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CHIPS Articles: The Power of The Wheelbook: Three Easy Ways To Get Innovative

The Power of The Wheelbook: Three Easy Ways To Get Innovative
By Lt. Dave Nobles - January-March 2015
2015 has all the makings of a great year. Granted, we’re only six days into it, but with so many emerging technologies, social movements and a new Star Wars movie coming, it’s hard to not get excited for the future.

As with any January since the inception of the internet, the trend in the blogosphere is to generate a post of a list of things that we want to or should or shouldn’t do in the New Year, for a fresh start. Well, in an effort to avoid that cliché, we’ll keep it simple.

This year, we’re resolving to write stuff down.

It’s a pledge that sounds easy, elementary and even pedestrian, but so often we just don’t do it.

As we’re surrounded by technology, it’s easy to open up a program like Evernote to organize our thoughts or bark some ideas into an application like Dragon Dictation. While these tools are amazing, it’s not the same as writing.

I’m talking about pen and paper, not typing into a laptop or tapping virtual keyboards on a phone or a tablet. Back in September, The Huffington Post posted an article on a study by Indiana University that pointed out the significant benefits to putting the ink to the page, including limiting distractions, slowing your brain down and sparking creativity.

As far as the innovation process goes, writing stuff down can act as a relief valve for brainstorming pressure. Often, in leading up to an Athena Project Event, I’ll ask Sailors if they have any ideas that they want to present and the response that I usually get is “I can’t think of anything.”

I’d say that is unequivocally false. In fact, most of us think of ideas multiple times a day — ways to make things better, ideas to launch a new business, projects to build in your garage — the trouble is that we don’t write the ideas down when we have them and we tend to forget. #JustHumanBeingThings

The physical act of writing that idea down will slow down your thought process in such a way that will allow you to not only take the idea a step further in the evaluation process for feasibility, but it’ll also help to commit that idea to memory. The simple act of scribbling your idea down will keep it at the forefront of your mind so that the next time you’re asked “What’s your big idea?” you can proudly say “Laser Cats” (or whatever your awesome ideas is — probably not having anything to do with felines or lasers mounted to them).

So, here are a three ways to get writing, if you too choose to resolve to write stuff down as we have:

  1. Try Journaling. Most times, when we think of journaling, we picture our little sister’s diary, covered by flowers and glitter in a pink bedroom. Now hear this: Journaling is NOT juvenile. By carving out some time each day to recap the events of the day, you may uncover an important thought that you had or discover a creative solution to a problem that you faced. Then, you could take the idea for a test drive and take note of how it went. In a way, it’s like prototyping!
  2. Keep a Bug Book. On your next trip to Barnes & Noble (or by asking your supply team nicely) acquire a small wheelbook that you can keep in your pocket. Then, as you bebop through your day and you see something that doesn’t work right, write it down! Who knows — you may even come up with the solution right then and there. Or, if not, you could break out your bug book when you want to dream up an idea to pitch. Flip the book open and Voilà! There’s a whole list of problems that need fixing! The bug list concept is not new. IDEO’s Tom Kelley talks about it in his book, The Art of Innovation. A running list of things that bug you in a small wheelbook is a source of ideas when you’re looking for a project to tackle. As Kelley says, “Instead of just complaining to yourself, ask yourself, ‘How might I improve this situation?’”
  3. Rope Off Some Time To Free Write. Take about 15 to 30 minutes out of your day, unplug, and just write some words on a page. You could scribble about an architectural style you admire, what you’d say to a world leader if you met her, or dream up the story for your next science fiction novel (plotlines including but not limited to Laser Cats). The important thing is to just write. Whether you fancy yourself a creative writer or not, the act of writing will get your brain firing in different ways that may unlock the latent creativity you need to solve that problem, develop that innovative concept or view that challenge in a different way. A quick Google search of “writing prompts” yields a flurry of different sites, subreddits and .pdf files that can get you started!

There are loads of other ways that you can kick start your writing. We hope that you’ll join us in unlocking the power of the wheelbook and finding new ways to get innovative in 2015.

With Waterfront Athena Seven and athenaTHINK right around the corner, there will most certainly be a stage to present those new ideas! An event called athenaTHINK that is a collaboration with SPAWAR in San Diego is scheduled for early February. In essence, it'll be the second "Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop" that we did in January 2014.

Connect with The Athena Project on Facebook: or follow us on Twitter: Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail! or

Lt. Dave Nobles is the lead for the Athena Project and the USS Benfold weapons officer.

Lt. Dave Nobles, USS Benfold Weapons Officer, addresses the gathered innovators to start off the fourth Athena Project. Official U.S. Navy photo.
November 2014. The Athena Project event on Naval Base Kitsap – Bremerton, the Pacific Northwest became the hub of military innovation. Athena Project photo.
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