The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense or the United States government.
Instilling a culture of innovation and creativity is no easy task. It means stepping away from the comfort of the familiar and routine and into the realm of unknown possibilities. Here onboard USS IWO JIMA, we are doing just that, by building a culture that will allow deckplate ingenuity to bubble up to the surface.
Our goal is simple; create a culture shift towards creativity, ingenuity, and innovative thought within our Wardroom and then manifest this paradigm throughout the ship. Our shift began in the Wardroom, through the implementation of a new training program.
Deckplate innovation starts with leaders who champion the cause. Our Commanding Officer, CAPT Dana Gordon and Executive Officer, CAPT James Midkiff are staunch supporters of this transition and believe we have the ideal Wardroom to enable this change.
After an earnest discussion with the Skipper regarding Navy training, leadership challenges, and the future of the Navy, our goal was clear; we needed to reexamine not only what we train, but how we train.
Seeking to redesign the mundane training experience, we decided that death by Power Point and rote memorization were off the table. Instead, our approach to training focuses on incorporating “systems thinking” and “experiential learning” techniques. Our training is effective, interactive, memorable, and meaningful.
We also capitalize on our diverse pool of talent. The IWO JIMA Wardroom is the definition of diverse. We have over 80 Officers in 28 different designators, ranging from fresh-out-of-college Ensigns to seasoned 25+ year Limited Duty Officers (LDO) and Chief Warrant Officers (CWO).
With that, we currently have two different, yet complementary, training programs. One is designed for Division Officers (DIVO SWO Training) while the other is targeted for the entire Wardroom (Officer Leadership Continuum).
Kicking off DIVO SWO Training on March 12, 2015, we explored “systems thinking” as a way to understand how the Navy is comprised, since we are a complex organization of systems within systems. In order to understand complex systems, we conducted an exercise involving every person in the room simultaneously.
The rules were simple. Each person selected a single card with a system or node (i.e., PQS, Walking Blood Bank, COMTUEX, Maintenance on SPS-48G Radar, ORM, ASA Checklists, Detection of a Threat Missile, Evacuation of Embassy, etc.).
After each participant chose a card, they then held it up for the others to see. Next, without communicating, each person chose two other cards that related to their card. For example, the person holding the Detection of a Threat Missile Card silently chose the person holding the PQS Card and the Maintenance on the SPS-48G Radar Card. Simultaneously, the person holding the Maintenance of the SPS-48G Radar Card silently chose the person holding Detection of a Threat Missile and Evacuation of Embassy.
Next, everyone was instructed to move equal distance from the two other cards they chose, without communicating. In the end, there was a room full of people who were continually readjusting, illustrating an ever changing "complex systems.”
After five minutes, we came to a stopping point. Each person in the room then briefly explained their system card and then revealed the two cards they chose, while explaining the relation. Even though the exercise was initially received with hesitation, in the end, people were energized and chatty with this new visualization of why we need to understand not only each system, but how these systems affect one another.
Toward the end of June, DIVO training will transition as we begin to explore “design thinking.”
The DIVOs will be divided up into the four watch teams and tasked to redesign SWO and Wardroom training during the upcoming yard period. There are three training topics to facilitate this project: “Introduction to Radical Collaboration,” “Introduction to Design Thinking and Planning,” and finally “Introduction to Effective Briefing/ Pitching.”
The end goal is that each of the four teams will come up with four different ideas for training and then pitch them to the Skipper and the Wardroom. We expect to see shipboard SWO Training completely transformed and revitalized.
Concurrently, we hold Wardroom Training for all Officers. These topics address challenges we face as a diverse Wardroom of various ages, backgrounds, communities, and ranks.
As of May 16th, our Wardroom leaders have showcased their talent in five training topics. Our Skipper (Aviator) and XO (SWO) kicked us off with “Community Briefs,” expanding knowledge on Fitness Reports, promotion boards, career advice, and guidance.
This next lesson was facilitated by CDR Raymond Marsh (Air Boss) regarding “The Good, The Bad, and the Basics of Naval Leadership.”
This lesson was followed by CAPT Sean Sullivan (Senior Medical Officer) and CDR Stuart Day with “Leadership under Pressure.”
Recently, one of our salty Limited Duty Officers (LDO), LCDR Shawn Collins (AIMD Maintenance Officer) and our brackish Bull Ensign, ENS Mike Cuomo (SWO DIVO) teamed up to deliver “Bridging the Generation Gap”. Topics still on the horizon are “Small Things that Makes a Big Difference”, “Effective Communication”, and “Creative Leadership,”
Overall, our goal is to foster the “flip,” which is defined by the thought leader David Kelley as the point when people “see themselves as creative individuals.”
We are encouraging people to ask questions, understand their systems, seek ways to improve these systems and then become champions for others. There is no instruction or doctrine developed by the Navy on how to do this, which makes the leap into the unknown rather daunting. However, with champions to back up the culture shift and an open-minded crew, IWO JIMA Sailors will certainly be Fleet game-changers.
To submit an idea or for more information about DON Innovation and accessing the Hatch, visit: http://www.secnav.navy.mil/innovation/Pages/Home.aspx.