2048… The Magic Number

By LCDR Kristen Wheeler

2048

Being a mobile gaming app addict, I came across one particular addictive game a couple months ago. “2048”, published by Ketchapp in app stores in 2014, is ridiculously easy to grasp while still providing a difficult challenge. The rules are simple… move the blocks horizontally or vertically to combine adjacent, like numbers until you reach 2048. For example, a block with the number “2” can only be combined with another block with the number “2” that is beside, above, or below it. When you combine two “2” blocks… you make a “4” block. Then you can push two “4” blocks together to make an “8” block, and then two “8” blocks together to make a “16” block… and so on and so forth… until you finally have created an opportunity to push two “1024” blocks together for the win. It’s not as easy as you think.

So take a second a download it. It’s free. The rest of the article might make a little more sense after you’ve played the game. If you become addicted, it’s not my fault.

After playing an embarrassing number of hours on this game (mostly never at work), it occurred to me that this game illustrates a fantastic strategy when it comes to scale and collaboration with respect to the multitude of emergent innovation efforts happening throughout the Navy and Marine Corps.

Over the last year I’ve been keeping a list of all the different innovation related ideas, projects, efforts, cells, and groups (of various maturity, sizes, scope, focus, audience, legitimacy, credibility, support, and funding) that have sprouted up throughout the Department of the Navy (and beyond). We have Secretary of the Navy’s Strategy and Innovation Department, Task Force Innovation (TFI), Naval Innovation Advisory Council (NIAC), The Hatch, CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), The Athena Project, Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF), DEFx, Tactical Advancement for Next Generation (TANG), Junior Enlisted Innovation Think Tank (JITT), Naval Innovation Network (NIN), MD5, MilSuite, Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), High Velocity Learning (HVL), TOOLKit, Cognitive Warrior Continuum, Illuminate, MMOWGLI, Junior Officer Symposium, Hacking 4 Defense, Hack the Sky, Hack the Machine, Innovation Certificate at NPS, USMC Wearable Challenge, PEO-EIS Innovation Cell, FabLabs, RoboDojo, Future Strategy Forum, Naval STEM, RDT&E Strategic Cell, and so much more.

In addition, there are a wide array of official and unofficial places that are publishing various innovation efforts which include (but certainly not limited to); SECNAV’s Strategy & Innovation, Athena Project, DEF, Atlantic Council, Naval Institute (website and Proceedings), Naval Science and Technology Future Force Magazine, War on the Rocks, Connecting the Dots, Military Writers Guild, CIMSEC, The Navalist, Defense One, and good ole Navy Times… just to name a few.

So what does this all of this have to do with “2048”? Over the last 14 months of watching super smart Sailors and DoN Civilians roll up their sleeves to implement their great idea, there is almost always that moment of defeat. The innovator stands at the edge of the cliff, overlooking a massive chasm, and wondering how on Earth they will ever be able to cross it and scale their idea into their biggest vision. “2048” could offer a solution to the ever growing multitude of emergent innovation efforts… we need to start combining.

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“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

What if groups that harvested Sailor’s ideas (2) were combined with research and development units (2) in an effort to build a true partnership (2+2) where Sailors ideas were systematically researched and funded each and every quarter (4)? Then what if one of the new innovation culture-based workshops (2) mated with an organizational metrics and collection team (2), thereby solidifying (2+2) as a quantifiable and adaptable learning program (4)? And then what if this new adaptable learning program (4), which exposed more Sailors to creative, cognitive, systems thinking mechanisms combined systematically researched Sailor’s ideas (4) to reinforce (4 +4) an inclusive systems approach to learning through real impact (8). There are a million other variables that we can continue to merge together.   The point is that when we combine our efforts, we become stronger. Dollars to ideas to education to collaboration opportunities to networks to organizational culture… what if we ask ourselves, how can I collaborate in such a way that both parties end up twice as strong in the end? And lest we forget the power of the media! By the time we are breaking barriers, we must share what we are doing so that others may gain insight and inspiration! A fusion of entertaining media (1024) and amazing advances brought about by radical collaboration (1024), only leads us to the ever coveted 2048.

Reflecting back on my time as a NIAC Fellow in FY16, one of the most valuable lessons I learned is that power and accomplishment comes from sustainable partnerships. No one can get their idea off the ground alone. It literally takes a village, or in our case, a Fleet. The only way we can scale and grow and instill the systemic culture changing behaviors (agility and adaptability being at the top of that list) in order to take ideas into meaningful realities is to combine efforts… and then perhaps 4096 will then be the new magic number.

 

Kristen Wheeler is the Executive Officer of the Navy Operational Support Center, San Jose. Before she was a NIAC Fellow, she founded The Athena Project’s Southeast chapter.

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A New Gateway, A Growing Team, The Same Fire

By: LCDR Drew Barker

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A quick introduction for those who don’t know me. I’m LCDR Drew Barker and was one of the original team members from ATHENA Northwest.

As Dave Nobles, ATHENA’s founder, transitions to an advisory role in his civilian job at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, I’m excited to serve the team as a new gateway – here to answer questions, support the ATHENA events growing across our services, and seek new ways to support deck-plate ideas. I’m particularly stoked about working with the ATHENA team because it has made a major impact in my decision to stay Navy – we are having a major impact and we are well set up to do even better.

Let me ask a simple question: What would your dream team would look like and what would it accomplish?

Some thrive on sports victories; others seek popularity, fame, or fortune; still others would rather sit on the couch and watch it all happen. Then there are a few that have a fire in their bones to make a positive difference in the world around them. My hat is off to Dave and the team surrounding ATHENA, who with that fire and some courageous creativity started a project to unite those of us who also kindle a passion for improvement deep in our bones.

Like separate coals brought together, we’ve been able to fuel one another and share that fire with others to make the Navy and the DoD better organizations.   This self-assembled team, inspired by the efforts and outreach of a few, is a dream team when it comes to grassroots innovation. Without policy directives or procedures, this team continues to find a way to refine ideas and bring them into reality – who wouldn’t want to be part of this undertaking and play a role in the future of innovation and rapid adaptability in our Services?

The creative fire is spreading throughout the fleet!

The creative fire is spreading throughout the fleet!

Through ATHENA we are building a more agile DoD, influencing the core of our culture with hopes that our Armed Services will be able to quickly counter developing security risks in an increasingly unpredictable world. By exercising innovation through network based support that is available to any level of our organization, I believe we can influence the military culture to explore positive disruptions and remain maximally effective. Our success will hang on formidable moral courage, engaged critical thinking, and the inclusion of the wide breadth of perspectives contained in the military, industry, education, and government.

Recently ATHENA has seen some major growth in the team. The torch for San Diego events is passing to a new group of leaders and innovators. The first ATHENA Afloat will soon be hosted on the USS ANCHORAGE. Some of the original San Diego cohort are making plans to light the fire in Japan, igniting ATHENA Far East in late fall. New leaders are emerging in Hawaii, looking to add to the growing “ring of fire.” ATHENA East in Norfolk is warming up for their second event, now sponsored by the innovators in the Hampton Roads Surface Navy Association. Also watch out for the group lighting off in the Jacksonville / Mayport area – we are excited to see the development of ATHENA Southeast this fall!  The ATHENA Project recently supported the logistics and design of an innovation competition initiated by members of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum at Dyess AFB, sparking innovation in the Air Force. So the excitement and energy seem to grow exponentially.

There are good reasons for our success so far, and they are founded in the moral fabric that ties together elements of our network. Here are four threads I find very important.

Weaving a network throughout the Navy and the Department of Defense.

Weaving a network throughout the Navy and the Department of Defense.

Human construction – the community focuses on building people – leaders / innovators / problem solvers / warriors that are connected and educated with tools for success. We recognize value apart from rank or position and treat ideas based on merit alone. We offer hope that voices will be heard and valued.

Human connections – trusting and diverse relationships are central to the network that supports the courageously creative. Without the personal connection, there would be little invested.   Without a diversity of connections there would be little to learn from one another. These connections are exciting and collaboration is a natural byproduct.

Passion for improvement – our team see solutions where there are problems, opportunities in obstacles, and aren’t deterred by cynics and unfounded critics. At the same time, the greatest improvements often come when we challenge assumptions, especially our own. Our team values education and upending baseless assumptions.

Positive engagement – there is nothing more motivating than contagious positive energy aimed at supporting others. We seek it, share it, and generate it when no one else has it.

Come join the dream team of grass roots innovation in the military if you haven’t already! Find a way to start, join, or support an ATHENA event. With Dave in an advisory role in the civilian sector working to make projects a reality, feel free to reach out to me with any questions, comments, or concerns – I would be happy to share some of the fire in our bones.

LCDR Drew Barker is an E-6B pilot returning to the TACAMO community as a member of the VQ-4 Shadows. 

Get involved with Athena in San Diego in August and Norfolk in September! Stay tuned for more grassroots projects!

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!

TANG – Innovation in the Big Leagues

By: LT Dave Nobles

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Last week, I was honored to attend Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored 2014 in San Francisco to share the story of Military Innovation with a broader audience.

The magazine invited the team from Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation (TANG), to present to a room full of forward thinkers from Silicon Valley and beyond who learned that the Navy not only has an appetite for fresh ideas and creative solutions to complex problems, but that there are movements afoot that are turning those ideas into action. Fittingly, the event was on Veteran’s Day and the conference center at San Francisco’s Metreon was filled with energy and excitement for TANG.

TANG is an initiative that brings together warfighters, decision makers and engineers to tackle problems using design thinking tools. Since 2011, Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) has worked together with the international innovation consultancy and design firm IDEO and the Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems to gain operator insight and transition cutting-edge programs rapidly to the Fleet. One of the amazing things that TANG brings to the table is speed – The team is able to swiftly move from Post-It Notes and a foam-core design at a workshop to a working prototype in a matter of months, and more importantly from a prototype to a functional system onto a Navy platform in less than two years. Lightning speed, in terms of the current acquisitions pipelines in the Department of Defense.

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STG1 Rory Satink negotiating a foamcore periscope at the TANG booth.

Through several events, chiefly focused in Anti-Submarine Warfare both on Submarines and Surface Ships, the initiative is beginning to gain traction in many other fields of the Navy. During the San Francisco visit for the conference, the TANG team was able to sneak away to IDEO’s Palo Alto offices to discuss what topics upcoming workshops will attack with Design Thinking and Creative Confidence. More to come on that.

No trip to the Bay Area is complete without dropping by to hang with the gang at IDEO - Big things coming in the future!

No trip to the Bay Area is complete without dropping by to hang with the gang at IDEO – Big things coming in the future!

Beyond the interest and respect that the initiative has gained within the Fleet, the invitation to present the TANG story alongside other top-tier innovative minds like Disney’s Ed Catmull, Lyft CEO John Zimmer and Samsung’s Vice President and Head of Design Dennis Miloseski marks a validation of the innovative work that the team has accomplished in the epicenter of corporate innovation, Silicon Valley.

The director of TANG, Johns Hopkins APL’s Josh Smith, in a conversation on stage with Fast Company’s Chuck Salter, talked about some of the initiatives TANG has put into play already on Submarines, like replacing a bulky $128K joystick for periscope control with an Xbox controller.

“These Sailors have great ideas and they want to make things better,” Smith said. “We give them the tools to unleash their creativity and watch the magic happen.”

Those tools are the unique brainstorming rules developed by IDEO that the team employs at every TANG workshop, bringing Sailors from all over the Fleet together to generate powerful new concepts for the warfighter. A couple of those ideas: Defer Judgement and Encourage Wild Ideas, are what allows a concept like bringing a video game controller into a real-world tactical environment to blossom and become a reality.

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Post-It Notes: The Design Thinking calling card.

And that’s just part of the overall value proposition for harnessing operators’ ideas. Smith envisioned partnerships that leverage the extensive amount of R&D funds major corporations invest in new technologies and connecting operators’ insights to develop intuitive and effective systems that increase warfighting efficiency.

While the TANG story is a compelling one, there are numerous projects afoot in the Department of Defense, including the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (and extended network, CRIC[x]), the Defense Entrepreneurship Forum and of course The Athena Project, the “Milicon Valley” movement doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. Especially in the wake of the recent announcement by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work that a new DoD Innovation Initiative would be announced within the week. You can read more about that here.

One thing is for sure: There’s a lot of energy out there to try to make things better across the Navy and the DoD. Imagine what we could do when we’re all pushing in the same direction!

Whatever the future may hold for innovation in the military, it’s safe to say that TANG will be a big part of it. Post-It Notes and all.

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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!

Waterfront Athena Six Roundup

By: LT Dave Nobles

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On Friday, the sixth installment of San Diego’s Waterfront Athena took to the Coronado Brewing Company tasting room with some amazing ideas that will one day shape the Fleet.

This time, we had ten presenters from four different organizations in the San Diego area, all pitching great concepts geared toward making the Navy better, one innovation at a time. For more about how The Athena Project works, check this out.

There were plenty of familiar faces at the event – a huge contingent of engineers from SPAWAR’s System Center – Pacific were on the scene to take part in the ideation, and Dr. Ben Migliori talked to the crowd, more than 60 strong, about the upcoming Grassroots S&T/Athena collaboration workshop. More to follow on that very soon!

Then, we had some new friends joining in this time around. From IBM, Jim Pietrocini gave a quick pitch on Social Collaboration within the Navy, and the future of knowledge sharing. And, we were lucky to have our new friends from the innovative San Diego tech company, Interknowlogy, showcase some of their cool new technology. Representing the organization, Rodney Guzman helped us out by picking the first presenter, and then it was time to get down to the ideas.

Here’s how it all went down:

***Waterfront Athena Six’s Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage***

“The Effing Awesome 7000” – ENS Jason Benning & DCC(SW) Jake Wright, USS BENFOLD 

While the name is a bit squirrely, the concept is not. In fact, it’s one of those ideas that you hear and you say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

On every ship at sea, each Sailor is a firefighter. In the unfortunate event that a fire were to break out aboard while underway, Sailors not only have to fight it, but they also have to figure out how to get rid of the firefighting water and residual smoke afterward.

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From the “why haven’t we been doing this for decades” department, DCC(SW) Jake Wright and ENS Jason Benning present the “Effing Awesome 7000”

With a simple prototype, these two Damage Control innovators demonstrated a ridiculous efficiency increase in desmoking efforts. Typically, Sailors hook up a RAM fan to what’s called an elephant trunk, or a huge hose to transport smoke from an interior space to the atmosphere topside. A RAM fan is rated at 2,000 Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) and is typically used to desmoke because it hooks up to the elephant trunks. However, a shipboard Box Fan, rated at a much higher capacity (3,200 CFM), has no way to hook up to an elephant trunk.

Until now.

With a prototype made out of a sheet of metal and a trash can, these two Sailors invented an adaptor that leverages the increased output capacity of the Box Fan with the elephant trunk, resulting in the ability to desmoke a shipboard space in nearly half the time. The effort was good enough to bring home the day’s biggest prize, and Benning & Wright guaranteed that videos of the “Effing Awesome 7000” would be postable soon!

Runner Up: The SPY Ladder – LTJG Adam Levine, USS BENFOLD

Once the crowd realized that BENFOLD’s Systems Test Officer wasn’t THAT Adam Levine, they were able to focus on his great idea.

Yes, folks, those are little zombie people cleaning that foamcore SPY array.

Yes, folks, those are little zombie people cleaning that foamcore SPY array.

With a few brackets and a removable ladder, LTJG Levine proposed an innovative solution for cleaning and repairing SPY arrays on Cruisers and Destroyers, thereby saving the Navy millions of dollars over the life of a ship. Each time a ship requires array cleaning or repair, the only present solution is to erect scaffolding for the duration of the maintenance period, which costs nearly $20K each time. With LTJG Levine’s innovative ladder, which would be affixed to rails at the top and bottom of each fragile array, Sailors could clean the arrays without scaffolding and effect repairs on the fly when the situation demanded it. Not only would the money savings be staggering, Sailors would finally have a solution to repair arrays at sea which would greatly enhance readiness in important mission areas like Ballistic Missile Defense.

Third Place: Jamming Drones – FC3 Josh Wade & FCSN Dallas Baranosky, USS BENFOLD

Sometimes innovations come to you when you’re engaged in focused thought, directing all your available brainwaves toward the creative effort. Then, there are times when you’re exhausted on a midwatch conversing with your buddies and you stumble across a great idea. In the case of these two Fire Controlmen, the latter is true.

The Midwatch: Hub of creative thought since 1775.

The Midwatch: Hub of creative thought since 1775.

Late one night, after a discussion of threat missiles and their associated seeker types, these Sailors suggested an innovative solution to a potential home-on-jam threat. In their proposal, a ship could launch an unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with an organic jamming pod from its Vertical Launch System (VLS). Under shipboard control, the drone could then fly out a few miles from the ship and stay airborne for multiple hours, jamming any and all inbound missiles that might have a home-on-jam capability, causing the enemy missiles to fly at the drone instead of the warship. The pair is currently working with the team from SPAWAR to develop their concept.

Spray-on PCMS – CTTSN Lucas Amido, USS BENFOLD

In the day’s first presentation, CTTSN Amido proposed a method to save time and maintenance costs by replacing ships’ stick-on radar cross-section reducing countermeasure systems by creating an aerosol version of the coating. In his two-part system, Sailors could spray on a coating that would serve the same purpose as the Navy’s Passive Countermeasure System (PCMS), then seal it with a second solution.

Shipboard Robotics Club- FC2 Mike Owen & IC3 Katie Rogers, USS BENFOLD

Many of today’s enlisted ratings require technical skill sets to deal with extraordinarily complex systems, and the Navy is currently trending toward more advanced systems that will demand even greater technical acumen. As a fun way to sharpen these skills, FC2 Owen and IC3 Rogers proposed the creation of a Robotics Club onboard ships. Sailors, both enlisted and officer, could work together to build robots and see their creations square off against other commands and community clubs while developing a skill set that will serve tomorrow’s Fleet well.

Pigeons for Bandwidth – Dr. Sunny Fugate, SPAWAR SCC PAC

In what was certainly the most entertaining pitch of the day, Dr. Fugate delivered the ultimate innovative communications solution to solve data latency issues at sea and resolve challenges that Sailors face in low bandwidth: Pigeons. Backed by compelling data, Dr. Fugate proposed using trained pigeons to transfer data packages between units. Ok, ok: There are some challenges, sure – like training the pigeons, attaching the data to pigeons, not losing the pigeons, etc. that could result in increased data latency (or loss of critical information). However, Dr. Fugate’s pitch brought some welcome technology-driven levity to Athena.

"Just one word: Pigeons."

“Just one word: Pigeons.”

eyePARTS – LSSN Vashti Kronaizl, USS BENFOLD

Often times, the Navy’s supply system can be a source of frustration for not only Logistics Specialists, but any Sailor trying to find that specific part of a system or subsystem. As a solution to this problem, LSSN Kronaizl proposed building a visual database of all parts associated with systems to enable a camera-based program to search for systems based on a photo of a specific part. While there are several challenges to this system, like differentiating gasket sizes and identifying small parts that are used in multiple systems, LSSN Kronaizl’s vision for the future of the Supply would make Sailors’ lives a whole lot easier!

Super Commos- LTJG James Martin, USS BENFOLD

BENFOLD’s Fire Control Officer explained the importance of the shipboard communications suite to a variety of missions that ship’s conduct, from Ballistic Missile Defense to Air Warfare to Visit, Board, Search & Seizure. As such, he proposed that Communications Officers onboard ships should be second-tour division officers because of the relative importance of communications, both voice and data, to the mission. LTJG Martin proposed that, if altering the division officer sequencing plan was a bridge too far, Communications Officers should at least be afforded the opportunity to attend Communications Officer School prior to reporting to their commands. Currently, there is no such requirement.

Virtual Flight Academy – Flack McGuire

In a pitch right from the pages of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, Flack McGuire talked about a way to determine the best pilot candidates BEFORE they arrived at Flight School. He likened the way that we find pilots in the military to hiring an inexperienced quarterback to helm an NFL team. With exercises and tests given to prospective pilots at younger ages, Flack’s Virtual Flight Academy aims to identify the best qualities for future pilots before selection, ensuring that the Aviation Community is stocked with the most talented personnel possible.

3M Billets – HM3 Michael Gardner, USS GREEN BAY 

The Navy’s Maintenance and Material Management (3M) program often elicits a visceral response from those that have to use it every day, and HM3 Gardner is no exception. Since the 3M program is extremely admin-intensive, HM3 Gardner proposed forming a separate division onboard ships specifically to manage the various maintenance actions taking place all over the ship. These Sailors’ primary duties would be to schedule preventative maintenance, ensure that maintenance requirement cards were always up-to-date, generate reports and implement administrative changes to the maintenance index pages. While the program was not specifically designed to have a separate division maintain it, the increasing administrative burden that comes with 3M makes HM3 Gardner’s solution quite realistic.

At the event, we recorded each pitch, and once the video has been edited, we’ll post those to the Athena Facebook page and right here on this blog.

With so many great ideas, it was awesome to see the real-time innovation and collaboration between Sailors and Scientists that happens at an event like this. It’s both inspiring and encouraging for Military Innovation that The Athena Project continues to grow. While the West Coast iteration of The Athena Project continues to march along, regions are throwing together Athena Projects all over the place! Just last month, the first-ever Athena East took Old Dominion University by storm, and next month The Athena Project will be visiting the great state of Washington as Athena Northwest gets in on the action.

As always, we’re truly humbled by the support that this initiative has received both from the fleet and from industry. It’s amazing to think that what started as an unfortunately-named experiment called WikiWardroom has blossomed into a stage for Sailors to have their voices heard!

Thank you to everyone who participated in this event and we can’t wait to see you guys at our next one! And of course, a very special thank you goes out to our friends at Coronado Brewing Company for helping us host this awesome event.

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!