Is policy turning your innovators
into chefs or ingredients?
Innovation policy is an oxymoron. Perhaps the greatest resistance to our innovation as a bureaucracy is our policy for each and everything we do. It's old school military. "Everyone should have clear, written instructions." In most cases they should, but our ability to revise those written instructions with agility is just as important. Innovation is not a program, it is a mindset.
So why have a page on the topic of policy? Like everything else in the innovation space, we want our bright minds getting from idea to product as quick as possible. You certainly don't need to be policy experts, but a small amount of awareness now could save you from tremendous headache down the road. This page will be a collection of key and critical items to be aware of, with access to further detailed information when needed.
The main points to be addressed here are -
1. Fundamental concepts
2. Basic guidelines for the innovator
3. Your frequently asked questions (posted as questions start to come in)
(This like all other parts of this site will be rapidly changing as we break into this new arena. Your feedback is essential. See something that you think should be added or modified, please let us know with the feedback button below. This is YOUR site.)
1. We all have a role in this new "culture of innovation."
Airmen need to know the position of the Commander in being accountable to accomplish the mission as well as being accountable for everyone and everything in their charge. Airmen need to use the chain of command, keep their leadership aware of what they are working on and do their best to sell their idea.
NCO supervision bears the bulk of this culture change. They are often the first person the young innovator will be "pitching" their idea to. They need to acknowledge that the time lost in dealing with these new ideas will more than pay off in mission accomplishment over time.
Leadership needs to make a personal investment in encouraging all members to come forward when they see things that aren't right. As the SecAF put it at her February 2018 AFA remarks, "It’s time to take risks. It’s time to productively fail. We need leaders who will take some risk and get after it." For anyone who isn't clear on our leadership's vision or hasn't seen the Secretary's inspiring breakdown on the topic...
2. We need to ask why.
When faced with a potential new innovative idea, rather than simply asking, “what does the guidance say?” we need to all be asking why. Why are we here in the ANG? What should our focus be? Why does the guidance exist? Guidance is sacred, often referred to as “the Bible” on this or that topic. Guidance is an essential tool in keeping our aircraft, systems and ourselves safe, but we can no longer let it hold us up from our top priority, lethality in the performance of our mission. Guidance can be changed, is going to be changed and is only going to get changed faster as we progress.
The innovation office exists to assist you in getting your good innovations from a no to a yes. Please educate yourself with what we will be providing on this site and what you can learn elsewhere, but if you run into a roadblock and don’t know where to turn, let us know.
3. Innovation is not a program.
This is not something to relegate to a binder and ensure the MICT checklist items are complied with. Innovation is not the new improvement program and it is not Continuous Process Improvement (CPI). CPI, or tiger teams are certainly valuable tools in a leader’s toolbox, but innovation is the broader mindset of simply using any available means to advance solutions to our problems. It touches every AFSC and every part of the ANG. Probably the best way to think of it, is as the new 4th core value. “Lethality through continuous innovation” The moment you see innovation narrowed down to a well established, bureaucratic process, you will know we have lost our way.
Basic Guidelines for the Innovator
1. Rapport is your best tool in getting your supervision on board with your ideas.
Ever watch the Shark Tank TV show? You will notice the investors take a keen interest in the entrepreneur’s background, credentials and track record. This is a way to quickly know if the entrepreneur knows what they’re talking about. This is rapport. Going to the boss with a new idea? Do they recognize you as a performer who delivers consistently, or as someone who just barely meets the standard and needs regular guidance? If you were the boss, who would you be more willing to listen to? The innovation discussion starts with diving into your craft and striving to be the expert. Knowing how everything works is the best position to figuring out a better way.
2. No does not mean no. No means try a different way.
Getting from “no” to “yes” is critical to every innovator or entrepreneur. Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, waspurported to having pitched his idea for a fried chicken franchise to over a thousand restaurant owners before he heard his first yes. This is possibly the best example of entrepreneurial resolve, and it applies to the military life. As a rule, no means no in the military, but when it comes to innovation, you need to separate yourself (your ego) from your idea. If pitching the idea to your boss makes you feel uncomfortable because you’re putting yourself out there, know that’s just your brain trying to defend you from the unknown. It’s normal. If your idea gets rejected, or even if you get laughed at, DON’T take it personally. Take the feedback for what it is. Someone didn’t like the idea. Only when you take yourself out of it, can you actually hear the feedback. If your idea is good, you likely just need to find a better way to present it. If you get frustrated, think of Colonel Sanders.
3. In any ANG status and want to be an entrepreneur?
We have interviewed various Air Force members who were on orders AND owned their own companies at the same time. Some had no issues, and some had been through long IG investigations. In the end, those who let their chain of command know exactly what was going on and filed the appropriate paperwork (primarily, the off-duty employment form) came out unscathed. Be sure to file the appropriate off-duty employment paperwork, before you get started. There are also ethical concerns that may be involved in what you are doing. Perhaps your company may cause a conflict of interest with your ANG duties. If that wasn’t enough, we in the ANG can be in any of 4 statuses and they all have different considerations and requirements. If this all sounds rather complex, take comfort. There is no replacement for talking with a legal/ethics professional at your Wing or State. The legal/ethics pros can give you specific advice based on the details of your situation and they are there to help steer you down the right path and away from any potential problems.
FAQ - (coming soon)
– The Department of Defense 5500 7-R, Joint Ethics Regulation, Section 2-206a
– The off-duty employment form – AF3902
– A well written AF post on the topic of off-duty employment.
Colonel David Kaiser
Chief Innovation Officer, ANG
MSgt Peter Whalen
Innovation Evangelist, ANG
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