2048… The Magic Number

By LCDR Kristen Wheeler


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.


“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.