Athena DC 1.0 Roundup

By LT George Yacus

image

Hi everyone, Kilt here!  Long time listener, but first time contributor here on The Athena Project.

Athena DC 1.0 — what a success on so many frontsincluding the beautiful Potomac waterfront!

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!

Yes, I have to talk about location and timing!  

Riding on the evening coattails of the local 2016 SEA  AIR SPACE expo Monday night gave Athenians several great benefits for this inaugural session, including:

  • An absolutely marvelous conference center snuggled in Maryland’s growing National Harbor on the beautiful Potomac (with access to adult beverages during the session if desired)
  • A great showing of inquisitive participants from the Navy League’s Global Maritime Exposition, and
  • Closer access to the refreshing Navy leadership who live on the fringes of our nation’s capital.

VADM Phil Cullom, Dr. Larry Schuette, Dr. Ralph Semmel, and Sharon Beermann-Curtin each took time out of their busy schedules–and maybe even missed a meeting or two–just so they could support our five Athena idea warriors as panelists.  What a testament to their commitment in making innovation a priority for action and engagement!

INTRODUCTION

The session kicked off with Dave Nobles as our jovial Master of Ceremonies, sharing the history of Athena–which has held about 20 events so far and has become a beacon of success for Naval innovation.  He also shared with us the concept behind  Athena’s snazzy new logo.

Indeed, as Dave said, The Athena Project has become the “Bat Signal” for Naval innovation success.  

ATHENA

Only in this case, there is no “super hero” coming to the Navy’s rescue here in our nation’s capital city, which is normally known for legislative sausage-making, 15 year defense acquisition cycles, and risk-averse policy decisions from whom VADM Cullom likes to call “The Borg”.

Borg

Acquisitions? Make it slow.

Instead, our heroes are diverse individuals just like you, who are not satisfied with assimilation into a sub par status quo!  Instead, you are folks who exhibit our Navy’s core values with intellectual honor, courage, and commitment.  You are willing to get an idea, run with it, and make it into a reality.

MakeItSo

INSPIRATION!

After Dave got us going, our five presenters and audience gained encouragement from the ideation powerhouse that is FRCMA (Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic).  

“Our command actually fosters innovation…from concept to culture.” said one of the guest speakers, ATC Williams from FRCMA, who was “blown away by communication between juniors and seniors” evident at his command, which has not one but two ideation think tanks that meet every other week, and also has systems in place where anyone can share their creative ideas.   

Chief Williams and the FRCMA team shared nearly a dozen ideas and processes they’ve developed and implemented in the realm of Navy innovation, which he describes as “taking what’s out there, and using it in a new and exciting way.”  

As a result, their work has spread from FRCs at Oceana and Norfolk to PAX River, New Orleans, and Washington.

But don’t let FRCMA’s success make you think that innovation comes easy, as we all know

MakeItGlow

FOD Prevention? Make it glow.

ideation success takes leadership, hard work, and commitment.  Take for example LT Jason Shaw, who has spent ten years developing and then navigating funding and contract waters for his (literally) bright idea, which helps aviation maintenance personnel avoid FOD hazards (back to that theme in a second).  Or consider AD2 Shepard’s ongoing work to develop a better cranial that fits comfortably, doesn’t save up sweat, and requires fewer parts.

Our Athena idea warriors thus gained inspiration from those who have gone before us, knowing that their–and your–ideas, can literally the save the Navy time, money, and more importantly, save the lives of our fellow warfighters.

So regardless of whether or not our idea presenters’ concepts are implemented now, or even a decade from now as they battle “The Borg” or as some of us like to say, the “Frozen

Frozens-Queen-Elsa-009

Innovation? Let it go.

 

Middle”, who just want to let good ideas go away, we’re thankful for all of our attendees’ presence, patience, and persistence, and we’re especially grateful to the Chains of Command that support ideators like them being able to attend!

 

 

DC 1.0 ATHENIANS

160516-N-PO203-521

Our Athenians and our Panel from Athena DC 1.0!  (U.S. Navy Photo by John F. Williams)

AT1 MICHAEL PECOTA OF FRCMA DET PAX RIVER: SONAR TRANSDUCER COVER

At the end of AT1 Michael Pecota’s presentation, I think our esteemed panelist ONR Research Director Dr. Larry Schuette put it best:

“Does anyone else think it’s crazy that we don’t already have it capped!?”

AT1 Pecota’s winning idea is a $10 3D printed solution to a $2,000,000 problem.  And that problem is one near and dear to every aircrew and aviation maintenanceman’s heart: FOD…Foreign Object Damage.  The MH-60R (our favorite sub-hunting organic maritime helo) carries a very complex $2M sonar transducer to detect and track lurking submarines.  Unfortunately, when debris makes its way into the transducer, it takes our aviation electronics technicians and maintenance personnel a full hour just to take the cover off and clean house inside the transducer.  By reducing FOD through prevention, AT1 Pecota’s sonar transducer cover can save the Navy upwards of 1708 man hours a year, equivalent to $76,000 back in the Pentagon’s budget.  Sounds great!  Unless you are an enemy submariner, am I right?  His simple solution for a sonar transducer cap earned him the Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage.  

160516-N-PO203-515

AT1 Pecota receives the Admiral Sims Award from VADM Cullom. (U.S. Navy Photo by John F. Williams)

[Note, if you are an MH-60R bubba, looking to get one of these caps for your transducer, reach out and we’ll connect you with AT1 Pecota.  Let’s print these FOD-preventing bad-boys!]

LT JAMES LANDRETH OF NAVAL NUCLEAR POWER TRAINING UNIT, CHARLESTON SC: ADAPTIVE TESTING WITH MINERVA…THE ORACLE SUITE

Our second briefer carried the Athena torch with the mythology theme (woohoo!) LT James Landreth and his team pitched their innovative training/testing program “Minerva”, named after the Roman goddess of wisdom, art, Nuclear Power, school, etc.  

Their team sees wide possibilities with the Navy Computerized Adaptive Test system, enabling them to predict with 85% accuracy a student’s success, generate customized or individualized training regimes, provide command leadership data-supported feedback on training systems, and help students avoid test failure.  Nice!

LT DANIEL WALKER OF NAVAL SUPPLY SYSTEMS COMMAND: AUGMENTED REALITY BRIDGE

Collisions at sea.  They happen.  I wish they didn’t.  LT Walker wants to make them stop happening.  LT Dan wants every ship to keep their sea legs.

As a former CRIC-ster, he is the project lead for OCEAN AUGMENTED REALITY.  The idea is to take all the great sensors and information we have available on a bridge: map data, radar contact information, depth charts, etc., and synthesize it and present it to our watchstanders through augmented reality glasses to reduce collisions.  LT Walker’s project came in second place at Athena DC 1.0.  What an exciting challenge!

LT TAKERU TAJIRI OF  LCS CREW 104: E-SIGNALMAN

This is the idea that made it difficult for me to get to sleep last night!

It doesn’t take an engineer to realize that our electromagnetic spectrum is becoming more and more crowded and contested.  Just ask LT Takeru Tajiri, a Poli-Sci major from the Juggernauts of LCS Crew 104 who wants to breathe new life into an old concept like Morse code by addressing how we communicate when all the radios are jammed, or when EMCON (emissions control) conditions have been established.  The idea is to shift over to the shorter wavelengths on the EM spectrum, using visible light, infrared and/or laser, to send communication data from ship to ship or aircraft, and potentially relay data via unmanned vehicles/balloons to go over the horizon.

I really want to see all the tinkerers out there in the Navy come together and rally around this one, because I just KNOW that some sailors (including midshipmen) out there can design and build this one in a weekend or two!  Who is with me?  Let’s do it!

HM2 JOSHUA CRANFORD OF ANNAPOLIS NAVAL HOSPITAL: PROJECT WATER ENGINE

Our final presenter of the evening had me chuckling as he started with a great pun about sourcing energy and electrical current from water in the form of hydrogen.

HM2 Joshua Cranford is ready for the Navy to lead the way in green energy!  Taking inspiration from the SECNAV’s Great Green Fleet initiative, HM2 wants to transition to H2… using hydrogen gas as a safer, climate friendly, and some day cost effective alternative fuel source to fossil fuels.  Citing many recent trends, including successful projects from the University of West Virginia, HM2 Cranford encouraged us to take the long look for sustainability in how we power our Fleet.  His presentation, while cut a little short due to timing, was still a gas!

CONCLUSION

Wow, what a night!  In the end VADM Cullom tied it all together by spotlighting the strategic link between deckplate ideation, and Design for Maritime Superiority released by the Chief of Naval Operations. Specifically, he cited the line of effort regarding High Velocity Learning.  He also explained that he wants to see Athena spread to every fleet concentration area.

“I have been in awe of what Athena has done…”

-VADM Phil Cullom (OPNAV N4)

We’re so thankful for our presenters for having the courage to share their ideas.  How exciting it is that we can have sailors from all across the US come and meet together to make positive change in our Navy.  Even though this was the first Athena event in DC, I’d say the “Bat Signal” is shining brightly here.  Again, we must thank the leadership who have helped empower deckplate thinkers.

In conclusion, for some, it has been a 10 year journey to get here!  And for others, it was just a few minutes of traffic around the DC Beltway.  But regardless of whether you are an idea creator or an idea catalyst, newcomer or serial thinker, wherever you are in the realm of Naval innovation, remember, as VADM Cullom said this evening about The Athena Project…

This is your forum!”

 

LT George Yacus is an MH-60S helo bubba, currently on shore duty to USNA at the Class of 1963 Center for Academic Excellence, where he provides communication and outreach for student academic support services, including training midshipmen in collaborative learning techniques, speed reading, time management, and more.  In his free time he connects with other creative thinkers around the Yard and Fleet, and he is always looking to find ways to introduce innovation communities to midshipmen, faculty, and staff, and especially the aviation community at USNA.

There are Athena events coming soon to fleet concentration areas around the globe, so if you’re in Mayport, San Diego, Yokosuka and Norfolk – get ready! If you’re interested in starting a movement of your own, find us on Facebook or Twitter (@athenanavy) or e-mail us at athenanavy@gmail.com!

Advertisements

Innovation Jam Roundup

Slide1

By Dave Nobles

Wednesday’s Innovation Jam onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2) was an important and monumental moment for Naval Innovation.

The event was sponsored by a number of organizations, including Commander Pacific Fleet, SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. The support of such senior leadership for Deckplate Innovation made the event a resounding success, demonstrated in spades through awarding not one but two Sailors $100,000 to fund their concepts through prototyping and transition.

That’s the important part. Ideas born out of frustration, perseverance, and a quest to make the Navy better have been funded. However, the significance of the Innovation Jam is beyond the funding.

During the Innovation Jam, the assembled crowd of Sailors and government civilians listened to senior uniformed leadership within the Navy, like the Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift; The Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Readiness and Logistics, Vice Admiral Phil Cullom and the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens. The three military speakers kicked off the event with a volley of support for The Athena Project, Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation (TANG), The Hatch, The Bridge, and other efforts to bring about positive change.  Each message resonated with the entrepreneurial and intraprenurial philosophies.

The voices of those senior leaders, combined with civilian thought leaders such as Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, the first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Microsoft and founder of Intellectual Ventures and Dr. Maura Sullivan, the Department of the Navy’s Chief of Strategy and Innovation, all echoed the a consistent theme:

Innovation is about taking risks.

The sponsorship, collaborative support and allocation of resources serves as a beacon of thoughtful risk taking by senior leadership in the Navy. And, funding two Sailor concepts serves as inspiration to empower all Sailors at all levels to share their own ideas and as a clear signal from the Navy’s top brass that they’re not only listening but that they’re also ready to act.

IMG_0502

Sailors and engineers work together to reframe their concepts during athenaTHINK at SSC Pacific

Over two days in San Diego, six Sailors who presented ideas through innovation initiatives such as The Athena Project, TANG, and The Hatch, were given the opportunity to interface with scientists and engineers at SSC Pacific and ONR to reframe and refine their concepts at an athenaTHINK event before presenting their ideas at the Innovation Jam to a panel of experts, who would decide a winner.

On the panel Dr. Myhrvold and Dr. Sullivan were joined by Dr. Stephen Russell of SSC Pacific, Mr. Scott DiLisio of OPNAV N4, Dr. Robert Smith of ONR, Mr. Arman Hovakemian of Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Corona Division, ETCM Gary Burghart of SSC Pacific and the Commanding Officer of the host ship, USS ESSEX, CAPT Brian Quin.

IMG_0524

The panelists evaluating the pitches onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2)

The panel heard the six pitches and, after deliberation, Dr. Russell announced the results:

First Place: LTJG Rob McClenning, USS GRIDLEY (DDG 101)

IMG_0543

LTJG McClenning and Dr. Russell

LTJG McClenning presented his concept which he originally pitched at Athena West 3.0 called the Unified Gunnery System (UGS). The system would provide ballistic helmets equipped with augmented reality visors to the Sailors manning machine guns topside on a warship, and command and control via tablet in the pilot house. Commands given on the touch screen would provide indications to the gunners displaying orders, bearing lines and more. The system would be wired to prevent cyber attacks. The augmented reality capability of the system would mitigate potential catastrophic results of misheard orders due to the loud fire of the guns, and improve accuracy and situational awareness. LTJG McClenning received $500 for his concept, and $100K to develop the idea in collaboration with SSC Pacific.

Second Place: LT Bill Hughes, OPNAV N96

IMG_0541

LT Hughes and Dr. Russell

LT Hughes flew in from Washington, DC to pitch his concept, also from Athena West 3.0. The idea, CosmoGator, aims to automate celestial navigation through installed, gyro-stabilized camera mounts and small-scale atomic clocks to provide redundant Position, Navigation and Timing data to shipboard navigation and weapons systems. LT Hughes’ concept would continually update inertial navigation systems to enable continued operations in the event of GPS denial. Previously, this concept had been explored by the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. LT Hughes received $300 and in a surprise move, OPNAV N4 funded his idea with $100K as well.

Third Place: GMC Kyle Zimmerman, Afloat Training Group Middle Pacific

GMC Zimmerman’s concept, originally presented at Athena West 4.0, intends to bring virtual reality to the Combat Information Center. Through the use of commercially available headsets, GMC Zimmerman proposed streaming a live optical feed of a ship’s operating environment to watchstanders to increase situational awareness and provide increased capability in responding to casualties such as Search and Rescue. GMZ Zimmerman received $200 for his idea.

Honorable Mention: LCDR Bobby Hsu, Commander, Task Force 34

LCDR Hsu pitched an idea from Theater Anti-Submarine Warfare (TASW) TANG for a consolidated information database for the litany of data required to effectively manage the TASW mission. The concept, Automated Response for Theater Information or ARTI, would leverage voice recognition software like the kind found in the Amazon Echo or Apple’s Siri, to enable watchstanders and commanders alike rapid access to critical information.

Honorable Mention: LT Clay Greunke, SSC Pacific

LT Greunke presented a concept that he began developing during his time at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and pitched at Athena West 9.0. His concept leverages virtual reality to more effectively train Landing Signals Officers (LSO) by recreating the simulator experience of an entire building in a laptop and Oculus headset. LT Greunke demonstrated his prototype for the panelists and described a vision for the LSO VR Trainer, called ‘SEA FOG,’ as the first piece of an architecture of virtual reality tools to improve training in a number of communities and services.

Honorable Mention: OSC Erik Rick, Naval Beach Group ONE

OSC Rick first presented his idea for a combined site to host all required computer based training on The Hatch, though he acknowledged that the concept had been a highly visible entry on The Hatch, as well as in previous crowd-sourcing initiatives such as Reducing Administrative Distractions (RAD), BrightWork and MilSuite. His concept is to make universal access tags for civilians, reserve and active duty personnel to enable easy tracking of completed training as well as required training. In his proposal, the host site would combine the requirements of the numerous sites currently hosting training requirements and deliver an App Store-like interface to simplify the experience for users.

IMG_0544

All of our presenters and panelists. America.

Not enough can be said for the courage that all of the presenters demonstrated to take the stage in an nerve-wracking setting and present their ideas. In another good news story, the panelists and the assembled crowd provided feedback to all the presenters, which will assist in the further development of all six concepts.

With the success of the Innovation Jam in the rear view mirror, the process now begins to build on the ideas that received funding. We’ll continue to provide updates of the future successes of the two funded concepts right here on the blog.

This milestone for Naval Innovation is nothing short of monumental. Many can relate to a near exhaustion with the rhetoric surrounding innovation: Agility, fast failure, big ideas, consolidating disparate efforts, getting technology to the warfighters, and certainly partnering partnerships with non-traditional players.  When actions are weighed against rhetoric, it is action that wins, taking the initiative, assuming the initiative to act and moving the needle.  And Wednesday, we saw that happen.

This inaugural Innovation Jam will not be a one-time thing. As stated by VADM Cullom in his Keynote Address the event will be coming to every fleet concentration area in the future. Here at The Athena Project, we’ll continue to push initiatives like the Innovation Jam to inspire the creative confidence to present ideas and aid in any way possible to turn concepts into reality.

And, for those wondering how they might get involved in an events like this, support your local Athena chapter, submit your ideas to The Hatch and participate in workshops like TANG! Participation in these, and any innovation initiative will make you eligible for your regional Innovation Jam!

The future looks bright indeed not only for innovation but for action.

And we’re damn proud to be a part of that.

 

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.

 

A Simple Question and a Call To Action

By Dave Nobles

MainBanner_2015Last week, I had the pleasure of sharing the story of Athena with the submarine force at the 2015 Submarine Technology Symposium at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Beyond conversations, it was the first time that the history of The Athena Project was presented to this audience and the brief was part of a larger group of presenters in a session titled “Innovation.” My fellow session mates all had tremendous stories of how they’ve harnessed the collaborative spirit of Sailors to find creative solutions to complex problems and I was humbled to be a part of it.

While the possibility existed for the crowd to treat me as though I was a stranger in a strange land, my brief laden with photos of ships (they call them ‘targets’), the vision and mission of The Athena Project resonated with the group and I received a number of questions following the talk.

The prevailing theme of many of questions and comments was as simple as a Beatles song: How can we help?

And as John sang in the song Help, you know we need somebody, not just anybody.

original_447

The Beatles: Obviously Athenians.

 

However, to appropriately answer that question, it’s worthy to first assess the current state of Athena and where we would like to go in the future.

As many of you know that have been following The Athena Project from the beginning, transitioning Sailors’ great ideas to the next levels – Prototyping and implementation – is hands-down the most difficult phase of our expedition. The legend of Athena holds that the Greek goddess was a shrewd companion to heroes on epic endeavors, and most innovators know that transitioning a project from idea to action is an epic endeavor. Through our history, we’ve grown the network of innovators, academics, engineers and makers and had success with providing the heroic Sailors with companions that can make their big idea happen, but we can always do more.

Often, when asked by senior leadership what flavor of help they can provide to our efforts, I usually respond with ‘advocacy and support.’ However, to truly have Athena thrive by bringing forth tremendous ideas from the Navy’s deckplates and inspiring junior Sailors to be creatively confident, we need to take action.

So, what can you do to help? Well, it kind of depends on where you are in your organization. So, in the spirit of the song Help, here’s what you can do and what Beatles track you might best identify with:

If you’re a Sailor, you are “With A Little Help From My Friends” – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).

In the song, Ringo (yes, Ringo… As “Billy Shears”) sings about the importance of friends to get through difficulty or even attempt something that you may consider hard when you do it alone. Sometimes, getting involved in something like Athena and just getting your concept to the point of pitching is much easier said than done. But, with a little help from the Athena Network and local support from groups at the unit level, it becomes a lot easier.

What we’ve found that works best is developing a collaborative network at your command and apply supportive brainstorming tools to encourage each other’s ideas. You can find some great ground rules for creating an innovative group here. If you keep the faith and bring forth your ideas, eventually the whispers on a wall will become a shout too loud to be ignored. If you want to get involved with other like-minded innovators in your area, connect with us! We may be able to help!

A microphone shouldn't be intimidating - there's a team behind you!

A microphone shouldn’t be intimidating – there’s a team behind you!

If you’re an engineer, you are “Get Back” – Let It Be (1970).

In this classic, Paul urges Jojo, who had left his home in Tucson to make a horticulturally-driven voyage to California, to head back to where he should be. In developing new systems and technologies for the warfighter, it’s important to break out of the lab or office and get back to user-centered design. What better way to do that than to hear ideas straight from the Sailor and begin a relationship to keep the user at the center of the design process.

So to the engineers, get back to the deckplates. Take a risk and get involved! Often, the ideas that come out of Athena events need to be developed and iterated to realize their full potential. And often, the Sailors that pitch the ideas need your help. At many organizations, there are channels in which research, development, testing and engineering funding can be pursued through alternate means. If you take a risk by attending an event and partnering with a Sailor, you might find that you can develop a concept that emerged out of frustration on the deckplates, you can have a positive impact on how Sailors can perform their jobs. Beyond that, you’ll more deeply discover warfighters’ needs and build lasting connections that will prevent innovation in a vacuum. Sure, it may be a bit out of your comfort zone, but if you make the effort, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs!

Researchers at the University of Southern California proving the EARS concept that won Athena Two.

Researchers at the University of Southern California proving the EARS concept that won Athena Two.

If you’re a unit-level commander, you are “All Together Now” – Yellow Submarine (1969).

If anything is going to happen with Athena at your command, it’s going to require you to be involved. This song’s message is perhaps the simplest of all Beatles songs, and contained in the title: All Together Now.

As a commander, advocate, motivate and be part of the process, together with your Sailors! It’s one thing to inform your Sailors about Athena, but another thing altogether to encourage and inspire those under your charge to develop their ideas and bring them forth. By getting involved in the process – the coaching, the creation and the listening – A junior Sailor’s motivation to participate and present will follow suit. By putting in the time to make Sailors’ intellectual courage a priority, you’ll be investing in the future of the Fleet by serving its most critical asset: Its people. If it’s important to you, it will be important to your command.

Advocacy goes far beyond a mention at a Captain's Call! U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class N.C. Kaylor (RELEASED)

Advocacy goes far beyond a mention at a Captain’s Call! U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class N.C. Kaylor (RELEASED)

If you’re a senior leader or influencer, you are “Revolution” – The Beatles (The White Album) (1968).

As anyone who’s heard this gem knows, the song presupposes that the listener wants a revolution or beyond that, has a desire to change the world. Many senior leaders are highly ambitious and desire to make an impact, and Athena could create a tremendous avenue for just that. And, as the song goes, if that leader says they have a real solution, then people will be lining up to see the plan.

So, help towards building some real solutions: Challenge your team and your network! The Naval Message is still a powerful tool, and the individual that owns the message-release authority can wield it. Simply by lending your support to Athena, you may inspire commands or even communities that have yet to participate! And beyond that encouragement, you could discover the work that the Sailors have put into their concepts and challenge those under your charge to develop and prototype the ideas that resonate with you. Nothing like throwing down the proverbial gauntlet to inspire concept development!

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert challenged  the status quo by establishing a Rapid Innovation Cell during his tenure.

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert challenged the status quo by establishing a Rapid Innovation Cell during his tenure.

Athena is valuable because it drives Sailor engagement. Inspiring junior Sailors and young officers to think about how to make the Navy better tends to inspire those same Sailors to think about all they do, making them more apt to be engaged in problem solving and innovative solutions.

Beyond the quarterly pitch events in Fleet Concentration Areas, The Athena Project is rolling out several initiatives that can help to inspire, get new faces engaged and build on the creative spirit of the deckplates. More to follow on those new initiatives in the weeks that follow.

Dan Pink, whose book Drive has served as a catalyst for the birth of The Athena Project, notes that engagement is powered by three factors: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. While encouragement may lead to the Autonomy and Mastery pillars, the Purpose will always be decided by the network: The influencers, makers, engineers and doers that can transform a Sailor’s idea into reality. If an idea can make it to the next level, it proves that the voice of the deckplates is being heard and fuels the all-important Purpose pillar.

Together, we can fulfill that duty.

Or, to stay true to the Beatles feel of this article, we can be “Fixing a Hole.”

 

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!

Athena Northwest 1.0 Roundup

By: LCDR Drew Barker

Athena NW 1

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.

TANG – Innovation in the Big Leagues

By: LT Dave Nobles

d9715eac-1f30-466a-a197-8b72d2effbac_500

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.

osmUx_bRJXI8H-OMBfob-iBF2XrqAORJsXWXllfG-cE

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.

IMG_3557

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.

993473ac-98a9-405c-930a-5122b538e794

 

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

Fugate Athena

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.

DSC_0424

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!

Sailor, Allow Me To Introduce Scientist…

By LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell

Image

Back in December Josh Kvavle came to us with a simple question:  How can we help the technologists better understand the warfighter and the atmosphere they work in?

A few years ago at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), Josh created a “Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop” for the Grassroots S&T technologists with just this in mind.  But with only a few hours of sailor interaction in the past, he seemed all but qualified for the job.  After working with USS BENFOLD on a few other projects that junior Sailors pitched at Athena events, Josh and SPAWAR came to us and wanted to know what we think the technologists should know about what we do.

After a day of collaboration and brainstorming with Josh and his team, we started to understand just how little technologists and Sailors knew about each other. So, we figured it might be worth it to create a whole day dedicated to educating these Sailors and scientists about each other, connecting some dots that truly needed to be connected.  From there the wheels began to turn and we soon found ourselves planning a fun, informative and collaborative day to continue to help strengthen the bond between SPAWAR and the fleet.

The end goal was simple:  Make the Navy better.  If the technologists who are creating the systems we use understood the user better, couldn’t they make a better product?  How often is a sailor frustrated with the way a system is designed but figure they could never have a say in changing it?  What are the problems out there that the technologists aren’t working on yet?

On January 14th, we had the first ever co-sponsored Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop, and based on the incredibly positive response from the more than 60 that participated, it certainly won’t be the last!

The event kicked off with an Introduction to SPAWAR, focused on teaching Sailors what SPAWAR is, what they do and how they can help us.  We are extremely fortunate in San Diego to have a fleet concentration area within miles of one SPAWAR’s biggest research, development, test, evaluation and engineering fleet support facilities, yet we barely know what they do up on that hill at Point Loma.  After getting a better understanding of how cool their stuff is we were treated to technology tours across some of the most beautiful property in all of San Diego.

Tours were split up between Bayside, Seaside and Topside facilities all with exciting attractions. Sailors got to understand where the scientists work and the scope of their projects through tours of the Marine Mammal Program, the unmanned underwater vehicle program, the robotics lab, model shop, and more.  Each tour gave a unique perspective of how much research and development goes into each new piece of technology introduced into the fleet.  We definitely developed a greater admiration for the scientists and the work they do to help us fulfill our mission.  We wouldn’t be able to do our job serving our country if they weren’t doing their job developing our technology.

After getting familiar with their job and how they brainstorm and come up with new ideas, BENFOLD’s Captain, CDR Rich LeBron gave a great presentation on how his Sailors use The Athena Project and other avenues to express their ideas.  But still, the scientists knew very little about the fundamentals of the Navy and our everyday jobs, so we gave a brief interactive presentation to educate them about the ins and outs of shipboard life.  We walked them through the chain of command, gave them a perspective into each department, broke down some of our standard acronyms and described our watchstanding. Perhaps even more importantly than painting a picture of the environment, they were able to understand the areas on the ship for which they could help develop new technology.  Although the presentation may have seemed basic to most in uniform, it was a great way to take a step back and identify the little things that we take for granted but may be crucial to the scientist when developing new technology.

Image

Prototyping a way to improved efficiency!

After understanding Navy lingo a little better, it was time to start the fun stuff!  With lunch came some awesome interaction – it was amazing to see how a little mingling could spark big ideas and great conversations all over the room! We had brand new seaman who had only been on the ship for a couple of months engaging with scientists with PHDs from John Hopkins and MIT!

Now THIS was getting very cool.

After lunch, everyone partnered up: At least one Sailor paired with at least one scientist.  Sure, there was some shyness at first, but before long, groups popped up all over the room and started getting really excited to start fixing problems!  The environment rapidly became electric: Each group identifying problems, but trying hard not to brainstorm solutions until later.  Technologists were encouraged to ask some “dumb” questions to get the sailor thinking outside of the box and identify things they might not have noticed on their own. Teams generated problem statements and away we went to brainstorm!

With some brainstorming guidelines and tricks, the room got quiet and everyone quickly began scribbling down on paper.  The brainstorming sessions were so successful that we even added extra time to let the creative juices flow!  Brainstorming concluded with each group coming up with an idea to prototype.  As a new activity to the innovators on BENFOLD, prototyping was a fun way to see your idea come to life and lighten up the activity.  It was like a room full of arts and crafts, and very effective for pitching to the large group!

Image

BENFOLD Sailors reimagining Tomahawk functionality.

Pitch proposals were very similar to our Athena presentations but were strictly limited to two minutes and given with prototypes in hand.    We had presentations that made you laugh, some that gave you that “ah-ha” moment, and some that made many say “Why didn’t I think of that earlier?”.

Ideas included camera technology for maintenance, digital maneuvering board designs, advanced internal communication systems, seawater activated watches, hydraulic flight deck nets, a personalized training app and a spray paint rail system to paint the hull.  Some of ideas are already out there, some might not be efficient, and some just might make no sense – but that doesn’t matter.   Even if none of the ideas get traction (although some already have) the idea is to develop our Sailors into critical thinkers.  At the same time, the technologists are learning the needs of the Sailor and identifying shortfalls for future technology development. It was so cool to see the lightbulbs go off and the smiles on the faces at the end of the day.

Image

Ideas abound – this one for Augmented Reality on Surface Ships.

At the beginning of December when we met with Josh and the SPAWAR team, I don’t think any of us could have imagined an outcome like this.  It’s amazing to see the ideas from the fleet and how much you can create in a few hours.  The technologists were excited and eager to go back to their offices and start development and have already been contacting us on ideas generated.  Our Sailors came back to the ship proud of their prototypes and supportive of technology, the innovation process and the scientists behind it.

In the end, as cheesy as it might sound, everyone was a winner. Maybe the most important thing, though, was that everyone felt that in some way, however small, we achieved our goal of making the Navy better.

If you ask me, I’d say it’s just the beginning.

LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell is the Training Officer onboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). She’s a Marine Engineering graduate of Massachusetts Maritime Academy class of 2010.

Interested in being a part of the next Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop?  Want to meet a technologist and get to know more about SPAWAR?  If so, contact LTJG O’Donnell at odonnellk@ddg65.navy.mil or message The Athena Project on Facebook or Twitter! 

Artistry… from the Sea

By: LT Dave Nobles

120308-N-ZC343-270

I was on a flight not too long ago when something stood out to me. Rather, some one.

It was just your run-of-the-mill Southwest Airlines flight from San Diego to Chicago, about a week before the rush of holiday travel with people clamoring to get home to family to enjoy a heaping helping of Thanksgiving turkey.

But this flight turned out to be exceptional, and the one who shattered the humdrum, monotonous chore of air travel was an energetic flight attendant. I can see how it would be easy for any flight attendant to slap on a fake smile, give a half-hearted, robotic safety brief, toss passengers some peanuts and tell them “buh bye” as they depart the aircraft on the way to their final destinations.

bye

Very easy to feel like you’re in an SNL skit on a flight.

But not this flight attendant. Her charisma was magnetic – contagious even. She joked with passengers, delighted everyone on the announcing system, gave an entertaining and informative safety brief and appeared to genuinely care about the passengers. She even sang the song, “Sweet Home Chicago” as we landed in the Windy City. All around, her effort made the flight enjoyable and memorable (at the very least, she made me forget about the painful “cattle call” seating experience!).

The great companies – The ones with endearing products that delight the consumer – have this same tendency to treat their work as art. Just like that memorable flight attendant. From Apple’s focus on getting even the smallest detail right to Stone Brewing Company creating amazing craft brews while having a blast to Whole Foods’ commitment to healthy selections and friendly service, those organizations that treat their work as art succeed. The effort is evident in the product.

In the Navy, our product is readiness. In a grander sense, what we deliver to our customers (American people) is freedom, but we do that by ensuring that our ships, submarines and aircraft are ready – Ready to operate forward, ready to deter aggression, and ready to win a fight if necessary.

The tough part is that readiness is difficult to quantify, and that sometimes impacts the motivation of our Sailors. The best measure of our readiness to complete the mission when challenged is often the final grade of an inspection. Over time, this has the potential to negatively impact Sailors’ performance – the grand question of purpose.

Was she focused on the bottom line for the airline? Profits and losses? Nope. She just wanted to be better. It was inspiring. It was working like an artist.

In the case of my flight, the genuine artistry of this amazing flight attendant resulted in a better flight. You could see it on every face on that airplane. For Sailors in the Navy, working like an artist is about being passionate and creative. It’s about finding ways to make things better and about killing the phrase “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

Lynch-Pin-Safety-Pin

Imagine a ship full of linchpins!

Entire books and blogs preach the practice of working like an artist. In the book Linchpin, Seth Godin offers a stream of quotables on the topic. He claims that rather than seeking a better job or boss, we need to all get in touch with what it means to feel passionate about our work, because people with passion look for ways to make things happen.

What can we do to make things happen, especially at junior levels? Look for ways that your ship, submarine, squadron or command can get better. Have the confidence to let your voice be heard, and the perseverance to see your ideas through. Spoiler alert: it’s going to be hard work. But, if we have courageous patience, we might actually get something done!

After all, like Godin said, “Transferring your passion to your job is far easier than finding a job that happens to match your passion.”

So, let’s all be passionate about what we do. Let’s work like artists and sing “Sweet Home Chicago” all the way to a better Fleet.

 

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!

Sailors and Stockboys – Innovation From the Deckplates or the Housewares Aisle

By: LT Dave Nobles

original

Deckplate innovation is obviously a running theme of The Athena Project and something we talk about a lot on this blog. We also routinely note that there’s a lot that we can learn from businesses that have been extracting great ideas from their “deckplates” for some time now.

There’s a little general store in Arkansas that believed that mantra, and it worked out pretty well for them.

Sam Walton once famously said that Wal-Mart’s best ideas came from clerks and stockboys.  Wal-Mart grew to be a goliath corporation, perhaps on the strength of ideas that bubbled up from below. Employees with great ideas would bring them to Mr. Walton, or someone who could make a difference.

We see this time and time again. Take the Ann Arbor delicatessen Zingerman’s, for example. As they were starting to grow, they opened different flavors of restaurants. One such restaurant was called the Roadhouse. Management noticed that the store was taking some heavy losses, so they started to investigate.

The sleuthing led the team to ask a dishwasher what he thought. He said that he noticed something in the food waste that the managers may not have: People were throwing away a LOT of french fries. Nothing wrong with the taste, the portion size was just too big. So management reduced the serving size and offered free french fry refills, and it saved the company loads of cheddar.

12759

You can read more about that awesome story and some core Ethos from Zingerman’s by clicking this picture!

In both cases, leaders happen upon great ideas by listening, but the channel to receive the ideas was ad-hoc at best. That begs the question: Had there been a better channel for employees to share ideas, would Wal-Mart have grown even bigger?

The game of Monday morning quarterback isn’t as compelling when discussing the largest retailer on the planet – a company leaps and bounds bigger and more valuable than its closest competitors. Whatever they did worked. Open and shut case.

What if, however, Wal-Mart started to falter? If that blue banner started to fade and retailers threatened to take significant chunks of its market share? What if the chain grew to too many locations and didn’t have enough resources to fill them all the way they always had?

Certainly a grim picture to paint for a retailer, but it’s a picture that some might say is beginning to materialize for the U.S. Navy.

The service is stretched thin, supporting missions around the world. Often, robust deployment cycles steal away from maintenance and training phases of operational units. A fiscally austere environment forces leadership to prioritize maintenance and supplies based on what are affordable, leaving no choice but to postpone or ignore legitimate needs. The growth in capabilities of potential adversarial nations in many ways outpaces our own.

In the face of a plethora of problems, it would be prudent to investigate new ways to find solutions. Athena is just one among several initiatives focused on improvement by providing a channel for good ideas to come from the Navy’s “stockboys and clerks.”

If we learned anything from last week’s Waterfront Athena Project, it’s that great ideas really do come from the deckplates. The peer-voted winners of the event were a team of Second Class Petty Officers that wanted to work smarter, not harder was proof positive. Imagine the possibilities if more our motivated junior Sailors started putting that brainpower toward some of the administrative and procedural issues that were identified in the Reducing Administrative Distractions initiative! I, for one, would love to see a fresh set of eyes tackle General Military Training delivery, the gargantuan preventative maintenance system or the often-confusing Training Cycle.

Well, the channel is there. It’s growing and spreading and it doesn’t bank on chance meetings, like Wal-Mart’s or Zingerman’s did.

The question is, will we take advantage of that channel? Will we continue to beat the drum on deckplate ideas and innovation, but then lose our drumsticks when the time comes to be heard? Will leadership listen to the problems identified or solutions crafted by we passionate stakeholders? Will the passionate stakeholders put their effort where their gripes are?

The answers will come with time, but the channels are there. We just have to use them.

 

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.