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.

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ATHENA Project Showcase: Illumination

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For surface ships in the U.S. Navy, day-to-day operations can sometimes feel like a cavalcade of inspections, assist visits and assessments across a growing spectrum of warfare areas, programs and processes. Many of these assessments are conducted by different organizations, and in typical Navy fashion, the requirements for each are contained in a handy checksheet.

Unfortunately, because each inspection is independent of the others, the checksheets will often contain redundant (or even worse, contradictory) guidance.

LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell aimed to improve this process with her Athena pitch for a program called Illumination.

LTJG O’Donnell, the Training Officer onboard USS BENFOLD, proposed the formation of a small functional team whose charge would be to consolidate the requirements found in each checksheet into a single, usable document for each warfare area.

Time to knock out those ASA Checksheets!

Time to knock out those ASA Checksheets!

The Illumination Team, while incorporating all requisite guidance into a “one-stop shop,” would also provide program managers with an in-depth local assessment of each area of cognizance prior to any off-ship inspection.

The schedule for the local assessments would be overlaid atop the ship’s schedule through the training cycle. Each area that the ship was responsible for would be scrutinized in depth prior to an assessment, while leaving adequate time to correct deficiencies prior to “game day.”

“It’s a tall order to stay ahead of all these inspections. There are just so many of them!” LTJG O’Donnell said. “Basically, we’re just trying to work smarter and not harder.”

LTJG O’Donnell drafted a command instruction governing the Illumination program, and hopes to implement it onboard BENFOLD prior to commencement of the ship’s training cycle. BENFOLD is presently moored at BAE Systems Shipyard in San Diego undergoing a complex combat systems upgrade to Advanced Capability Build 12.

LTJG O’Donnell said that her goal in the long-term is to create consolidated checksheets for every warfare area over the next year and to share those functional documents with other Guided Missile Destroyers that would eventually have to traverse the guantlet of inspections in preparation for a deployment.

“If we can make it easier to ensure that we’re at our top readiness by consolidating requirements, then we would have more time to focus on training and operating,” LTJG O’Donnell said.

 

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

Sights Set On Symbiotic Solutions.

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By: LT Dave Nobles

I mentioned yesterday that I’ve always found relating business world concepts to the Navy to be challenging and rewarding. In fact, it’s 100% the primary driver of The Athena Project.

Several companies today have initiatives that encourage growth of their employees as people, harnessing the power of their human capital and riding that wave all the way to the shores of Awesometown. Companies like 3M, Google, IDEO, FedEx (and the list goes on and on) supercharge their ridiculously talented professionals through the concept of time off for intellectual development. What they find is that their employees are generally happier and more productive. Some corporations encourage their employees to study anything – Even if it doesn’t relate to the jobs they were hired for.

Athena strives to make that type of initiative for the Navy work. Too many of our hyper-intelligent Sailors are academically discouraged by the nature of their work.  It would be folly not to at least provide a channel in which they could unleash that dormant talent and brainpower. Just one lesson among many that the Navy can and should adopt from successful giants of industry.

That said, there is much that the business world can learn from the military as well. When I was studying for my MBA at Penn State, I participated in a great residency assignment that brought my entire cohort together to run a business simulation. We formed groups of about 10 and became companies competing in the perfume and aftershave industry. Over the course of the next week, we had four years’ worth of quarterly decision periods in which we steered the company in terms of financial leverage, marketing, pricing, quality assurance and a litany of other metrics.

I had the great fortune of being selected as Chief Executive Officer of one of the six groups of students in the simulation.  What I found during my time as “Team Alchemy” CEO was that the lion’s share of students who were in the group – brilliant people who had been working for quite some time in the business world – had never, EVER been led. And, many of them didn’t know how to lead, either.

It was at about this point that I realized the extent of my brainwashing, courtesy of the military. Leading is easy to me because of the great experience that I’ve had in the Navy. I immediately went into that mode and rounded up my team to perform to the best of their abilities.

Together, we built an open environment in the team where anyone could express their ideas and thoughts and work toward the end goal: Winning. We had fun, we gained a metric ton of knowledge about how competition really works, and… We won!

That little case study in leadership taught me that the corporate world has as much to learn from the military as we from it. There are countless lessons on leadership and management that can be distilled from the experience of servicemembers just as there are a bevy of productivity, human resources, project management, and innovation lessons that the services can glean from years of business experience.

At the Defense Entrepreneurship Forum this past weekend in Chicago, and on its blog, Esteban Castellanos, an Air Force reservist, presented the idea of short externships for promising leaders. A phenomenal idea, and a great way to educate our promising young leaders on business world concepts. There are also programs like the Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellowship Program that aim to do the same for senior leaders.

How do we give back, though? Certainly forums like LT Ben Kohlmann’s DEF that foster networking and relationships are an excellent medium. Another would be to host ideation sessions between businesses and military leaders. Perhaps a leadership retreat where groups of leaders in businesses and various military communities could share ideas and solve problems would be a path for mutual growth. The possibilities are endless, but the bridges need to be built.

Interaction between the business world and military has the potential to yield some positive results on both sides. How might we best cultivate that symbiotic relationship?

 

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

Photo by FC2(SW) Shawn Truesdale

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

To Innovation and Beyond… How We Started.

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By: LT Dave Nobles

It all started in Happy Valley.

Before reporting to the Mighty Warship, USS BENFOLD (DDG 65), I taught college students at the Naval ROTC unit at Penn State. While I was shaping those young minds I shaped my own, earning an MBA while stationed in State College.

The most interesting thing about getting a degree like that while still in the military was that I was shoulder to shoulder with classmates who had been working in Corporate America for some time. Many of the concepts from the coursework were easily relatable for them, while I had to rack my brain thinking about how to apply business concepts to my experience in the Fleet.

While on my feverish quest of concept correlation, I stumbled upon the work of Dan Pink in his book Drive. Mr. Pink also has a great TED talk that the folks at RSA Animate turned into a whiteboard video that has garnered 11 million views on YouTube.

I was fascinated with the motivation stuff, and started thinking about how I could apply those concepts to my department head tour once I circulated out of Central Pennsylvania and back into a fleet concentration area.

When I reported to BENFOLD, I was pleasantly surprised to find a chain of command that supported the implementation of innovative concepts.

Wait… What? So, there are commands out there in the Surface Navy that actually encourage disruptive thinking?

Not one to miss an opportunity, and fueled by the stories that Mr. Pink recounted at TED about the Australian IT firm Atlassian, I proposed to the Captain that we give all the Junior Officers the day off.

He looked at me and raised an eyebrow.

Before he kicked me out of his cabin, I quickly explained myself.

The reason I wanted them to have the day off was so they could pursue whatever big, hairy audacious idea they had to make BENFOLD, the San Diego Waterfront, or the “Big Navy” better.

He eased back in his chair.

I called the concept I proposed “WikiWardroom.” I was totally making it up as I went along, and though I thought the name was clever, hindsight reveals otherwise.

The Captain let me pitch the concept to the wardroom, and it was well received. You get the day off from your work to pursue any idea to fix a problem. The only price you pay for the day off is a five-minute presentation at an off-ship, casual location on the Friday that follows the Tuesday “day off.”

If there’s anything that sailors do extraordinarily well, it’s gripe. The event, I told the Captain, would not only harness that innate ability, but also unleash the intellectual horsepower from our Junior Officers that’s typically dormant in their daily grind.

I was riddled with a crazy anxiety that I’d never felt before as I wondered if the JOs that we gave the day off would actually bring good ideas to the table for the event. I had absolutely no control and it drove me crazy. I hoped that they would bring the kind of ideas and solutions that I knew they were capable of. They did want this, right? They did want to try to make change in the often-stodgy bureaucracy, right?

Turns out, I was <thankfully> right. The wardroom dug the first-ever event, hosted at Basic Pizza in Downtown San Diego. We had some excellent food, great cocktails and had an awesome time as we listened to and gave presentations.

In true fashion of ‘making it up as we go,’ after the first presentation, we noticed that the group writ large really wanted to give feedback. So, we instituted a five-minute Q&A session that followed the five-minute, powerpoint-free presentation.

Success. We ended the first event and patted each other on the back for the exercise and ideas that came from it. And, it would seem that we were on to something. We were thinking and we were having fun! It was great.

I sold the first “WikiWardroom” as a quarterly affair, and in the meantime, I was brought to my senses that the name was god-awful and so birthed the name “The Athena Project.”  Fitting, because not only is Athena is the Greek goddess of inspiration, wisdom and the arts, but in legend she was also a shrewd companion of heroes on epic endeavors. And, if anyone’s ever tried to make change in such a large organization, they can attest that it most certainly is an endeavor of epic proportions.

As we were beginning to plan the next event, ships began reaching out to BENFOLD about The Athena Project and I went aboard several ships to talk to their wardrooms about it. It seemed that my wardroom wasn’t alone, and that Sailors actually wanted a voice! Go figure!

For the second event (which we held on the rooftop of one of our young ensign’s apartment complex) we had Sailors from six different ships, the Commander of Naval Surface Force’s training shop as well as a couple researchers at the University of Southern California’s Institute of Creative Technologies in attendance. It seemed that the idea was starting to grow. Great ideas flowed out of that event, and again – it was fun!

The strength of the second event earned me the privilege to fly out to Norfolk and present the concept at Naval Warfare Development Command’s IdeaFest. Further, I was selected for the Chief of Naval Operations’ Rapid Innovation Cell – a small group of innovators whose charge is “To empower and enable emerging Naval leaders to rapidly create, develop and implement disruptive solutions that tackle warfighter needs while advocating for, and inspiring, deckplate innovation throughout the Fleet.”

The Athena Project itself is not an innovation, the ideas that come from it are. Athena is akin to methods that the business world has been using for years! Honestly, I believe that it shows how much the Navy has to gain from corporate processes that unleash the intellectual curiosity of employees and encourage outside-of-the-box thinking.

Athena is moving forward under that tack. Perhaps The Athena Project won’t find the cure to cancer or develop the next great strike aircraft or change Coke to Pepsi. However, the one thing that Athena will do for sure is create a cadre of junior Sailors and young officers that think differently, have the intellectual firepower to pursue difficult problems and the courage to stand up and say something about it.

And isn’t that what the Navy needs? Isn’t that what any company needs? A stable of intrapreneurs laser-focused on being better?

We’ll find out at next month’s first-ever Waterfront Athena Project, hosted at the Modern Times Brewery in San Diego.

A bit of a long introduction to this blog, I know, but I’ll be using it to post success stories from previous Athena events, and general musings about innovation in the Navy.

Enjoy and welcome.

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

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