Project Pulse: Air Squeegee

By LCDR Mark Blaszczyk

cropped-1174558_516304561779875_250502957_n.jpg

With less than a week until Waterfront Athena 8, we’re showcasing some of the success stories from our previous events. Here is some background and an update on one of the ideas presented at Athena 7, the Air Squeegee by STG1 Michael Butcher, COMLCSRON ONE.

The design process for his concept started when he was a junior sailor, being one of the people that had to perform the sometimes dangerous activity of drying the towed array sonar. Like many of our Athenians, he always thought that there had to be a better and safer way to do it.

His idea for an air drying system didn’t come about until he was at COMLCSRON ONE, when the ASW package was being installed on the Littoral Combat Ship. In the process, there was a question about how to get the drogue out of the extra-long fairlead that the ship was fitted with.  STG1 suggested that an angled air jet be used to blow the line through the fairlead, and it’s from that idea that his Air Squeegee pitch was born.  If there were three jets, then full coverage could be achieved and the array could be dried off without the need to hand wipe it.

About a year later he learned about The Athena Project and figured it would be a good opportunity to pursue his dream of never having to wipe down an array again. He presented his prototype at Athena 7 and though he didn’t win the Admiral Sims award,  his idea received considerable attention.

STG1 Butcher's first prototype of the Air Squeegee, presented at Athena 7.

STG1 Butcher’s first prototype of the Air Squeegee, presented at Athena 7.

After his presentation he spoke with a few other sailors about his idea and incorporated their concerns into a “MK2” design. One of the key flaws with the MK1 was that the protruding jets could snag on the array and cause an unsafe condition. To alleviate this problem he incorporated nylon hardware in the concept creating a kind of tear away point in case of malfunction.

Recently, STG1 Butcher talked through and explained the problem and his proposed solution to Susie Alderson and her team of Scientists from Commander, Naval Surface Forces SES, granting specific funding for further research and prototypes, onboard USS BENFOLD.  While onboard he worked with Pete Schmitz of Intel Corporation to 3D map the space and during a follow-up meeting at SPAWAR, STG1 worked with modelers to generate a 3D rendering.

Soon, the team expects to 3D print his idea and start testing his MK2 design.  In a parallel effort, STG1 Butcher has been working with the folks at PEO IWS 5 and NUWC to determine feasibility.

So, what started as a simple idea born out of frustration has blossomed into a concept with real legs and momentum. To share the story of how far the idea has come, STG1 will be kicking off Waterfront Athena 8 this Friday (hopefully with his MK2 design in tow).

This is a great example of the Navy innovative spirit and the great potential your ideas have at an Athena waterfront event – I look forward to seeing your ideas at the next Athena event.

If you’re in the San Diego area and want to present your idea, send us a message! And, more importantly, come out to Societe Brewing on August 28th for Athena 8!

LCDR Mark Blaszczyk is the Combat Systems Training Lead in Commander Littoral Combats Ship Squadron One and the co-lead for The Athena Project’s San Diego chapter.  He is a graduate of Purdue University with a BS in Civil Engineering and Duke University with a Masters in Business Administration.

Connect with The Athena Project 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!

Advertisements

Design Thinking! The Experience of 3M TANG

By: LTJG Tom Baker

film-fest-design-thinking-thinkstock

On the afternoon of Monday June 8th, I left the mighty BENFOLD and drove north to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, excited about a promising opportunity to collaborate, create, and solve.

It was a slow roll through the front gate – ID check sat – and after two wrong turns in an unfamiliar base, I found my way to the Miramar Officer’s Club. With slightly wrinkled slacks and polo shirt from my journey, I entered to find two brightly smiling faces at a table full of gizmos and documents. “Hi, welcome to 3M TANG!”.

I was christened with my colorful badge, complete with a “Mavericks” team button. Thoughts filled my head like, ‘what is this thing for!?’ and ‘What have I gotten myself into?’

Oh was I in for a surprise.

I was gestured to the right into a large room and what fell before my eyes was what an innovator at heart may compare to the large candy room that Willy Wonka reveals to the children during their factory tour. And so my voyage into wonderful world of TANG began.

This is 3M TANG – in detail: The Maintenance, Material, and Management (3M) Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation. From June 8th-11th, 30 hand-selected warfighters were chosen to help create ideas, concepts, and solutions for future 3M systems, displays, hardware, policy, and procedures. This three-day workshop that I was attending – the culmination of months of research and insight generation – was designed to make tangible improvement to what the Navy largely affirms to be an outdated and broken maintenance system.

The first TANG event was held in 2011 to address challenges associated with Submarine displays. ADM Richardson, then the Commander of Submarine Forces, called for positive change and away the first TANG went – in San Diego – to prototype some concepts. The teams, through iteration, went from foamcore prototypes at the event to working models within a handful of months, finally transitioning concepts onto Submarines through the APB process. Since that first event, the team has accomplished several TANGs tackling a variety of challenges – Executive TANG, Australian/US TANG and Surface ASW TANG just to name a few.

3M TANG - the most recent event for the team - and plenty more to come!

3M TANG – the most recent event for the team – and plenty more to come!

TANG has been relentlessly successful because their creative structures accomplish two otherwise rare practices. One, they place stakeholders, technology experts, and warfighters in one room. Normally, the creator & stakeholder are geographically separated from the sailor, so valuable lines of communication and feedback are delayed. Secondly, TANG manages to get everyone rowing in a unified direction! Objectives are clarified quickly, and the team keeps each other in check.

Groups of people talking closely, jotting down notes on large white posters, laughing, or gathered around booths holding, wearing, and interacting with some of the coolest tech I’ve ever seen. My nervousness dissipated as I saw familiar faces in the room ~ a family of supporters and creators that have held The Athena Project afloat since its earliest inception, joined together with the TANG team was incredibly welcoming and put me into a state of creative euphoria.

The first event – the Tech Expo – showcased some of the most respected companies standing side-by-side with organizations that I’ve never heard of – their ideas all equally-incredible. I spent the rest of day one playing with technology and interacting with the creators who I realize are wholly devoted to giving our Sailors their best.

The tech expo is geared toward “unlocking the realm of the possible” to inform the brainstorming efforts of the teams from around the fleet. Over the next three days, our teams would engage in the process of Design Thinking to brainstorm, prototype, and present our creations.

I hardly thought that the second day could be better than the first, but I was wrong. The TANG team, partnered with award-winning innovators at IDEO, identified 14 solutions to known 3M issues that emerged throughout the course of some exhaustive empathetic research around our fleet. So, one of the first primers we did was to provide feedback on those concepts. Through “I wish” and “I like” statements, along with questions and concerns, the room collectively penned sticky notes to accompany these concepts, an exercise designed to kick-start the brainstorming process.

After we finished the concept card exercise, I came to find out that the “Mavericks” button I’m wearing is a team name. And, after a rousing and supportive speech by the Commander of Naval Surface Forces, Vice Admiral Rowden, the room is fired up to create!

Design thinking chart

We kick off the Design Thinking Process with some brainstorming. The goals are to generate a lot of ideas in a little time, get different perspectives, and build some excitement! Each group member starts slapping sticky notes to these ideas with every thought under the sun. I noticed a little poster next to our white space.

THE 7 RULES OF EFFECTIVE BRAINSTORMING

  1. Defer judgement
  2. Encourage wild ideas
  3. Build on the ideas of others
  4. Stay focused on the topic
  5. One conversation at a time
  6. Be visual
  7. Go for quantity

Some of the notes are features: “WIFI”, “Bluetooth”, “PERSONAL Profiles!”. Other stickies are more conceptual, or the “how” behind other stickies: “Hire coders”, “Partner with existing tablet creators”. Some of our mates are categorizing and connecting ideas as we go along. Everything is so fluid. During this process, I start learning how each of my new friends thinks. Those stickies and the conversations about them start to reveal personalities, and we fall naturally into our team roles.

Our mission, together, was to combine a couple of really interesting ideas that the team had collectively brainstormed and voted on. The PMS Recipe Card is a platform and ship specific set of digital maintenance instructions. PMS is planned similar to meal planning as it captures what tools, qualifications, hazardous materials, and training are necessary to carry out the plan. Our other idea, the Workcenter 3M Tablet, provides the ability to take these PMS Recipe cards anywhere in the ship, and even write and submit a job or feedback report.

Once we had the direction for our new concept, we dive into the room’s ‘arts and crafts’ section to get our ideas into the physical space. There were tables filled with large white papers, foamcore, glue guns and a table full of a crazy conglomerate of supplies (pipe cleaners, whiteboard markers, full-size candy bars… you get the idea).

Team Mavericks - having fun with Top Gun puns since 2015.

Team Mavericks – having fun with Top Gun puns since 2015.

Our team is now deep into prototyping. There is no better way to communicate a concept to our team with minimal investment. We can tear it apart, tweak it, or add on to it as soon as we see the need. I see some more guidance on the wall for this step in the process. Luckily I had some notes from a quick brainstorming and prototyping presentation by Dave Blakely from mach49 to remember the details:

PROTOTYPING

  1. Building to think. Prototypes are tools used both to validate ideas and to help us generate them. Prototypes force us to think about how someone would interact with our concept.
  2. Rough & rapid. Prototypes are exploratory, not precious. They should be built as quickly and cheaply as possible.
  3. Answering questions. It’s essential to know what question a prototype is being used to answer: whether it’s around desirability, usefulness, usability, viability, or feasibility.
The prototyping toolbox.

The prototyping toolbox.

I drag a piece of foamcore the size of a picnic table over to our corner of the room. My friends are at the table of supplies, gathering markers, scissors, more stickies (because we understand the need at this point), and even manage to return with a handful of chocolate chip cookies. We are really clicking at this point. We cut out a foam-core tablet larger than the bed of a full-size pickup truck. There are so many concepts to visualize that we start drawing out “screen shots” on large pieces of white paper. With some help from the TANG facilitators, we realize we can rotate these white papers through our tablet frame to visualize to an audience.

Some of us want to add more detail, others realize the tight timeline we are on and move quickly to the next screen. Again, our personalities revealed, roles refined. We met each other 40 minutes ago and operate like a well-oiled machine.

Eventually, we would present our prototypes and concepts to the entire TANG audience and receive the invaluable live feedback through “I like” and “I wish” statements, questions, and concerns. Earlier in the writing I spoke about the three teams of warfighters. Well, there’s a fourth team of Stakeholders – the technology holder, sponsoring companies and those who want to and CAN create positive change – who will be giving feedback on our ideas and also sharing their own ideas to positively impact the future of 3M in the fleet. Our prototyping and presentation processes start to reveal who they are.

Another half hour later, and the room comes alive in theatrics as we rehearse our presentation. We feel confident about our prototype. It’s time to receive feedback and refine! At this point I recall my mind being expanded yet exhausted. I was fulfilled by the roller coaster of turning a collection of several hundred thoughts into something I could hold in my hand, complete with a rehearsed delivery by a cohesive team. And the most exciting part of this design thinking process, was that all of this preparation is to create something intentionally non-permanent – ready for alteration, destruction, further creation, all by design. It’s easy to iterate on something that’s a rough prototype – much easier than when we’ve already dumped millions of dollars into a solution BEFORE gaining the warfighter feedback. The tendency is to NOT change things then. I walked away from the event excited about the fluidity and fragility of our idea’s future.

When we finished our sharing session, with all the teams presenting their ideas to the crowd, the room was filled with an incredible energy. It was a good thing, too: Because we were about to do the whole process one more time!

I took with me the incredible lessons in a new approach to problem-solving. It brought me back to my undergraduate days when I had read about these processes occurring at IDEO and other forward-leaners. Being immersed in Design Thinking revitalized my sense of confidence in our ability to solve large and small scale challenges. I am passionately drawn to thinking about our underlying purpose at The Athena Project. This experience was a “how” that I believe our incredibly talented Sailors can and should be encouraged to utilize when approaching an increasingly dynamic set of challenges and future threats.

We can set our focus primarily toward innovations, solutions, and products, and I believe we will enjoy a few breakthroughs. OR, we can set our focus toward changing the way we think and approach our environment, and I believe we will enjoy both a culture of dynamic problem-solvers, AND a far greater byproduct of innovations, solutions, and products!

LTJG Tom Baker is the First Lieutenant and Public Affairs Officer onboard USS BENFOLD and the San Diego lead for The Athena Project. He’s a proud graduate of Oregon State University, earning his degree in Entrepreneurship.

Stay tuned for our official announcement of Waterfront Athena 8! If you’re in the Pacific Northwest and want to participate, reach out to the Athena team on Facebook, Twitter or e-mail!

Connect with The Athena Project 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!

The Power Of The Wheelbook: Three Easy Ways To Get Innovative

By LT Dave Nobles

452830868_0f1406ba87

2015 has all the makings of a great year. Granted, we’re only six days into it, but with so many emerging technologies, social movements and a new Star Wars movie coming, it’s hard to not get excited for the future.

As with any January since the inception of the internet, the trend in the blogosphere is to generate a post of a list of things that we want to or should or shouldn’t do in the New Year, for a fresh start. Well, in an effort to avoid that cliché, we’ll keep it simple.

This year, we’re resolving to write stuff down.

It’s a pledge that sounds easy, elementary and even pedestrian, but so often we just don’t do it.

As we’re surrounded by technology, it’s easy to open up a program like Evernote to organize our thoughts or bark some ideas into an application like Dragon Dictation. While these tools are amazing, it’s not the same as writing.

I’m talking about pen and paper, not typing into a laptop or tapping virtual keyboards on a phone or a tablet. Back in September, The Huffington Post posted an article on a study by Indiana University that pointed out the significant benefits to putting the ink to the page, including limiting distractions, slowing your brain down and sparking creativity.

As far as the innovation process goes, writing stuff down can act as a relief valve for brainstorming pressure. Often, in leading up to an Athena Project Event, I’ll ask Sailors if they have any ideas that they want to present and the response that I usually get is “I can’t think of anything.”

I’d say that is unequivocally false. In fact, most of us think of ideas multiple times a day – ways to make things better, ideas to launch a new business, projects to build in your garage – the trouble is that we don’t write the ideas down when we have them and we tend to forget. #JustHumanBeingThings.

The physical act of writing that idea down will slow down your thought process in such a way that will allow you to not only take the idea a step further in the evaluation process for feasibility, but it’ll also help to commit that idea to memory. The simple act of scribbling your idea down will keep it at the forefront of your mind so that the next time you’re asked “What’s your big idea?” you can proudly say “Laser Cats” (or whatever your awesome ideas is – probably not having anything to do with felines or lasers mounted to them).

So, here are a three ways to get writing, if you too choose to resolve to write stuff down as we have:

1. Try Journaling. Most times, when we think of journaling, we picture our little sister’s diary, covered by flowers and glitter in a pink bedroom. Now hear this: Journaling is NOT juvenile. By carving out some time each day to recap the events of the day, you may uncover an important thought that you had or discover a creative solution to a problem that you faced. Then, you could take the idea for a test drive and take note of how it went. In a way, it’s like prototyping!

Moleskines are awesome, but journals and bug books come in all shapes and sizes.

Moleskines are awesome, but journals and bug books come in all shapes and sizes.

2. Keep a Bug Book. On your next trip to Barnes & Noble (or by asking your Supply team nicely) acquire a small wheelbook that you can keep in your pocket. Then, as you bebop through your day and you see something that doesn’t work right, write it down! Who knows – you may even come up with the solution right then and there. Or, if not, you could break out your bug book when you want to dream up an idea to pitch. Flip the book open and Viola! – There’s a whole list of problems that need fixing! The bug list concept is not new. IDEO’s Tom Kelley talks about it in his book, The Art of Innovation. A running list of things that bug you in a small wheelbook is a source of ideas when you’re looking for a project to tackle. As Kelley says, “Instead of just complaining to yourself, ask yourself, ‘How might I improve this situation?’”

3. Rope Off Some Time To Free Write. Take about 15 to 30 minutes out of your day, unplug, and just write some words on a page. You could scribble about an architectural style you admire, what you’d say to a world leader if you met her, or dream up the story for your next science fiction novel (plotlines including but not limited to Laser Cats). The important thing is to just write. Whether you fancy yourself a creative writer or not, the act of writing will get your brain firing in different ways that may unlock the latent creativity you need to solve that problem, develop that innovative concept or view that challenge in a different way. A quick Google search of “writing prompts” yields a flurry of different sites, subreddits and .pdf files that can get you started!

There are loads of other ways that you can kickstart your writing. We hope that you’ll join us in unlocking the power of the wheelbook and finding new ways to get innovative in 2015.

With Waterfront Athena Seven and athenaTHINK right around the corner (news to follow), there will most certainly be a stage to present those new ideas!

Connect with The Athena Project 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!

Swinging Level – How Baseball Can Inspire Innovation

By: LT Dave Nobles

Image

Growing up, I played a lot of baseball. While I was certainly no child prodigy, I wasn’t half bad either.

Like every Little Leaguer, I desperately wanted to knock the casing off the ball, a la Roy Hobbes in The Natural.  So, like most kids in Little League, I’d swing about as hard as I could, trying to uppercut the ball right out of the ballpark.

And, I usually missed.

Not to be discouraged, I practiced.  I took hours upon hours of batting practice, and I worked hard to get my swing right.  One thing that sticks out in my head about those hours at the ballpark was something that my Dad told me as he pitched me buckets upon buckets of baseballs, likely doing permanent damage to his pitching arm:

Just swing level, and the power will come.

So I did, and I actually got pretty good. I was consistently making solid contact and before long I was comfortable in the batter’s box and was spraying line-drive base hits all over the field.

But, I wasn’t hitting any home runs. Sadly, I wasn’t blasting baseballs into the lights, creating explosions and raining sparks onto the field as I trotted triumphantly around the bases as I had hoped. But, I was doing very well for the team and I was having fun.

Then it happened. With a level swing, I crushed a ball in a game further than I ever had, straight out of the park.

The Old Man was right: Swing level and the power will come. And it did.

Now maybe it’s just because baseball season is upon us and it makes me feel a little nostalgic, but I was reminded of this story as I considered the Navy’s relentless (and often misguided) pursuit of innovation.

Now, let the record show that I do not think that innovation is a false pursuit. I wouldn’t be on the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell if I did. Calling innovation a fruitless goal is like saying Home Runs are a bad thing. Home Runs are always good, provided you’re on the team that’s hitting them!

Rather, if we want more innovation, perhaps we should pursue and inspire creativity. Just as if we want the long ball, we should take the time to coach fundamental baseball to our young players. If we want our folks to innovate, we need to teach the tools necessary to realize that goal, rather than preaching the goal.  Maybe pursuing innovation as an end state is the same thing as taking that big, hacking, hard-as-you-can uppercut swing when you’re at the plate.

If what we really want is more innovation, then perhaps we should advocate creativity in thought. Maybe we should make training more effective by injecting a dose of creativity.

Maybe we could inspire a new generation of creative sailors by using tools like General Military Training (GMT) as a vehicle to provide exercises to managers that encourage Sailors to think differently and hone an ability to connect dots.

Sure “Creativity GMT” is a pretty lofty goal that would likely take some time to implement. In the meantime, there’s no reason that we can’t apply some of the myriad tools easily found online to the training regimens for our respective divisions, departments and commands.

Image

What are you doing building spaghetti towers?!?! Get back to work!

Here are just a few of the awesome websites out there that can spark the creativity training process:

Stanford University d.school: Here you can grab a boatload of guidance on the brainstorming process, including tools for facilitation. While you’re there, check out the virtual crash course in design thinking!

Mind Tools: A site dedicated to honing ideation tools for businesses, there are tons of exercises here that you could use to spark a great session within your work group.

Marshmallow Challenge: Here’s a specific exercise that you can equip yourself for in the grocery aisle, aimed at bringing teams together.

Creative Confidence: A book by Tom and David Kelley of IDEO, the matching website gives a page full of tools to learn design thinking.

Creative Thinking: The Web’s repository for brainstorming books, techniques and exercises. This site could populate your training plan for a year.

And those are just the tip of the iceberg. Google is your friend when trying to find some fun exercises that can train the brain to not only think outside the box, but to rip the old one down and build a new, bigger box.

By unlocking the latent creativity within our Sailors, especially our junior Sailors who may have joined the Navy looking to be inspired, we drastically widen the innovation aperture. And, like a muscle, exercising that creativity will only strengthen it, leading to some great things.

Maybe doing that d.school crash course on reimagining the gift giving experience will be all the inspiration needed for a Sailor to start believing in their own creative abilities and looking for ways to make things better. Then, the next time that Sailor sees a problem, rather than becoming frustrated, they’ll craft a creative solution and make the Navy better.

Make no mistake: The Navy is 100% a People Business and those people are our greatest asset. By empowering our people to be intellectually curious, we might spur even more participation in so many of the great groups that are trying to grow the creative culture within the Navy, like CRIC[x], TANG, DEF[x], CIMSEC and, of course, The Athena Project.

One of the goals of Athena has always been to inspire a cadre of young officers and junior Sailors to think differently, relentlessly question the status quo and not be afraid to do something about it.

Let’s get creative and keep growing the wave!

 

Dave Nobles is the Combat Systems Officer onboard the Ballistic Missile Defense Guided Missile Destroyer, USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He is also a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.

Interested in presenting an idea at the next Waterfront Athena Event, May 30th at Societe Brewing Company in Clairemont Mesa? Message us on Facebook or Twitter @AthenaNavy. Do you hate social media? Send us an e-mail instead!: ATHENA@ddg65.navy.mil.

Image

Societe Brewing: Home base for Waterfront Athena Five!

 

 

Sailor, Allow Me To Introduce Scientist…

By LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell

Image

Back in December Josh Kvavle came to us with a simple question:  How can we help the technologists better understand the warfighter and the atmosphere they work in?

A few years ago at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), Josh created a “Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop” for the Grassroots S&T technologists with just this in mind.  But with only a few hours of sailor interaction in the past, he seemed all but qualified for the job.  After working with USS BENFOLD on a few other projects that junior Sailors pitched at Athena events, Josh and SPAWAR came to us and wanted to know what we think the technologists should know about what we do.

After a day of collaboration and brainstorming with Josh and his team, we started to understand just how little technologists and Sailors knew about each other. So, we figured it might be worth it to create a whole day dedicated to educating these Sailors and scientists about each other, connecting some dots that truly needed to be connected.  From there the wheels began to turn and we soon found ourselves planning a fun, informative and collaborative day to continue to help strengthen the bond between SPAWAR and the fleet.

The end goal was simple:  Make the Navy better.  If the technologists who are creating the systems we use understood the user better, couldn’t they make a better product?  How often is a sailor frustrated with the way a system is designed but figure they could never have a say in changing it?  What are the problems out there that the technologists aren’t working on yet?

On January 14th, we had the first ever co-sponsored Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop, and based on the incredibly positive response from the more than 60 that participated, it certainly won’t be the last!

The event kicked off with an Introduction to SPAWAR, focused on teaching Sailors what SPAWAR is, what they do and how they can help us.  We are extremely fortunate in San Diego to have a fleet concentration area within miles of one SPAWAR’s biggest research, development, test, evaluation and engineering fleet support facilities, yet we barely know what they do up on that hill at Point Loma.  After getting a better understanding of how cool their stuff is we were treated to technology tours across some of the most beautiful property in all of San Diego.

Tours were split up between Bayside, Seaside and Topside facilities all with exciting attractions. Sailors got to understand where the scientists work and the scope of their projects through tours of the Marine Mammal Program, the unmanned underwater vehicle program, the robotics lab, model shop, and more.  Each tour gave a unique perspective of how much research and development goes into each new piece of technology introduced into the fleet.  We definitely developed a greater admiration for the scientists and the work they do to help us fulfill our mission.  We wouldn’t be able to do our job serving our country if they weren’t doing their job developing our technology.

After getting familiar with their job and how they brainstorm and come up with new ideas, BENFOLD’s Captain, CDR Rich LeBron gave a great presentation on how his Sailors use The Athena Project and other avenues to express their ideas.  But still, the scientists knew very little about the fundamentals of the Navy and our everyday jobs, so we gave a brief interactive presentation to educate them about the ins and outs of shipboard life.  We walked them through the chain of command, gave them a perspective into each department, broke down some of our standard acronyms and described our watchstanding. Perhaps even more importantly than painting a picture of the environment, they were able to understand the areas on the ship for which they could help develop new technology.  Although the presentation may have seemed basic to most in uniform, it was a great way to take a step back and identify the little things that we take for granted but may be crucial to the scientist when developing new technology.

Image

Prototyping a way to improved efficiency!

After understanding Navy lingo a little better, it was time to start the fun stuff!  With lunch came some awesome interaction – it was amazing to see how a little mingling could spark big ideas and great conversations all over the room! We had brand new seaman who had only been on the ship for a couple of months engaging with scientists with PHDs from John Hopkins and MIT!

Now THIS was getting very cool.

After lunch, everyone partnered up: At least one Sailor paired with at least one scientist.  Sure, there was some shyness at first, but before long, groups popped up all over the room and started getting really excited to start fixing problems!  The environment rapidly became electric: Each group identifying problems, but trying hard not to brainstorm solutions until later.  Technologists were encouraged to ask some “dumb” questions to get the sailor thinking outside of the box and identify things they might not have noticed on their own. Teams generated problem statements and away we went to brainstorm!

With some brainstorming guidelines and tricks, the room got quiet and everyone quickly began scribbling down on paper.  The brainstorming sessions were so successful that we even added extra time to let the creative juices flow!  Brainstorming concluded with each group coming up with an idea to prototype.  As a new activity to the innovators on BENFOLD, prototyping was a fun way to see your idea come to life and lighten up the activity.  It was like a room full of arts and crafts, and very effective for pitching to the large group!

Image

BENFOLD Sailors reimagining Tomahawk functionality.

Pitch proposals were very similar to our Athena presentations but were strictly limited to two minutes and given with prototypes in hand.    We had presentations that made you laugh, some that gave you that “ah-ha” moment, and some that made many say “Why didn’t I think of that earlier?”.

Ideas included camera technology for maintenance, digital maneuvering board designs, advanced internal communication systems, seawater activated watches, hydraulic flight deck nets, a personalized training app and a spray paint rail system to paint the hull.  Some of ideas are already out there, some might not be efficient, and some just might make no sense – but that doesn’t matter.   Even if none of the ideas get traction (although some already have) the idea is to develop our Sailors into critical thinkers.  At the same time, the technologists are learning the needs of the Sailor and identifying shortfalls for future technology development. It was so cool to see the lightbulbs go off and the smiles on the faces at the end of the day.

Image

Ideas abound – this one for Augmented Reality on Surface Ships.

At the beginning of December when we met with Josh and the SPAWAR team, I don’t think any of us could have imagined an outcome like this.  It’s amazing to see the ideas from the fleet and how much you can create in a few hours.  The technologists were excited and eager to go back to their offices and start development and have already been contacting us on ideas generated.  Our Sailors came back to the ship proud of their prototypes and supportive of technology, the innovation process and the scientists behind it.

In the end, as cheesy as it might sound, everyone was a winner. Maybe the most important thing, though, was that everyone felt that in some way, however small, we achieved our goal of making the Navy better.

If you ask me, I’d say it’s just the beginning.

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 being a part of the next Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop?  Want to meet a technologist and get to know more about SPAWAR?  If so, contact LTJG O’Donnell at odonnellk@ddg65.navy.mil or message The Athena Project on Facebook or Twitter!