Athena: A Plankowner’s Perspective

By: CDR Michele Day

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“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.”

— Edward de Bono

This month, theATHENAproject is continuing its growth around the globe. On January 15th at the Yokosuka Naval Base Galley, Athena Far East is kicking off their inaugural event. I am especially excited to see the ideas presented at ATHENA Far East – I’ll tell you why in just a bit.

Athena Far East is this Friday!

Athena Far East is this Friday!

We all know that innovation is fundamentally the process of inventing, introducing, and adopting a new product, practice, system, or behavior. The ability to innovate is impacted by a myriad of factors, some of which are controllable while others are non-controllable. Some people work in an environment that suppresses change or devalues employees who are young and inexperienced. Some people fear failure, think they are not creative enough, or are afraid of speaking publicly.

I’ve been a part of ATHENA since its inception and what an amazing journey it has been. When provided the opportunity to use their VOICE, Sailors are an unstoppable force. An interesting trend I saw in San Diego: The ideas pitched by Sailors were often tied to their parent command’s life cycle. For instance, Sailors who recently returned from deployment expressed ideas more tactical in nature, while those in the shipyard generally had ideas on improving maintenance, and those in the training cycle were focused on streamlining admin and qualifications.

A little throwback picture: The first ever pitch, when Athena was still unfortuntely named WikiWardroom.

A little throwback picture: The first ever pitch, when Athena was still unfortuntely named WikiWardroom.

As I read through the Roundups from ATHENA events I see the same spread of idea generation. This is why I am so excited about ATHENA Far East! Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) units are primarily operational. They find time for maintenance and training, but the lifecycle is more fluid than CONUS based forces. FDNF Sailors are always asking “what can we do to be better warfighters?” If you think about it, nearly all of the ideas pitched at ATHENA events can be tied to Warfighting First:

  • Streamlining admin allows for more training time.
  • Merging databases allows for better tracking of manning and material
  • Modernizing training provides warfighters better suited for today’s technological environment

But as I look into my ATHENA Far East crystal ball, I see FDNF Sailors pitching ideas that leverage current technologies to find new ways to execute the mission and conceptualizing new weapons systems.

As ATHENA has continued to grow, we’ve made a constant effort to innovate our own process, trying out new things and gaining feedback to try and make ATHENA better. In our recent events, we’ve experimented with “Shark Tank-style” panels of leaders to provide concept feedback, awarding personal development experiences to our participants and winners, inviting Sailors who have made headway with their projects as keynote speakers and beyond. In that spirit, we’re prototyping a new experience for our first Far East event! Specifically unique to ATHENA Far East is our partnership with the Defense Entrepreneurship Forum (DEF) as an official Agora and our endorsement by and involvement with the Military Writer’s Guild, and SECNAV’s Naval Innovation Advisory Council.

Brett Vaughn, one of the "Sharks" at Athena East 2.0, getting down to business with a presenter as CAPT Carter and CAPT Bodvake look on.

Brett Vaughn, one of the “Sharks” at Athena East 2.0, getting down to business with a presenter as CAPT Carter and CAPT Bodvake look on.

Expanding to Japan is incredibly exciting for not only ATHENA, but the Naval “Innovation Insurgency” as a whole. But beyond that, I think that it’s important to provide a stage for the bright minds currently serving in this Theater to have their voices heard. We hope that you’re as excited about it as we are.

Come see what ATHENA is all about, and join us in making positive change in the Navy! We hope to see you there!

 

CDR Michele Day is the former Commanding Officer of USS BENFOLD. She’s currently assigned to CTF-70 as the Surface Operations Officer. She’s a proud graduate of Texas A&M and on a never ending journey to grow as a servant leader, positive change instigator, and figuring out how to get her Sailors to ‘give a poop.’

There are loads of Athena Events coming up! If you’re in the San Diego, Groton or Patuxent River areas, connect with us if you want to be a part of our upcoming events! Connect with us 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!

To learn more about Defense Entrepreneurs Agora: http://defenseentrepreneurs.org/about-def-agora/

 

 

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Launching Athena Afloat!

By ENS Daniel Stefanus

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USS ANCHORAGE (LPD 23) is proud to announce that on July 25th it will be holding the first-ever Athena event while on deployment!

We hope that this will lead to both more Athena events on ANCHORAGE and on other deployed ships. All of these will fall under the umbrella of “AthenaAfloat,” a slight change in the typical Athena script given the rather dramatic difference between a haze gray warship and a brewery.

While we know it will be more difficult at sea, we think that now is the perfect time for the crew to participate in Athena. On deployment the ship goes through the ringer, and the crew has to adapt and improve our systems to keep us mission-capable and battle-ready. It is this innovative and utilitarian spirit that we want to harness. Rather than let all of our sailors’ incredible ideas and solutions go to waste, we’re going to get them written down, disseminated, and implemented for the betterment of the entire fleet! This will not only pay dividends for other operational units, but also empower our sailors and show them that they do matter in the eyes of the Navy, that they can make a difference.

DCC Jake Wright and I are spearheading Athena on ANCHORAGE. Jake served on BENFOLD and saw Athena firsthand as it developed and evolved into the incredible forum it is today. He won Waterfront Athena 6 in San Diego with his ingenious adaptation to existing desmoking methods on US Navy warships (by creating an adapter to use box fans instead of RAM fans to desmoke a space in half the time!). His experience and perspective have been invaluable in currying support with the Chief’s Mess and by giving our CO, XO, and CMC a tangible connection to Athena to better explain how it works and why it matters.

DCC Wright and LTJG Jason Benning pitching the "Effing Awesome 7000" during Athena Six at San Diego's Coronado Brewing Company Tasting Room.

DCC Wright and LTJG Jason Benning pitching the “Effing Awesome 7000” during Athena Six at San Diego’s Coronado Brewing Company Tasting Room.

I’ve been on ANCHORAGE for a little over a year as the Fire Control Officer. A few months after I reported to San Diego, a Duke classmate recommended I check out the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum in San Diego (DEFxSD). There I met Dave Nobles and the Athena team. As they explained Athena I sat back and thought, “Wow, this is huge, our Sailors would love something like this.” In the presentation at DEFxSD I saw a picture of DCC Wright, who had recently arrived on ANCHORAGE, and knew it was a sign. Monday morning I sought out DCC Wright and talked to him about his experience with Athena. We agreed that Athena should be brought to ANCHORAGE.

However, DCC Wright and I knew we’d have to make some significant adjustments for the model to fit our crew and our situation on deployment. The primary challenges we saw with the Waterfront Athena model on a deployed ship were:

-Incentivizing the event properly to get a wide-range of Sailors interested and involved

-Finding a relaxed and open venue for the flow of ideas

-Getting sailors enough time and free space to think and develop their ideas

-Overcoming the lack of knowledge about Athena onboard

-Making the event fun but polished, so that the audience can understand the ideas and enjoy the presentations

-Connecting Sailors with off-ship developers and enablers

A ship's deployment is a great time to capture Sailors' great ideas for making the Navy better!

A ship’s deployment is a great time to capture Sailors’ great ideas for making the Navy better!

DCC and I met with our triad, who have been incredibly supportive, and worked out solutions that we believe will maximize Athena’s impact on ANCHORAGE:

-The winning Sailor(s) will get a reward package filled with free, but enticing prizes, especially for a deployed Sailor: a duty-free liberty port during deployment and 96- and 48-hour liberty chits for back in San Diego. We hope these will help pique the ship’s interest and overcome the initial skepticism that accompanies any product launch. The fully-loaded prize pack shows them how committed the CO, ANCHORAGE, and the Navy are to Athena’s success. I cannot stress enough how we would be nowhere without our command’s support. It is the most important key to success here, the foundation upon which all else rests.

-For a venue and idea space we’re going to try our ship’s chapel as it is the largest and most open space for people to congregate. We will also hold idea sessions in our electronic classroom, so Sailors can come up during the workday to use the internet and free time to enhance their pitch.

-DCC and I will personally go to all 20 divisions on the ship to explain Athena and show DCC’s winning idea from Athena 6. This will dramatically increase understanding of the event and get Sailors’ questions answered immediately from the source.

-DCC, “Idea Mentors” (volunteers), and I will then meet a couple times with each Sailor interested in pitching an idea. The first session will be a brainstorming/troubleshooting session in which we help the Sailor analyze and his/her idea so that he or she is able to present a more polished and well-thought out idea at the actual event. The second session will focus on presentation skills and how best to convey his/her idea. These will give the Sailor more confidence and make the pitches more enjoyable and understandable for the audience.

-Finally, to connect Sailors with off-ship developers, inventors, and enablers, we have this blog and the invaluable help of the Athena team. This post is meant to raise awareness of the event as it builds, so that as soon as we finish on July 25th we can get the word out and get our Sailors plugged into the incredible Athena network!

Of course, since this is the first time anyone has ever tried to do an Athena underway, we certainly won’t pretend to have all the answers… If you guys out there in the blogosphere have any ideas that you’d like to see us try, or want to kick start a similar event at your command, please connect with us!

 

ENS Stefanus is the Fire Control Officer onboard USS ANCHORAGE. To connect with him or DCC Wright, e-mail Daniel.stefanus@lpd23.navy.mil or Jake.wright@lpd23.navy.mil

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

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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!

 

 

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!