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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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!

 

 

Our 3 Innovation Resolutions

By: LT Dave Nobles

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The new year is upon us, which means it’s the time for resolutions.

2013 was an awesome year for not only The Athena Project, but also for the growing culture of creativity within our Navy. But, just like anything, we can ALWAYS get better. The new year is a great opportunity to reflect and find those spots where we can improve upon ourselves.

At Athena, we’ve identified three innovation resolutions that may help us to get better. What good is a resolution, though, without a means to test it, right? That’s why we’re going to be throwing down on our Second-Ever Waterfront Athena Project in February. More to follow on that.

So, here you are: Our 3 Innovation Resolutions for a more creative 2014:

1. Take the time to THINK! – I often hear from people that they “don’t have time.” Now, whether that’s with regard to innovation, participating in The Athena Project or working to make something – anything – better, that mindset is just plain wrong.

The first step of any innovative process or creativity writ large is ideation. And, contrary to popular belief, ideation is not a time sump.

There are loads of small opportunities in the course of our everyday routines wherein we can apply a little brain power to think of new and/or novel ideas to make things better. A long run (or the shower that follows), the 5 minute “snooze” period when you’re waking up, the long drive home, or even just closing your internet browser or Microsoft Outlook window at your desk for a few minutes are a few primo examples of thinkspace that we can steal away from our busy days. It does take a little commitment to free our minds of the daily toils to “think big thoughts,” but these five-minute clips will hardly derail your entire day.

So, we’re resolving to take those little chunks of time to think. Who knows, you might think of something really great! (Just be sure to write it down!)

2. Share your ideas! – The great part about the Navy is our diversity. Within our ranks we have an abundance of different experiences, upbringings, educational backgrounds and, of course, sea stories that, when combined, broaden all of our horizons. As a result of that diversity, there are so many varying points of view that you’ll get if you share your thoughts with other people.

So, all that big thinking you’ve done with your carved out time blocks? Talk to people about it! One of the things that we’ve found is incredibly valuable is building a small team of creative folks with different backgrounds in which you can freely share your thoughts without judgement.

Do you have an idea for a mobile application? Find someone with app-building experience and talk about your idea with them? Do you have a fix to an administrative process? Talk to a yeoman about whether or not it would be useful. If you talk to others, you never know where you may find the perspective you’ve been looking for – and it might lead to a breakthrough for your idea.

3. Do! – We’re beginning to get very good at talking about our ideas, but as we often hear: Execution is the new innovation. Even one of our favorite destinations for creative inspiration, TED, is under blogger fire for talking too much and doing too little.

Though several of our Athena Projects are currently being worked feverishly at various levels, we can always do better. So, this year, we’re resolving to execute. And then execute some more. And then keep on executing.

As Anatole France famously said, “To accomplish great things we must dream as well as act.” Certainly, a quick Google search would likely yield a litany of similar quotes from many of history’s big, philosophical brains. So, we’re accepting that challenge and we hope you will too.

Of course, this is always the tough part. But, there are more resources than ever to prototype ideas (not to mention IDEO and the TANG Forum’s favorite tools: Foamcore and construction paper!) and the quicker you can showcase the thought that’s in your mind, is the quicker you can perfect its design. Be first to the whiteboard this year: Get your ideas out there and then DO something about them!

To use a term that one of BENFOLD’s phenomenal Senior Chiefs often says: Don’t put execution in the “too-hard pile.”

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Waterfront Athena is coming this February! Are you?

So, that’s what’s on our minds as we hit the 2014 waypoint. With February’s Waterfront Athena Project right around the corner, we’ll see how many of you feel the same way!

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.

Make A Dent From Wherever You Are

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By: LT Dave Nobles

Since we’ve started making moves with The Athena Project, I’ve been a bit of a maven for the process. Often, the feedback is great. I see people get energized to participate and/or attend, and they almost immediately launch into impromptu ideation sessions for worthy ideas to showcase to the group.

Sometimes, though, I feel a bit like Harold Hill from The Music Man trying to sell trombones to a town that doesn’t listen to music. Or, more appropriately, a town that jams out to a different style.

Also, I’m told by my Navigator that that reference will be lost on many (Click the link! It’s a great musical!)

I started thinking about what might cause the negative response. Granted, I’m biased, but I believe Athena is a small step toward building the type of intellectually curious Sailor that our Fleet needs.

Part of the cause is the fact that there are folks out there who feel there’s no place for innovation or ideas to bubble up from the deckplates in our organization. They’re few and far between, but they’re there. Honestly, I feel bad for them, and I feel bad for those that have to serve under them. Leaders like that form a thick layer of permafrost in our organization, stifling ideas before they can melt through.

That being said, it’s the person with the idea that’s responsible for “heating it up” enough to break through that frosty layer.

That leads me to the other, more prevalent part. There are innovative minds out there that don’t think they can make a dent, regardless of where they are vertically in an organization. That discouraging thought can result in a failure to launch, a failure to believe that they can make a difference, and ultimately a failure to act.

Well, I’m here to tell you: That just ain’t true.

There are success stories from around our organization about people who have made their marks. Further, we have a rich history of brave innovators from within our ranks breaking through solid layers of icy bureaucracy to swing the hammer. Perhaps the most notable of these stories is the story of Admiral William Sims, who is the namesake of the award that goes to the winner of The Athena Project.

The Admiral’s story has been recounted by many, including this blog entry from the United States Naval Institute, so I’ll summarize. As a Lieutenant in the early 1900s, Sims knew that he had found the answer to gunnery methods that were plaguing our battleships after watching the British operate. He tried to send those concerns up through his chain of command, and they told him to get back in his box.

So, he told the Secretary of the Navy.

And it radically changed the way we fight.

Sims’ story is proof: It doesn’t matter what your rank is, you can make a difference. But you’ll never make a dent if you don’t pick up the hammer. But Sims isn’t the only one: Our Armed Forces are full of stories like this, from Admiral Grace Hopper bringing technology to the Fleet at a junior level to Army soldiers developing the Rhino to protect convoys against heat-activated Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detonations. Good ideas can, and have, been brought to fruition by passionate, junior personnel. These are the “Yelpers” – the people who are passionate enough about their idea to stand up and say something about it.

Damn the red tape, full speed ahead.

The Athena Project is linking up the people with ideas that want to make a dent with “makers” that can give speed to that hammer strike. It’s a place where you can go to present your vision and have it at least be considered by all those other people who are passionate enough about bringing fresh ideas to the Fleet to be there. It’s a place where your whisper turns into a shout, and a place where the connections that we’re welding can lead to some real innovation.

At the risk of transitioning from The Music Man to John Belushi’s famous Animal House speech: Bring your ideas! Present them at Modern Times Brewery on October 25th in San Diego and make that dent, regardless of where you are. You may be sitting on the next dent that completely changes the game.

If we make enough dents, together we can shape the structure to what we want it to be.

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.