How an E-5 Dental Tech is Supporting the Navy’s Energy Security

By HM2 Joshua Cranford

cracked-concrete

Beginning fiscal year 2017 the United States Naval Academy (USNA) will be starting research into partially premixed diesel fuel as a measure to ensure the Navy’s energy security. They’ll do this with funding from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) as a direct result of a pitch that I made. Did I mention I’m a Second Class Petty Officer; who serves as a Dental Technician?

Empathizing with the reader taking this information in let me answer the obvious question- Yes, reality is stranger than fiction. Had I worked for a company like Google or Facebook and suggested an app for the company to produce, it would be very easy to digest one of these titans of innovations running with an idea from any source; but the Navy? One of the largest bureaucracies in the world listening to a… Dental Tech… on macroeconomic energy trends? The Navy has something Google and Facebook don’t though, and that’s ATHENA. And well, you know, a slightly over-zealous Dental Tech. Having said all that just know this isn’t a politically correct puff piece; just for the record- the Navy doesn’t pay E-5’s enough to write those.

A NAVADMIN was released in December of 2015 calling for sailors with a “High Risk, High Reward” idea to submit an application to the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC). I read about this and submitted 18 pages of “this is so obscure, it might work” and associated documents on how to integrate hydrogen use into the fleet as a viable substitute for fossil fuels. Long story short my proposal on how to allocate $1.3 million for a proof of concept for Project Water Engine (PWE) fell by the way of congress defunding the CRIC- I wrote angry letters to both of my senators and my congressmen; but I digress.

A few weeks later I got an email from the CRIC coordinator informing me about ATHENA DC 1.0 taking place at the Sea Air and Space Symposium in just over a month. I sent off my white paper on PWE to ATHENA with all the enthusiasm an individual typical has when purchasing lottery tickets. Yeah I was ready for a win, but I wasn’t expecting my number to come up… I won the preverbal lottery.

160516-N-PO203-521

The panelists and presenters at Athena DC 1.0, hosted at the 2016 Sea Air Space Expo.

Immediately after ATHENA informed me I would be pitching, I got an email from the good people at ONR asking if I needed help refining my five-minute pitch. Well I looked up who I would be pitching to (a three-star admiral, and three other individuals with a collective IQ around 550ish), had a momentary panic attack, and then humbly accepted the offer for help. The three individuals I meet with at ONR took the weighty tomb of my novel idea and made it sound intelligible enough for a meaningful five-minute pitch.

Sea Air and Space came and if memory serves correctly, I was the fifth best pitch of five presenters. Measuring success is tricky business though. The conversation on PWE continued long after my five-minute public forum was concluded. The conversation also led me to being connected with the Naval Innovation Network; a group of driven individuals who don’t need to be told “it’s their Navy”; they already know.

After the pitch I guess is when you could say the real work started. I received an email from ONR again. While confidence in a project that called for gasoline-hydrogen-hybrids was thin, I was informed that there could be a funding possibility. ONR had money to spend but it needed to come from the Naval Enterprise Partnership Teaming with Universities for National Excellence (NEPTUNE) initiative; AKA alternatives energy research that goes through a college capstone/ research project. I had some work to do to align interests on PWE. I took to the Naval Innovation Network and tracked down some individuals at the Naval Academy. After some real champions of innovations pointed me in the right direction I found the Mechanical Engineering Department.

us_naval_academy_probe_08b1d

The panelists and presenters at Athena DC 1.0, hosted at the 2016 Sea Air Space Expo.

From the start I wanted to prove that Hydrogen could be used as a cheap/ sustainable supplemental/ primary fuel in internal combustion engines; specifically, with gasoline. Fast forward a few months and a professor in the MECH ENG DEPT asks me the question “why not diesel, it’s the Navy’s favorite fuel source”. There’s more though- there was a concept floating around academia about pre-mixing hydrogen with diesel fuel. I looked at PWE and this concept of partially premixed diesel fuel fit like a glove.

So I had a few building blocks to work with: my idea, a college wanting to explore a new concept very similar to my idea, and funding for a college to explore my idea. Well ONR was very receptive to partially premixed diesel fuel and the Academy was very receptive to the idea of getting funding for a research project.

So if you’re considering submitting your idea to ATHENA for the opportunity to pitch remember three things:

  1. Never accept a “no” from someone who’s not authorized to say yes.
  2. A dental tech is influencing alternative energy research in the Navy.
  3. This one is from MCPON (ret) Stevens and couldn’t apply more- Build on small successes, and stay positive!
cropped-vertical_color_raster1.png

Supporting the innovator to support the innovation.

HOWEVER, I hope it’s been noted that ATHENA never directly supported my “Innovation”. ATHENA supported me- the innovator. It was on me to align interests and exploit the Naval Innovation Network that I was connected with to promote my innovation. ATHENA provided me an opportunity to present my idea. More than that- ATHENA gave me the opportunity to create opportunity.

-Go Navy, Beat EVERYONE!

 

“Joshua Cranford is currently assigned to Naval Health Clinic Annapolis as a the Dental department ALPO and is currently pursuing a degree in mathematics.”

Advertisements

Three Keys to Building a Culture of Creativity and Innovation in the Navy

By: LT Dave Nobles

Image

Spoiler alert: They’re books.

In the time that I’ve been a part of The Athena Project, I’ve noticed something about the Navy that’s been pretty inspirational. It’s something that I’ve talked about quite a bit on this blog and something that I’ve seen in my short time as a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) as well. There are pockets in this organization that are motivated to spread and cultivate a culture of creativity and innovation. It’s not just the Navy either, it’s a theme across all the services and in many of the places where civilians and government employees support the litany of missions out there.

These little pockets of hope can manifest themselves in the form of organizations like the Defense Entrepreneurship Forum (DEF), the Innovator’s Initiative (I2) at the Naval Academy as well as Athena and CRIC, but they’re also brewing at nearly every command out there. There are groups of innovators, intrapreneurs, disruptive thinkers committed to bringing about a change in culture within our organization. The culture of creativity, where all opinions are valued, where design thinking is king and where failure is not a career-killer.

So, how might we connect those dots and make the culture go viral?

I feel like I’ve been on a bit of a hot streak lately in terms of books, and a few that I’ve read lately and some old classics might hold the key, when we consider the lessons they teach us together. I feel like there’s a sequential order in those lessons, but all three are key to spreading a culture of innovation:

1. Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley. 

CCBook_Front_Comp_560px

 

This book is the new bible of innovative thought, by two brothers with a boatload of street cred: Founders of the innovation design firm IDEO as well as the Design School at Stanford University. What the Kelley Brothers teach us in this book is that there’s inherent creativity within each of us, but the decision to harness that is a conscious one that each individual has to make on their own. Further, they speak to the power of design thinking and creativity as a natural process through a series of stories and examples. Some specific examples in the book, at corporations like Intuit and 3M, even have a similar look and feel to The Athena Project!

The book is also full of creativity exercises that zealous creative explorers might use to brew the innovative mindset in their organizations. The exercises are great tools that we can use to spread the culture and identify those who have made that important decision to be creative. Those that choose to strive toward making things better.

Not only does this book help us find out who we are and can be on a personal level, but also what our organizations are and could be at a much higher level. It’s a tremendous read and essential to help shine a light on who the innovation movers are – for those who seek their partnership and to those who seek to find the spirit within themselves.

2. Good To Great by Jim Collins.

collins

By most accounts, this book is a modern classic on how to build organizations that transcend success into greatness, a peak that few companies ever reach. The reason why this book is second on the path to building and spreading the culture of creativity in the Navy is that it preaches identification of the right people before careening toward the goal.

One of the main points that Collins hammers home in the book: First who, then what. It’s important to put the right people in the right seats on the bus often times before setting the final destination. While the corporate examples mentioned have different constraints and capabilities than we do in the military with regard to recruiting and retaining talent, the message and its relation to our cause is clear.

The book does have its criticisms, however. It’s dated, and of the companies referenced throughout the course of the book many have continued to sustain great performance, including Kimberly Clark, Walgreens and Wells Fargo, while others identified, like Circuit City and Fannie Mae have not. Nonetheless, the points regarding harnessing the human capital first and setting a clear vision for the organization are enduring and provide a sound lesson for a culture shift.

First who, then what. Identify the creative explorers, and then spread the culture.

3. Contagious by Jonah Berger.

Contagious1

Which brings us to ideas worth spreading, which is precisely the sermon that Wharton professor Jonah Berger gives throughout the course of his book. Another relatively recent publication, Contagious differs from book-club-favorite, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell in many respects. While Gladwell focuses primarily on the personality types required to make a message, style or idea spread, Berger focuses on the content of the message or idea and gives a checklist for success. In fact, on his web site, Berger provides worksheets that help the development of the idea that goes viral.

Berger gives us the ingredients that make a viral message In his STEPPS, an acronym for Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value and Story. Now, while each message need not have all of those ingredients in the final dish, the more that are baked in, the better it will taste.

So, I propose this trilogy of books as our roadmap for spreading the innovative culture. We identify and cherish the creative volunteers, put them in the right seats, and build a message that we all want to share. If you’ve read any of these and have feedback to offer to those that want to pursue this vision, please leave it below. Otherwise, I ask that you give these three a try, and leave your thoughts below.

Let’s work together to build the culture that we want. Let’s turn those pockets of innovative thought within our organization into a movement, and make the Navy what we want it to be.

Here’s to the dreamers, the doers, the thinkers and the movers: All engines ahead flank.

LT Dave Nobles is a Surface Warfare Officer assigned as Weapons Officer aboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He is also a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us!