Innovation Jam Roundup

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By Dave Nobles

Wednesday’s Innovation Jam onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2) was an important and monumental moment for Naval Innovation.

The event was sponsored by a number of organizations, including Commander Pacific Fleet, SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. The support of such senior leadership for Deckplate Innovation made the event a resounding success, demonstrated in spades through awarding not one but two Sailors $100,000 to fund their concepts through prototyping and transition.

That’s the important part. Ideas born out of frustration, perseverance, and a quest to make the Navy better have been funded. However, the significance of the Innovation Jam is beyond the funding.

During the Innovation Jam, the assembled crowd of Sailors and government civilians listened to senior uniformed leadership within the Navy, like the Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift; The Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Readiness and Logistics, Vice Admiral Phil Cullom and the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens. The three military speakers kicked off the event with a volley of support for The Athena Project, Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation (TANG), The Hatch, The Bridge, and other efforts to bring about positive change.  Each message resonated with the entrepreneurial and intraprenurial philosophies.

The voices of those senior leaders, combined with civilian thought leaders such as Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, the first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Microsoft and founder of Intellectual Ventures and Dr. Maura Sullivan, the Department of the Navy’s Chief of Strategy and Innovation, all echoed the a consistent theme:

Innovation is about taking risks.

The sponsorship, collaborative support and allocation of resources serves as a beacon of thoughtful risk taking by senior leadership in the Navy. And, funding two Sailor concepts serves as inspiration to empower all Sailors at all levels to share their own ideas and as a clear signal from the Navy’s top brass that they’re not only listening but that they’re also ready to act.

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Sailors and engineers work together to reframe their concepts during athenaTHINK at SSC Pacific

Over two days in San Diego, six Sailors who presented ideas through innovation initiatives such as The Athena Project, TANG, and The Hatch, were given the opportunity to interface with scientists and engineers at SSC Pacific and ONR to reframe and refine their concepts at an athenaTHINK event before presenting their ideas at the Innovation Jam to a panel of experts, who would decide a winner.

On the panel Dr. Myhrvold and Dr. Sullivan were joined by Dr. Stephen Russell of SSC Pacific, Mr. Scott DiLisio of OPNAV N4, Dr. Robert Smith of ONR, Mr. Arman Hovakemian of Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Corona Division, ETCM Gary Burghart of SSC Pacific and the Commanding Officer of the host ship, USS ESSEX, CAPT Brian Quin.

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The panelists evaluating the pitches onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2)

The panel heard the six pitches and, after deliberation, Dr. Russell announced the results:

First Place: LTJG Rob McClenning, USS GRIDLEY (DDG 101)

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LTJG McClenning and Dr. Russell

LTJG McClenning presented his concept which he originally pitched at Athena West 3.0 called the Unified Gunnery System (UGS). The system would provide ballistic helmets equipped with augmented reality visors to the Sailors manning machine guns topside on a warship, and command and control via tablet in the pilot house. Commands given on the touch screen would provide indications to the gunners displaying orders, bearing lines and more. The system would be wired to prevent cyber attacks. The augmented reality capability of the system would mitigate potential catastrophic results of misheard orders due to the loud fire of the guns, and improve accuracy and situational awareness. LTJG McClenning received $500 for his concept, and $100K to develop the idea in collaboration with SSC Pacific.

Second Place: LT Bill Hughes, OPNAV N96

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LT Hughes and Dr. Russell

LT Hughes flew in from Washington, DC to pitch his concept, also from Athena West 3.0. The idea, CosmoGator, aims to automate celestial navigation through installed, gyro-stabilized camera mounts and small-scale atomic clocks to provide redundant Position, Navigation and Timing data to shipboard navigation and weapons systems. LT Hughes’ concept would continually update inertial navigation systems to enable continued operations in the event of GPS denial. Previously, this concept had been explored by the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. LT Hughes received $300 and in a surprise move, OPNAV N4 funded his idea with $100K as well.

Third Place: GMC Kyle Zimmerman, Afloat Training Group Middle Pacific

GMC Zimmerman’s concept, originally presented at Athena West 4.0, intends to bring virtual reality to the Combat Information Center. Through the use of commercially available headsets, GMC Zimmerman proposed streaming a live optical feed of a ship’s operating environment to watchstanders to increase situational awareness and provide increased capability in responding to casualties such as Search and Rescue. GMZ Zimmerman received $200 for his idea.

Honorable Mention: LCDR Bobby Hsu, Commander, Task Force 34

LCDR Hsu pitched an idea from Theater Anti-Submarine Warfare (TASW) TANG for a consolidated information database for the litany of data required to effectively manage the TASW mission. The concept, Automated Response for Theater Information or ARTI, would leverage voice recognition software like the kind found in the Amazon Echo or Apple’s Siri, to enable watchstanders and commanders alike rapid access to critical information.

Honorable Mention: LT Clay Greunke, SSC Pacific

LT Greunke presented a concept that he began developing during his time at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and pitched at Athena West 9.0. His concept leverages virtual reality to more effectively train Landing Signals Officers (LSO) by recreating the simulator experience of an entire building in a laptop and Oculus headset. LT Greunke demonstrated his prototype for the panelists and described a vision for the LSO VR Trainer, called ‘SEA FOG,’ as the first piece of an architecture of virtual reality tools to improve training in a number of communities and services.

Honorable Mention: OSC Erik Rick, Naval Beach Group ONE

OSC Rick first presented his idea for a combined site to host all required computer based training on The Hatch, though he acknowledged that the concept had been a highly visible entry on The Hatch, as well as in previous crowd-sourcing initiatives such as Reducing Administrative Distractions (RAD), BrightWork and MilSuite. His concept is to make universal access tags for civilians, reserve and active duty personnel to enable easy tracking of completed training as well as required training. In his proposal, the host site would combine the requirements of the numerous sites currently hosting training requirements and deliver an App Store-like interface to simplify the experience for users.

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All of our presenters and panelists. America.

Not enough can be said for the courage that all of the presenters demonstrated to take the stage in an nerve-wracking setting and present their ideas. In another good news story, the panelists and the assembled crowd provided feedback to all the presenters, which will assist in the further development of all six concepts.

With the success of the Innovation Jam in the rear view mirror, the process now begins to build on the ideas that received funding. We’ll continue to provide updates of the future successes of the two funded concepts right here on the blog.

This milestone for Naval Innovation is nothing short of monumental. Many can relate to a near exhaustion with the rhetoric surrounding innovation: Agility, fast failure, big ideas, consolidating disparate efforts, getting technology to the warfighters, and certainly partnering partnerships with non-traditional players.  When actions are weighed against rhetoric, it is action that wins, taking the initiative, assuming the initiative to act and moving the needle.  And Wednesday, we saw that happen.

This inaugural Innovation Jam will not be a one-time thing. As stated by VADM Cullom in his Keynote Address the event will be coming to every fleet concentration area in the future. Here at The Athena Project, we’ll continue to push initiatives like the Innovation Jam to inspire the creative confidence to present ideas and aid in any way possible to turn concepts into reality.

And, for those wondering how they might get involved in an events like this, support your local Athena chapter, submit your ideas to The Hatch and participate in workshops like TANG! Participation in these, and any innovation initiative will make you eligible for your regional Innovation Jam!

The future looks bright indeed not only for innovation but for action.

And we’re damn proud to be a part of that.

 

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.

 

Athena Northwest 1.0 Roundup

By: LCDR Drew Barker

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A week ago on Naval Base Kitsap – Bremerton, the Pacific Northwest became the hub of military innovation.

An amazing turnout for the inaugural Athena Project event in the Northwest! More than 50 people joined together in the old Chief’s Club beneath the Sam Adams Brewhouse to hear and support eight presenters who pitched ideas to improve their command, the waterfront and the Navy. Even though most left their jackets on because the WWII-era boiler in the building’s basement kicked the can earlier that morning, there were some hot ideas warming up that room, and for the first time at an Athena event, the stage was shared between four active duty and four DoD civilians. All of the presentations were truly inspiring and fueled a pervasive, let’s-make-it-happen, collaborative spirit.

Not only a great turnout from the Sailors ready to share the great ideas, but several attendees from industry rounded out the crowd. We were lucky to have friends from AMI International, Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Naval Sea Systems Command – Keyport, and Community STEM Leaders share the Athena experience. Here’s how it all went down:

    ***Athena Northwest 1.0’s Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage***

Deck and Tile Glue to Balance the Budget – AOC Ralph Linkenhoker, USS JOHN C. STENNIS

Chief Linkenhoker kicked off the event with some jaw-dropping numbers on how to save the Navy some cold, hard cash on deck and tile glue. Using a better applicator tool and a Military Specification (MILSPEC) equivalent glue, this idea could cut the Navy’s cost by nearly 80 percent! He did his homework to demonstrate that the alternative was identical in application, drying time, bonding characteristics, hazmat handling and more. He stole the crowd and never looked back, running away with the Admiral Sims’ award for Intellectual Courage. Next step, engaging the DoD supply system to add the alternative while submitting a Military Cash Awards Program package on Chief’s behalf. Nice work!

AOC Linkenhoker breaking down tile glue costs for carrier maintenance.

AOC Linkenhoker breaking down tile glue costs for carrier maintenance.

Use of Commercial Cellular Technology to Interface with the Navy’s GIS – Steve McKee, PSNS & IMF

The first Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility (PSNS & IMF) presenter was Steve McKee who showed there could be a relatively small gap to close between the use of commercial cellular technology and the Navy’s Geographic Information System. Who knew the Navy has a GIS?! In the same way Google Maps can tell you where the nearest pizza joint is, or FedEx can tell a truck’s location and inventory through the use of cellular technology and a GIS, the Navy could truly benefit from tying its GIS to a cellular interface for shore-based installations. Imagine being able to find a tool, component or base service simply by referencing your phone! The major obstacle identified involves conquering the cyber security element; however, McKee convincingly pointed those in attendance to a number of cost and time saving applications that show the benefits may truly outweigh the costs!

Tactical Administration – LT Jason Kardos, USS JOHN C. STENNIS

LT Kardos presented a very succinct requirements list for a modular, adaptable, electronic administrative software suite. Modular components would work like a suite of administrative apps that would synchronize and interact with one another, and operate in a stand-alone environment with periodic updates when the Internet was available. Individual modules or apps would handle everything from award generation, document management, and correspondence tracking to document control and evaluation submissions. His problem statement seem to resonate well with the audience—“The Navy has a system of forms control that is out of control!” His idea mapped a way forward to bring all administrative functions to a flexible, adaptable, single source structure. Unlike many of the suggestions posted in the Navy’s Reduction of Administrative Distractions efforts, he provided an actionable requirements set for software that can solve a myriad of administrative headaches.

3D Printing and Manufacturing – Kyle Morris, Naval Sea Systems Command

All the way from Keyport, Washington, Kyle introduced the audience to a long list of 3D printing applications for both ship-board and industrial use by providing the audience with photos of more than 30 cost-saving examples of 3D printing. The Sailors in the audience were interested in how to maintain the 3D printers if they were installed on a ship. Their questions beckon a follow up with the folks in San Diego and Hawaii on their attempts to integrate 3D printing onto ships and submarines to find out more!

3D Sensing, Modeling, and Augmented Reality for Shipboard Maintenance, Modernization, and Inspection – Eric Jensen, PSNS & IMF

Placing third at Athena Northwest, Jensen engaged the imaginations of the audience by describing how an instrument with two video cameras and some software can help map a space three dimensionally, allowing maintenance professionals on shore to conduct remote diagnosis, redesign, and the ability to purchase or fabricate solutions without having the ship tied to the pier. The installation or corrective actions would be programmed into glasses that provide an augmented reality overlay to simplify executing the repairs or modernization efforts. To leverage the strategic advantage of this technology, Jensen encouraged considering applications now and organizing thoughts on the benefits of this emergent technology. His ideas align well to the Augmented Reality workshop hosted by the Chief of Naval Operations’ Rapid Innovation Cell in Norfolk on Dec. 8 (Editor’s Note: Anyone else with ideas should consider attending the event; find out more here!).

Inspiring a Collaborative Workforce: Strengthening the Active Duty / DOD Civilian Team – ABF3 Jonte Johnson, USS JOHN C. STENNIS

Arguably the most motivational idea, ABF3 Johnson’s pitch was proposing not an innovation of technology but one of perspective. He passionately described a handful of ways to integrate collaboration and relationship building into new and existing programs. By making command picnics, MWR events, intramural sports, community and base service events, career fairs and departmental expos open and inclusive of all entities of the DoD/active duty team, we will achieve greater performance, efficiencies and innovation development. At the conclusion of his presentation, several inspired audience members shared with him how they will move his idea forward in their own spheres of influence. Certainly aligning with the values of the Athena project, he touched on the synergy created when a wide variety of perspectives combine to advance a common purpose. Looking forward to seeing these ideas in action for the next major maintenance availabilities!

Portable and Reconfigurable Job Kitting [Second Place] – Vince Stamper, PSNS & IMF

Finishing in second place, Stamper described a precarious scene familiar to many shipboard maintainers—standing unsteadily above a shaft while balancing a tool bag perilously on a ledge with one hand and taking readings or measurements with the other. The maintainer often has to sift through an unorganized tool bag that is difficult to strap down or hang up. Stamper then rolled out a highly-refined prototype of the perfect solution—a backpack that unzips to fold out flat, with hooks on the outside to easily hang it from any nearby pipe or angle iron, which reveals a perfectly organized tool board with tools strapped to slotted plastic panels. He is currently securing a Navy patent for the product, which will undoubtedly make life easier for an untold number of maintainers across the Navy (perhaps even the DoD)! Who wouldn’t love to see this idea on the fast track to the Navy supply system?!

Organizational Physiology – LCDR Drew Barker, USS JOHN C. STENNIS

Using several stories about how physiological measurements of a person’s state of stress can predict both operational and relational performance, LCDR Barker proposed an experiment to utilize wearable devices similar to a Fitbit to measure a team’s individual and collective stress levels through skin temperature, galvanic skin response and heart rate. The device would take measurements to show team and individual responses to both internal team dynamics and external challenges faced by the team. Observations, he argued, would lead to increased understanding of team dynamics, leadership and educational influences, and may assist in how we develop our people to achieve higher performance. The audience helped expand his idea to potentially benefit those with PTSD or better understand the struggle the military has with those who contemplate suicide. Watching the development and expansion of the idea in real-time was truly exciting for all engaged in the discussion!

The event reflected the hunger for innovation that many share in the DoD and attested to an abundant well of inspiring ideas that spring up from the deckplates. Everyone seemed to leave the venue with a sense of excitement and engagement to help make positive changes possible.

Stay tuned for the next event to come in late February, which promises to be even better with the integration of several other commands from Bremerton, Everett, Bangor and Keyport, as well as the involvement of more of the area’s community and academic leaders.

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!

For the most current information on Athena Northwest, visit the Athena NW facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/athenaprojectNW.

Swinging Level – How Baseball Can Inspire Innovation

By: LT Dave Nobles

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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.

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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.

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Societe Brewing: Home base for Waterfront Athena Five!

 

 

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!

Sailor, Allow Me To Introduce Scientist…

By LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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! 

Waterfront Athena – February 13th at Ballast Point’s Little Italy Tasting Room!

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The time for ideas is upon us again!

The Athena Project will be hosting its second Waterfront Event, open to all innovators, next month in sunny San Diego, California. In partnership with Ballast Point, we’ll be at their new tasting room in Little Italy at 2:00 PM!

For those who may be new to what The Athena Project is all about, here’s a quick rundown:

Named for the Greek goddess of reason, wisdom, courage and inspiration, Athena is a quarterly event to showcase ideas that junior Sailors have developed to make their commands, the Navy or the San Diego community better.

Founded on USS BENFOLD (DDG 65), we give Sailors time away from their traditional duties to dream up powerful ideas and put together action steps to make their ideas happen.

In our Waterfront Event, these innovators will have five minutes to pitch their concepts and propose action (without the crutch of Microsoft PowerPoint) before fielding five minutes of questions from the crowd. The audience will get to vote on each project for idea quality, actionability and presentation and the winner will receive the ADM Sims Award for Intellectual Courage. Those Sailors will gain the support of their command to form a small team to turn their idea into reality over the next quarter.

Our team and our Athenians can appreciate how difficult it can sometimes be to face seemingly overwhelming odds to bring ideas to life. Since the goddess Athena was a shrewd companion to heroes on epic endeavors, we provide not only the platform to be heard, but support each project through connecting dots that had previously been disconnected or building bridges and networks where none existed.

In our previous events, presenters have brought new processes to action at their commands, drafted articles on controversial topics, had projects prototyped by partners like the USC Institute of Creative Technologies, and are even currently working projects with entities like SPAWAR, NASA and more! In the month leading up to the next Waterfront Event, we’ll showcase some of those ideas here on the blog, so stay tuned.

If you have an idea that you want to pitch at Athena, you can e-mail ATHENA@ddg65.navy.mil or just find and message us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/athenanavy) or Twitter (@AthenaNavy).

We hope that you’re as excited as we are for this awesome event! Join us, and let’s make the Navy better – One idea at a time!

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!

Waterfront Athena Roundup

By LT Dave Nobles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idea 8: Cosmogator – LT William Hughes, USS Benfold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenge accepted.

LT Dave Nobles is the weapons officer aboard USS Benfold and a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

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

By: LT Dave Nobles

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Spoiler alert: They’re books.

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

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

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

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

1. Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley. 

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

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

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

2. Good To Great by Jim Collins.

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

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

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

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

3. Contagious by Jonah Berger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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