Naval Innovation Reboot

This blog post is written by RADM Terry B. Kraft, Commander, Navy Warfare Development Command Video is of ADM John C. Harvey, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, speaking at a recent symposium:

Thinking about Naval innovation conjures up technological transformations such as shifting from sail to steam, the birth of the aircraft carrier, nuclear powered submarines, and unmanned vehicles.  These forward-looking innovations prepared us for the next fight and to continue to dominate our enemies from the sea.  But our adversaries are not static.  They perpetually seek creative advantages that could threaten our leading edge, deny our access, and challenge us at sea.  How are we preparing the warfighter for the next war?




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We are witnessing an era of explosive leaps in the formulation of new ideas and opportunities. The speed and reach of information systems are transforming many dimensions of war.  The internet and social networks are connecting previously distinct ideas and fusing them into reality at an astonishing rate.  Yet despite this dynamic environment, much of the Navy remains shackled to cumbersome processes and linear thinking.  In order to exploit this rich atmosphere of ideas, we must energize and capitalize on the enterprising nature and resourcefulness of our maritime professionals.

To that end, senior military leaders, academic experts and industry representatives gathered in March in Norfolk, Virginia, to discuss the state of innovation in our maritime forces and begin a larger campaign to overcome barriers and create the conditions for an innovative culture.

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Three themes emerged that we are focusing on at Navy Warfare Development Command as we lead the effort to regain our innovation culture: 1) identifying conditions conducive to innovation, 2) defining the type of problems that need to be addressed, and 3) developing channels for a free-flow of innovative ideas and concepts.

Creating a culture of innovation will require overcoming some of our inherent challenges, such as the bureaucracy in which we operate, a “middle-management” that is risk-adverse and pre-disposed to protect the programs over which they have jurisdiction, and not permitting a certain amount of failure that is necessary in an innovative culture.  NWDC is working to conquer these challenges.

Part of defining the playing field demands that we clearly understand the issues we face.  Albert Einstein said; “If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and five minutes finding solutions.”  In defining what we need, the pattern today is to default to things – weapons systems and other material items that can help us win in the future. It is essential to recognize that innovation is much more than technical – it involves broadly questioning and deeply thinking about challenges at sea and how our Navy should be organized and operate in future environments. In doing so, we will need to look across multiple venues and domains to help create the conditions for our success.

Our young enlisted Sailors and officers are naturally more risk-tolerant, technologically savvy and open to new ways of doing things than their more senior counterparts, making them more suited to embracing and adopting innovative ideas and solutions.  In short, they aren’t yet part of the problem.

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To start to engage our junior leaders, NWDC hosted a “Junior Leader Innovation Symposium” on June 6, 2012, to educate these leaders on the importance of innovation, empower them to contribute new ideas, facilitate connected discussion and start to harvest their ideas.  What we hope will emerge is an important channel to bring their ideas forward to senior leadership.

In the end, the future we seek for tomorrow will depend on how we harness our creative activities today. Building a streamlined process to drive innovation from the deckplates is a key enabler. As was so clearly demonstrated during our history, visionary leadership, combined with a keen desire to harness the energies of the Fleet, will ensure we build a Navy ready for future challenges at sea.

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