice a week? Something?

One option would be to build some white space into the daily routine to allow people the chance to occupy their minds with their own pursuits vice occupying their hands with the pursuits of others, if they so choose. They could think big thoughts and work together as a team to solve issues. Or, they could take the time to catch up on maintenance or administrivia. But, why not encourage free thinking during that time, or even facilitate it?

The true innovators out there will use the time. On BENFOLD, I think we’ve grown to ‘automate’ some of that creative thinking time by openly sharing ideas with each other. Perhaps it’s because The Athena Project was born onboard, or maybe we grew into it while striving to think through our presentations in support of Athena. Whatever the case may be, in our time in between the cavalcade of obligations it’s become very commonplace to see a groups break off in the wardroom, classroom or somebody’s office to think through ideas on how to make things better.

And that’s good.

Somebody will come in with an idea, we’ll apply a little design-thinking to it and away we’ll go to a whiteboard. There is no specific “innovation window” in the POD, but we just do it now. It’s natural. It’s habit.

That concept is nothing new for our friends in Corporate America. In fact, it’s pretty old. 3M has been doing it since 1948 with their “15% Time.” Their engineers devised projects that were so revolutionary but so incredibly “duh” in retrospect, like the Post-It Note.

Many companies have adopted similar implemented processes that bake that free-thinking into the daily routine, or just encourage it as a portion of the day. Organizations like Google, who developed Google Earth and Gmail out of their ‘20% Time,’ have more nebulous schedules wherein the concept of “carved out time” is more of a culture than a rule. When it’s culture, it’s habit and it’s hard to kill.

So, let’s make it culture. Let’s make innovation a force of habit in our daily routines. Sure, it might take some coaching in the early stages of such a paradigm shift, but who knows what we might get out of it.

I’d venture to say it might be something pretty cool.

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ATHENA Project Showcase: Illumination

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For surface ships in the U.S. Navy, day-to-day operations can sometimes feel like a cavalcade of inspections, assist visits and assessments across a growing spectrum of warfare areas, programs and processes. Many of these assessments are conducted by different organizations, and in typical Navy fashion, the requirements for each are contained in a handy checksheet.

Unfortunately, because each inspection is independent of the others, the checksheets will often contain redundant (or even worse, contradictory) guidance.

LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell aimed to improve this process with her Athena pitch for a program called Illumination.

LTJG O’Donnell, the Training Officer onboard USS BENFOLD, proposed the formation of a small functional team whose charge would be to consolidate the requirements found in each checksheet into a single, usable document for each warfare area.

Time to knock out those ASA Checksheets!

Time to knock out those ASA Checksheets!

The Illumination Team, while incorporating all requisite guidance into a “one-stop shop,” would also provide program managers with an in-depth local assessment of each area of cognizance prior to any off-ship inspection.

The schedule for the local assessments would be overlaid atop the ship’s schedule through the training cycle. Each area that the ship was responsible for would be scrutinized in depth prior to an assessment, while leaving adequate time to correct deficiencies prior to “game day.”

“It’s a tall order to stay ahead of all these inspections. There are just so many of them!” LTJG O’Donnell said. “Basically, we’re just trying to work smarter and not harder.”

LTJG O’Donnell drafted a command instruction governing the Illumination program, and hopes to implement it onboard BENFOLD prior to commencement of the ship’s training cycle. BENFOLD is presently moored at BAE Systems Shipyard in San Diego undergoing a complex combat systems upgrade to Advanced Capability Build 12.

LTJG O’Donnell said that her goal in the long-term is to create consolidated checksheets for every warfare area over the next year and to share those functional documents with other Guided Missile Destroyers that would eventually have to traverse the guantlet of inspections in preparation for a deployment.

“If we can make it easier to ensure that we’re at our top readiness by consolidating requirements, then we would have more time to focus on training and operating,” LTJG O’Donnell said.

 

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