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Innovation on Columbus Air Force Base

Posted 2/10/2012   Updated 2/10/2012 Email story   Print story


by Maj. Jerimy Maclellan
14th Flying Training Wing Commander's Action Group

2/10/2012 - COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- In today's resource constrained environment, innovation is a very popular yet misunderstood buzz word. Everyone from Fortune 500 CEOs to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force advocates innovation as a necessity for any organization to be successful in the 21st century. However, innovation is often thought of as a mythical skill that only the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Gen. Billy Mitchell can master. In reality, innovation is not nearly as complex, abstract or impossible as most people think.

Recently, Gen. Edward Rice, commander, Air Education and Training Command, encouraged all Airmen to help determine what the "AETC of the Future" looks like. Two of his main areas of focus in building the future AETC are "Developing a Culture of Cost Consciousness" and "Respecting and Preserving Airmen's Time." In order to meet General Rice's vision, Airmen cannot continue to operate at the status quo. All Airmen have the ability and necessity to think outside of the box and develop innovative ways to Produce Pilots, Advance Airmen, and Feed the Fight. As a part an ongoing series of mentoring sessions with Team BLAZE squadron commanders, Col. Barre Seguin, Commander, 14th Flying Training Wing, recently tackled the challenge of encouraging innovation for today's Airmen.

Focused on a book titled "Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge From Small Discoveries "by author Peter Sims, Seguin and the BLAZE Leadership Team discussed how to tackle the seemingly monumental task of innovation.

One basic concept in innovation involves introducing something new. New ideas typically have not been tested and have no guarantee to work. Therefore many attempts to innovate result in failure. Failure is typically not something that is rewarded in military culture, so the challenge is how to attempt innovative ideas without risking overall mission failure. Peter Sims suggests making "little bets" on new ideas. Little, or small bets are a way to experiment with a new idea, and if that idea fails, the losses incurred are acceptable. The mission continues as is, but you have learned what does not work, which is very important in the process of innovation. Over a series of small bets, some which work and some that do not, Airmen learn from failure and build on the small wins. Once you have a solution to your problem, you can bet big with a high likelihood of success. The key to this process is working within your constraints while making small bets. These constraints may be monetary, regulatory guidance, or other resource limitations. Using constraints as your guardrails, you ensure that you stay on the path to your clearly defined final outcome.

Does the idea of "small bets" really work? As part of Advancing Airman, Team BLAZE aims to "Provide an Innovative Training Environment." Columbus AFB has many benchmark innovations that are significantly contributing our mission. Recently, a combined maintenance and civil engineering energy team, or "E-Team", came together to solve a three million dollar paint barn airflow distribution problem using a $500 "small bet". The 50th Flying Training Squadron solved a major instructor and aircraft resource availability challenge by innovating a new electronic and centralized scheduling process. This idea broke away from every mold of "how things have always been done". Their "small bet" was to try this idea out in a single flight room to see if it worked and to figure out what the roadblocks would be. After three months of making their "big bet" with squadron-wide operations, they are filling 100% of their Specialized Undergraduate Training Program student sorties with 88% manning and increased sortie production 52%

Airmen of all ranks are critical to shaping the way ahead for the "AETC of the Future". Consider your work area and any issues you may be facing that cannot be solved by the status quo. Using "small bets", brainstorm areas where new ideas, or innovations, can help Team BLAZE continue to Produce Pilots, Advance Airmen, and Feed the Fight.

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