Athena East 2.0 Roundup

By: Dave Nobles

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Weather be damned! Despite the rain spinning off Hurricane Joaquin, a horde of innovators gathered at Work|Release on Friday in Norfolk, Virginia for the second Athena East event.

The crowd of like-minded innovators that braved the elements to come out to Athena East 2.0!

The crowd of like-minded innovators that braved the elements to come out to Athena East 2.0!

We love to iterate our process, so we had quite a few “firsts” for this event. This time, our event was co-sponsored by the Surface Navy Association, the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), and the United States Naval Institute. We were also happy to have our friends from the Virginian Pilot there, writing a great story about the event you can read here.

Adding to our firsts, we had a panel of senior “Sharks” to provide some insight on our five presentations and help to find pathways for those concepts to find a way to the Sailors that could benefit from them. While these Sharks didn’t cast votes (as always, that was the responsibility of the 60 innovators who braved the elements to come out) they did provide feedback to each of the presenters to contribute to our “Yes, And” culture.

Our Cyber Shark, CAPT Heritage showing off his custom Captain hoodie.

Our Cyber Shark, CAPT Heritage showing off his custom Captain hoodie.

The Sharks included CAPT Robert Bodvake, Commodore of Destroyer Squadron 22; CAPT John Carter, Commanding Officer of USS BATAAN (LHD 5); CAPT Sean Heritage, Commanding Officer of Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command; CAPT Jeffrey Sheets, Production Officer for the Mid Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center C-900; and Brett Vaughn, Science and Technology Advisor to OPNAV N2/N6. The tremendous insight that these Sharks provided by donning their raincoats (and in some cases, hoodies) to catalyze the creativity at the event was phenomenal and absolutely something that The Athena Project will be leveraging in our future events!

One of our sharks, Brett Vaughn, getting down to business with a presenter as CAPT Carter and CAPT Bodvake look on.

One of our sharks, Brett Vaughn, getting down to business with a presenter as CAPT Carter and CAPT Bodvake look on.

Another addition we’ve made to our process – and one that’s definitely going to stick – is the prizes we gave to our participants, donated from local organizations. While we gave a prize to the winner at Waterfront Athena Eight (or, Athena West 8.0) provided by our friends at MakerPlace in San Diego, this time we gave amazing prizes to all of our presenters.

All our participants received memberships to 757 Makerspace in Norfolk and Improv 101 classes provided by Push Comedy Theater, generously bestowed by our friends Beau Turner and Brad McMurren, respective heads of those fine organizations. At The Athena Project, we believe that unlike a simple monetary incentive, these prizes are tremendous for our Athenians’ personal development, and will go a long way to turbocharge their innovative spirit and give them tools they can bring back to their respective commands to make them better!

With appropriate libations in the hands of our soggy audience, the innovation was set to get underway! Let’s get down to the ideas!

***Athena East 2.0’s Admiral Sims Award For Intellectual Courage***

FC2(SW) Aaron Vickers, USS LABOON – Headset Adaptors

Those who have had the joy of standing watch in the Combat Information Center of a surface ship may note that the headsets for the consoles in the space can leave a little to be desired. Some of the chief complaints of the existing headsets include durability, functionality, comfort and the fact that they are germ sponges, potentially passing illnesses from watchstander to watchstander that eventually spread throughout the small crew of a surface ship.

What FC2 Vickers proposed was an elegantly designed adaptor that would allow Sailors to bring their own gaming headsets (or even iPhone earbuds) to watch, improving all the areas that had previously been Sailor gripes. Fielding questions from the audience on concerns such as preventative maintenance requirements and durability of commercial headsets, Vickers proposed since each individual would invest in their own headset, they would be much more likely to care for the equipment. And, to respond to durability concerns, Vickers referenced the likelihood of online video game players to throw their headsets across the room or through a TV when things didn’t go right. In nearly every instance, the gamer can just put the headset back on and continue playing. By comparison, Vickers said, if a shipboard headset is merely dropped there is a legitimate fear that the device will cease to function altogether.

As the winner of Athena East 2.0, Vickers received a year-long membership to 757 Makerspace where he can continue to iterate his concept, which received high praise from the Sharks and from the crowd.

CWO2 Steve Sturm, Assault Craft Unit FOUR – Vehicle Washdown System

Yet another Athena concept born out of frustration and wasted manhours, Warrant Officer Sturm proposed a fresh water system for amphibious ships to rinse off Marine Corps gear and expeditionary equipment upon return from the beach. In his daily job, Sturm wastes significant time and resources to reconfigure vehicles and scrub biologics off of them to prevent corrosion. He said that a fresh water washing system on the ramp of an amphibous ship that would spray vehicles down upon arrival would save the Navy considerable time and reduce potential safety mishaps, all while saving money for the Navy and Marine Corps by preventing corrosion of equipment. With a video demonstrating the operability of Sturm’s proposed system, the Sharks and the crowd were able to get a full feel of what his innovation would bring to the table (or the well deck, as it were).

Pictures and video demonstrate the concept from CWO2 Sturm's pitch.

Pictures and video demonstrate the concept from CWO2 Sturm’s pitch.

FC1(SW) Robert Williams, USS LABOON – Future Leadership Enhancement Training (FLEET)

The inspiration behind Williams’ idea was the leadership training program for Chief Petty Officer Selects, and those striving to become Chief Petty Officers within the Navy called CPO 365. He noted that there was a gap in coverage for a program like this: Second Class Petty Officers, striving to become Leading Petty Officers at their respective commands did not have an open forum/panel-led discussion of important topics to prepare them for their next leadership position. Williams proposed constructing a program that would inspire discussion rather than “killing” attendees via Powerpoint and allowing Petty Officers to present peer-voted topics of importance. The idea inspired a generative discussion from the crowd, with Sharks requesting specifics (and eventually being introduced as the presenter’s Commodore), and a discussion about measuring the effectiveness of the program. Williams will continue to iterate his concept with the help of those in attendance, but his inspiring idea has identified a space in which a positive impact can be made for the future leaders of the Fleet. Obviously, a subject that’s at the very core of what we do at The Athena Project!

LT Pete Barkley, United States Naval Academy – Schedule Automation

LT Barkley pitched an concept that he developed over the last two summers to automatically write flight schedules for flight training squadrons like those down in Pensacola. Through testing and iteration, Barkley has used the program to execute over 7,500 flight events to cut down scheduling work time by 75% and producing a better scheduling product than 12 Junior Officers would spend a day working on. And it does the calculations in about a minute at the press of a button.

Barkley did a live demonstration of his concept, which takes into account several metrics when generating the schedules. The crowd responded incredibly positively to the concept, and offered that the idea could be further developed to work within the Surface Community with the addition of more metrics and data, required to effectively build a watchbill on a Surface Ship. The Sharks liked it too, so much to make connections within the Office of Naval Research to continue development of the idea.

LT Todd Coursey, Mid Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center – Innovation Through Action

Coursey’s vision is to put portable lathes, sintering machines and various other “making” tools closer to the Fleet to enable real-time creativity. He proposed that his goal of democratizing innovation could be realized by providing tools for Sailors with big ideas to make them happen, complete with policy recommendations. Coursey engaged with the Sharks, proposing that innovation must be something that we really do, specifically referencing the ability for Sailors to produce circuit cards on demand for repairs onboard ships.

Connecting with the Sharks.

Connecting with the Sharks.

With all the ideas having been presented, we were fortunate to welcome two success stories of Fleet innovation while the votes were being tallied. AT1 Richard Walsh, a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, discussed the seven-year journey to bring his tool, SMART, to life. The tool helps to improve preventative and corrective maintenance by calculating probabilities to assist with replacement part ordering and real-time work scheduling. Following him, LT Jason Shaw discussed his path to patenting systems that he has developed to increase tool accountability during repairs.

LT Matt Hipple emceeing his heart out.

LT Matt Hipple emceeing his heart out.

The power behind any Athena event is the network, and that was demonstrated in spades during Athena East 2.0. In many respects, The Athena Project is a Bat Signal: A way to “light up the sky” (that may or may not be filled with raindrops) to connect innovators and creatives within the DoD to work together toward making positive change for the future of our armed forces.

As we shine our signal into the air for our next events, whether it’s in Jacksonville, Yokosuka, San Diego, Hawaii, or Groton, we hope that we can band together to be the Innovation Initiative that the DoD deserves, and the one that it wants!

Dave Nobles is a member of the Design Thinking Corps at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the founder of The Athena Project. He is also a Navy Reservist with the Office of Naval Research.

Stay tuned for the upcoming Athena Far East 1.0 and Athena Southeast 1.0! If you’re in the Jacksonville or Yokosuka areas and you have an idea you want to present, Message us!

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!

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The Growing Wave of Creativity in the Navy

By: LT Dave Nobles

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Since our first event, The Athena Project has been focused on developing the Navy’s young thinkers, giving sailors a voice and a platform to have their ideas heard and spreading the culture of creativity and intellectual curiosity throughout the Fleet!

As LT Jon Paris has pointed out on his excellent blog post on the Center for International Maritime Security‘s page the motivation to create and innovate throughout the fleet is often hurt by our own lack of agility. Great points all, and certainly something that we’re trying hard to improve.

We’ve heard it often: Execution really drives innovation.

What LT Paris said is spot on: Our organization would benefit by listening to the ideas on the deckplates, then pulling the trigger to make those ideas happen.

For the individual, creativity is a conscious decision, and the same applies for organizations. After all, an organization is merely a collection of individuals. Once the Navy commits to creativity at all levels, then true innovation can be born.

And that’s exactly what we aim to do: Harness the creativity within our ranks in hopes that we’ll shift that culture. That said, we’re talking about a culture shift here, and that requires a bit of what Warren Bennis calls “Courageous Patience.”

Shifting an entire culture takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, of course. To change the way that the Navy fundamentally thinks about creativity and innovation is going to take time. And, what it’s going to require is a series of “wins” from the deckplates, by the deckplates that show that the organization values the ideas of its Sailors. The way we do that is by rapidly executing these visions and implementing the great ideas across the fleet — and fast.

The cool part about an initiative like Athena is that we’re starting to see the forward progress that’s going to make these wins happen. A great example is the work that the last Athena event’s winners, a team of Second Class Fire Controlmen, are doing in concert with SPAWAR engineers to make their project a reality. Since the Waterfront Event, the Optical Database and Information Network (ODIN) team has been working in conjunction with SPAWAR RAPIER team engineers to develop their concept. They’ve participated in several meetings, shared information and organized a workflow and their idea will soon be a reality. That’s the power of Athena.

One of the coolest moments from the last event happened after these guys pitched their idea – and it’s something that I talked about in the recent podcast I did with my fellow member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, ET1 Jeff Anderson. These Second Class Petty Officers presented their idea to improve a frustrating process they found on a deployment, and then during a break, they were swarmed with engineers from various organizations talking about how to make their idea happen. It was truly an inspiring sight, and things like that motivate me to keep pushing the ball down the field.

I hope they do for you too.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the fire is there. There are Sailors out there (and you may be one of them) who want to make a positive change and make our organization better. And, as a service, we owe it to them to listen, just like LT Paris said. Beyond that, we need to demonstrate our implementation agility to keep this fire alive.

We’ll be stoking the flames in February at the next Waterfront Athena event in San Diego. So come out and join us! Bring your best ideas, bold innovators, and let’s make some magic happen!

All Engines Ahead Flank.

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

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail ATHENA@ddg65.navy.mil!