Make A Dent From Wherever You Are

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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.

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

LT Nobles is a Surface Warfare Officer assigned to USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) as Weapons Officer.

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Work, Basketball and the Manager With A Dream.

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By: LT Clarence Harris

Marshay Gorman was the manager of my high school basketball team. I know what you’re thinking: Why is a former Naval Academy fullback babbling about the manager of my high school basketball squad in this innovation blog? Well, I’ll tell you…

Marshay handled all the team’s equipment during my freshman and sophomore years. Coach would always fuss about him shooting during the Junior Varsity and Varsity practices. He also had a tendency to dribble the ball at the most inopportune times and regularly got an earful of Coach as a result. Marshay loved the game, though. Inside that manager was a vision of greatness.

Day in and day out for two years Marshay would dribble and shoot hours before the team hit the court and he’d do it again hours after the late practices were over. Before and after games he practiced his tail off and continued to dream of becoming a part of the team and proving not only to himself but to everyone that believed and him that he could do it.

Greatness doesn’t come easy and making something happen against heavy odds is even harder. But then there was Marshay. During tryouts at the beginning of our junior season, the once-manager hit the court and shocked everyone. He had some serious game.  The coaches saw it too and Marshay made the team. Even though he was fighting for an already-taken position, he become a starter quickly and went on to become the conference’s leading scorer. It was awesome to see all of his desire and determination come to life before all of our eyes.

We all often reflected on the vision that he had and the drive that he possessed to get to that point. He was humble and determined to make a positive contribution to our team and make us better than we were without him. We all know what he had gone through to get to this point and welcomed him with open arms. All those nonbelievers became believers and rooted him…US on!

Marshay was hungry. He not only had the desire to, but knew that he could help our basketball team in winning and becoming better as a whole. He know that he would have to work when others were resting he know that it would not be easy. He knew that if he simply told our coach that he wanted to play on the team and contribute that the coach wouldn’t entertain the idea. The guy had dreams. Dreaming about hitting that game winner was easy for Marshay – he loved the game of basketball.

What he had to do was do.  And doing isn’t always easy.  It’s work.

Ok, so what does any of this have to do with innovation, The Athena Project, or making our organization better? If you ask me I will quickly tell you that there are a lot of Marshay Gormans amongst us. People who have the dream, the vision, and are willing to put in the work to make a contribution to our Navy team. To make a change for the better.

The tough part about it is that we can’t forget that this change may not happen in a week, a month or even a year. But we can’t give up. Having a vision is one thing, but putting in the work to make it happen is something else altogether. Sometimes things get rough, but we have to continue to believe in our ideas and not be deterred by any naysayers. We have to ‘Marshay Up’ – Work Hard. Work Late. Work Before. Work After. Do whatever it takes to make your vision come to life. Your contribution is needed and welcomed. And you will be backed up by everyone that understands the time, energy, and focus is essential to making a change for the better. And you to will be rooted on to the finish.

You just have to pick up the ball and start dribbling.

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

LT Harris is a Surface Warfare Officer assigned to USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) as Combat Systems Officer.