Athena East 2.0 Roundup

By: Dave Nobles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LT Pete Barkley, United States Naval Academy – Schedule Automation

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

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

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

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

Connecting with the Sharks.

Connecting with the Sharks.

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

LT Matt Hipple emceeing his heart out.

LT Matt Hipple emceeing his heart out.

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

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

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

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

Connect with The Athena Project on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail athenanavy@gmail.com!

Design Thinking! The Experience of 3M TANG

By: LTJG Tom Baker

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On the afternoon of Monday June 8th, I left the mighty BENFOLD and drove north to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, excited about a promising opportunity to collaborate, create, and solve.

It was a slow roll through the front gate – ID check sat – and after two wrong turns in an unfamiliar base, I found my way to the Miramar Officer’s Club. With slightly wrinkled slacks and polo shirt from my journey, I entered to find two brightly smiling faces at a table full of gizmos and documents. “Hi, welcome to 3M TANG!”.

I was christened with my colorful badge, complete with a “Mavericks” team button. Thoughts filled my head like, ‘what is this thing for!?’ and ‘What have I gotten myself into?’

Oh was I in for a surprise.

I was gestured to the right into a large room and what fell before my eyes was what an innovator at heart may compare to the large candy room that Willy Wonka reveals to the children during their factory tour. And so my voyage into wonderful world of TANG began.

This is 3M TANG – in detail: The Maintenance, Material, and Management (3M) Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation. From June 8th-11th, 30 hand-selected warfighters were chosen to help create ideas, concepts, and solutions for future 3M systems, displays, hardware, policy, and procedures. This three-day workshop that I was attending – the culmination of months of research and insight generation – was designed to make tangible improvement to what the Navy largely affirms to be an outdated and broken maintenance system.

The first TANG event was held in 2011 to address challenges associated with Submarine displays. ADM Richardson, then the Commander of Submarine Forces, called for positive change and away the first TANG went – in San Diego – to prototype some concepts. The teams, through iteration, went from foamcore prototypes at the event to working models within a handful of months, finally transitioning concepts onto Submarines through the APB process. Since that first event, the team has accomplished several TANGs tackling a variety of challenges – Executive TANG, Australian/US TANG and Surface ASW TANG just to name a few.

3M TANG - the most recent event for the team - and plenty more to come!

3M TANG – the most recent event for the team – and plenty more to come!

TANG has been relentlessly successful because their creative structures accomplish two otherwise rare practices. One, they place stakeholders, technology experts, and warfighters in one room. Normally, the creator & stakeholder are geographically separated from the sailor, so valuable lines of communication and feedback are delayed. Secondly, TANG manages to get everyone rowing in a unified direction! Objectives are clarified quickly, and the team keeps each other in check.

Groups of people talking closely, jotting down notes on large white posters, laughing, or gathered around booths holding, wearing, and interacting with some of the coolest tech I’ve ever seen. My nervousness dissipated as I saw familiar faces in the room ~ a family of supporters and creators that have held The Athena Project afloat since its earliest inception, joined together with the TANG team was incredibly welcoming and put me into a state of creative euphoria.

The first event – the Tech Expo – showcased some of the most respected companies standing side-by-side with organizations that I’ve never heard of – their ideas all equally-incredible. I spent the rest of day one playing with technology and interacting with the creators who I realize are wholly devoted to giving our Sailors their best.

The tech expo is geared toward “unlocking the realm of the possible” to inform the brainstorming efforts of the teams from around the fleet. Over the next three days, our teams would engage in the process of Design Thinking to brainstorm, prototype, and present our creations.

I hardly thought that the second day could be better than the first, but I was wrong. The TANG team, partnered with award-winning innovators at IDEO, identified 14 solutions to known 3M issues that emerged throughout the course of some exhaustive empathetic research around our fleet. So, one of the first primers we did was to provide feedback on those concepts. Through “I wish” and “I like” statements, along with questions and concerns, the room collectively penned sticky notes to accompany these concepts, an exercise designed to kick-start the brainstorming process.

After we finished the concept card exercise, I came to find out that the “Mavericks” button I’m wearing is a team name. And, after a rousing and supportive speech by the Commander of Naval Surface Forces, Vice Admiral Rowden, the room is fired up to create!

Design thinking chart

We kick off the Design Thinking Process with some brainstorming. The goals are to generate a lot of ideas in a little time, get different perspectives, and build some excitement! Each group member starts slapping sticky notes to these ideas with every thought under the sun. I noticed a little poster next to our white space.

THE 7 RULES OF EFFECTIVE BRAINSTORMING

  1. Defer judgement
  2. Encourage wild ideas
  3. Build on the ideas of others
  4. Stay focused on the topic
  5. One conversation at a time
  6. Be visual
  7. Go for quantity

Some of the notes are features: “WIFI”, “Bluetooth”, “PERSONAL Profiles!”. Other stickies are more conceptual, or the “how” behind other stickies: “Hire coders”, “Partner with existing tablet creators”. Some of our mates are categorizing and connecting ideas as we go along. Everything is so fluid. During this process, I start learning how each of my new friends thinks. Those stickies and the conversations about them start to reveal personalities, and we fall naturally into our team roles.

Our mission, together, was to combine a couple of really interesting ideas that the team had collectively brainstormed and voted on. The PMS Recipe Card is a platform and ship specific set of digital maintenance instructions. PMS is planned similar to meal planning as it captures what tools, qualifications, hazardous materials, and training are necessary to carry out the plan. Our other idea, the Workcenter 3M Tablet, provides the ability to take these PMS Recipe cards anywhere in the ship, and even write and submit a job or feedback report.

Once we had the direction for our new concept, we dive into the room’s ‘arts and crafts’ section to get our ideas into the physical space. There were tables filled with large white papers, foamcore, glue guns and a table full of a crazy conglomerate of supplies (pipe cleaners, whiteboard markers, full-size candy bars… you get the idea).

Team Mavericks - having fun with Top Gun puns since 2015.

Team Mavericks – having fun with Top Gun puns since 2015.

Our team is now deep into prototyping. There is no better way to communicate a concept to our team with minimal investment. We can tear it apart, tweak it, or add on to it as soon as we see the need. I see some more guidance on the wall for this step in the process. Luckily I had some notes from a quick brainstorming and prototyping presentation by Dave Blakely from mach49 to remember the details:

PROTOTYPING

  1. Building to think. Prototypes are tools used both to validate ideas and to help us generate them. Prototypes force us to think about how someone would interact with our concept.
  2. Rough & rapid. Prototypes are exploratory, not precious. They should be built as quickly and cheaply as possible.
  3. Answering questions. It’s essential to know what question a prototype is being used to answer: whether it’s around desirability, usefulness, usability, viability, or feasibility.
The prototyping toolbox.

The prototyping toolbox.

I drag a piece of foamcore the size of a picnic table over to our corner of the room. My friends are at the table of supplies, gathering markers, scissors, more stickies (because we understand the need at this point), and even manage to return with a handful of chocolate chip cookies. We are really clicking at this point. We cut out a foam-core tablet larger than the bed of a full-size pickup truck. There are so many concepts to visualize that we start drawing out “screen shots” on large pieces of white paper. With some help from the TANG facilitators, we realize we can rotate these white papers through our tablet frame to visualize to an audience.

Some of us want to add more detail, others realize the tight timeline we are on and move quickly to the next screen. Again, our personalities revealed, roles refined. We met each other 40 minutes ago and operate like a well-oiled machine.

Eventually, we would present our prototypes and concepts to the entire TANG audience and receive the invaluable live feedback through “I like” and “I wish” statements, questions, and concerns. Earlier in the writing I spoke about the three teams of warfighters. Well, there’s a fourth team of Stakeholders – the technology holder, sponsoring companies and those who want to and CAN create positive change – who will be giving feedback on our ideas and also sharing their own ideas to positively impact the future of 3M in the fleet. Our prototyping and presentation processes start to reveal who they are.

Another half hour later, and the room comes alive in theatrics as we rehearse our presentation. We feel confident about our prototype. It’s time to receive feedback and refine! At this point I recall my mind being expanded yet exhausted. I was fulfilled by the roller coaster of turning a collection of several hundred thoughts into something I could hold in my hand, complete with a rehearsed delivery by a cohesive team. And the most exciting part of this design thinking process, was that all of this preparation is to create something intentionally non-permanent – ready for alteration, destruction, further creation, all by design. It’s easy to iterate on something that’s a rough prototype – much easier than when we’ve already dumped millions of dollars into a solution BEFORE gaining the warfighter feedback. The tendency is to NOT change things then. I walked away from the event excited about the fluidity and fragility of our idea’s future.

When we finished our sharing session, with all the teams presenting their ideas to the crowd, the room was filled with an incredible energy. It was a good thing, too: Because we were about to do the whole process one more time!

I took with me the incredible lessons in a new approach to problem-solving. It brought me back to my undergraduate days when I had read about these processes occurring at IDEO and other forward-leaners. Being immersed in Design Thinking revitalized my sense of confidence in our ability to solve large and small scale challenges. I am passionately drawn to thinking about our underlying purpose at The Athena Project. This experience was a “how” that I believe our incredibly talented Sailors can and should be encouraged to utilize when approaching an increasingly dynamic set of challenges and future threats.

We can set our focus primarily toward innovations, solutions, and products, and I believe we will enjoy a few breakthroughs. OR, we can set our focus toward changing the way we think and approach our environment, and I believe we will enjoy both a culture of dynamic problem-solvers, AND a far greater byproduct of innovations, solutions, and products!

LTJG Tom Baker is the First Lieutenant and Public Affairs Officer onboard USS BENFOLD and the San Diego lead for The Athena Project. He’s a proud graduate of Oregon State University, earning his degree in Entrepreneurship.

Stay tuned for our official announcement of Waterfront Athena 8! If you’re in the Pacific Northwest and want to participate, reach out to the Athena team on Facebook, Twitter or e-mail!

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!

Design-Thinking A Path To Improved Warfighting

By: LT Dave Nobles

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Recently, Sailors from USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) and USS GRIDLEY (DDG 101) were fortunate to spend some time with the Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation (TANG) Forum, brainstorming future improvements to the way that surface ships perform Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW).

The TANG Forum is an initiative composed of members from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Labs, design and innovation consulting  firm IDEO and the Program Office for Integrated Warfare Systems. The group uses design thinking to extract great ideas directly from warfighters and applies those thoughts toward designing user interfaces, consoles and other tactical systems that will be installed on the US Navy’s subs starting next year. You can read all about them in this awesome article in Undersea Warfare Magazine. Kicking off in 2011, the group has been focused primarily on how Submarines fight.

Until now.

The latest maneuver for the TANG is to come to the Surface Navy with their successful recipe for tactical improvements, and their research went full throttle in partnership with The Athena Project onboard the mighty BENFOLD’s battle barge.

Once onboard, the TANG group outlined some principles of the design thinking method, a structured approach to brainstorming that aims to create “How Might We” questions to stimulate boundless creative thought.

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Structured brainstorming with Sailors

 

The method starts with empathetic research through interviews and observations to gain an understanding of the problem. After that, the flood gates open to harvest all kinds of ideas. There’s no idea that’s wrong, no idea that’s bad, and participants are encouraged to add on to existing ideas. The plethora of ideas are voted upon to select and refine, and then prototypes are built to shift ideas from someone’s mind’s eye onto something tangible.

Tim Brown, president and CEO of IDEO, gives a great definition of design thinking here.

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Design Thinking: Quick and Dirty

“Having read about The Athena Project, we were familiar with the innovation effort onboard USS BENFOLD,” the TANG team said. “However, reading and experiencing are two completely different things. They were energized and showed awesome creativity. It was clear that this crew had some amazing ideas on how to make things better. The insights and ideas gained through the tours, interviews, and ideation sessions are critical for our preparation for the Surface TANG Forum.”

LTJG Mike Claus, BENFOLD’s recently-turned-over Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer lauded the TANG Forum, enjoying the ideation sessions from start to finish.

“One idea discussed was to implement an internship program with SWRMC and the PEO before SONAR techs report to their first ship or while waiting for their next school,” LTJG Claus said. “This would build a deeper understanding of their equipment directly from the subject matter experts.  It’s awesome that efforts like TANG Forum are making this happen!”

After the flurry of ideas the TANG team departed BENFOLD, leaving behind them a wake of Post-It Notes. The next stop was a tour of USS GRIDLEY (DDG 101).

By the hospitality of her crew, the TANG Forum was able to gain even more insight into the spaces where SONAR technicians operate and to fully grasp the spatial constraints of a DDG. The team observed SONAR spaces, the Combat Information Center (CIC) as well as some other command and control nodes onboard.

“I’m not sure if it was planned, but the sun was setting as we made it to the bridge on the GRIDLEY…absolutely gorgeous.” the TANG team said.

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Next on the horizon for the Surface TANG team is a research trip to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii next month to continue massaging their process, ensuring that the right questions are asked and the best solutions are built.

We’re excited about the future and all that it will mean for the Surface Navy!

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!

Be sure to like TANG on Facebook! Athena too!