How to get past the "do more with less" conundrum

Lt. Col. Charles Hamilton, 41st Flying Training Squadron commander

Lt. Col. Charles Hamilton, 41st Flying Training Squadron commander

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- For years we have heard the mantra either officially or as part of the water cooler talk, "We have to do more with less." As we have chanted this mantra it has become reality. No one is untouched by some sort of force shaping such as Voluntary Separation Program, Reduction in Force or merely the fact that we will be the smallest active duty USAF since 1947, our first year in existence as a separate service. So how do we get past the conundrum of doing more with less people and money in the midst of competing needs such as recapitalizing the force while still providing the combatant commander the same level of air superiority that we have always maintained? I think the key is to embrace the concept of innovation and I want to propose some enabling concepts.
The first concept is to embrace change! Not change for change's sake or to have an Officer Performance Report or Enlisted Performance Report bullet but real impact oriented, process improvement, waste eliminating change. That means we all have to actively look for ways to do things better. We shouldn't wait for Blaze 21 events or for the lean process guru to show up in our workspace. It has to be an everyday event. This requires a different mindset, a shift from seeing challenges to seeking opportunities and acting on the right opportunity. I call this a culture of better not best. This means we take pride and satisfaction in the job we do today with the knowledge that with practice or some innovative action we can do it better tomorrow. It is a redefinition of "best" from an end state to a transitory position enroute to a continuously improving method of accomplishing the mission.
The second enabling concept is a cornerstone for the first. We have to provide an environment for Airmen to excel. There are several facets to this environment but the first in my mind is a place where everyone's ideas or propositions are respected. Do we foster innovative thought or do we crush it the first time it arises with the standard, "No, don't waste your time, we've always done it this way and always will." We have to be willing to analyze, explore and apply critical thought processes to new ideas without dismissing them. That often means we have to be willing to move out of our own comfort zones and step out of the cozy confines of the processes we know well. That's hard since we have time, effort, sweat and blood invested in where we are now.
Twenty-five years ago, about the time many of our instructor pilots and students were born, we had almost 583,000 people in the Air Force and we weren't in a shooting war. Today, we are a leaner force committed to a higher operations tempo. We are an expeditionary force not a garrison force - in short we are not our father's air force. We have to embrace the concept of innovation, not doing more with less, but making better use of what we have in order to accomplish the mission. Fortunately Airmen are the greatest resource in the Air Force. Not because of our numbers but because we can be original, creative, problem solving thinkers. We, or Airmen like us, created the way we do business now. We have the opportunity to build on a solid foundation, to make it more than it is, to leave Columbus AFB and the Air Force more capable than we found it.
Innovation is one of the keys to getting past the "do more with less" conundrum. It's not a problem, it is a puzzle and we have find more efficient ways to make the pieces fit together, whether it is making the deployment process work smoother or graduating student pilots on time with lower cost. Embrace the culture of better not best, seek opportunities for improvement, foster an environment of respect for new ideas and finally be willing to step out of the comfort zone in order to put innovative ideas and proposals into practice. Who knows...they might work!