Commentary

September 27, 2012

Innovate, Airmen innovate!

Commentary by Lt. Col. Kevin Seeley
7th Medical Support Squadron commander

DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — The Air Force must innovate its way into the future, today!

It’s been nearly two decades since Joel A. Barker wrote his book Paradigms in which he describes a state where business and organizational cultures become stagnant and fail to adapt to rapidly changing environments, essentially getting stuck in a self-perpetuating status-quo paradigm. The opposite of this situation is when corporations and organizations predict, stay ahead and even invent new ways of doing things. You know, the organizations that drive future events and maintain cutting-edge competitive advantages … the ones that innovate.

Traditionally the Air Force has been a proud change agent, pressing the limits in air, space and cyberspace making a concerted effort to stay ahead of our enemies, as well as our budget. This culture however cannot be taken for granted. Make no mistake, our culture can stagnate in a status-quo paradigm too unless each successive generation of Airmen commits and recommits to raising the bar, challenging the status-quo and finding new and better ways to accomplish our mission. It does not matter whether you work on the flightline, in a cockpit, at the clinic or on perimeter defense; there are always new and better ways of doing things. Finding these new and better ways is not merely an exercise in adapting and overcoming, it is a means to surviving.

Another way of looking at our need for innovation is embodied in the expression “Creative Destruction,” first introduced by renowned economist Joseph Schumpeter in his 1939 book Business Cycles. Schumpeter illustrated creative destruction as a “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionized the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one and incessantly creating a new one.”

Schumpeter described a condition whereby any business or military that either stood still for too long, failed to predict the future, lead change and/or rapidly adapt to it was doomed to failure and left to the annals of history. In more recent years you may have heard this cycle described as “disruptive innovation,” which can take place at all levels of an organization. In Schumpeter’s vision, innovators are the disruptive force that perpetuates and drives the continuous transformation, destroying old ways of doing business and implementing new ones thereby ensuring the innovator’s survival. History is full of examples of innovations that destroy and disrupt the status-quo. Just a few examples in more recent decades are: Polaroids being replaced by digital photography; paper maps and aircraft navigators being replaced by GPS; cassette tapes being replaced by CDs/DVDs, which in-turn are being replaced by mp3s/mp4s; newspapers and paper books being replaced by the internet and e-readers.

As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and it’s no secret that our nation, the DoD and the Air Force needs to save money now more than ever. To save money leaders can cut resources, consolidate or eliminate programs, decrease funding, and tradeoff portions of the mission for others. Applying these solutions however can potentially create a hollow force that looks good from the outside, but begins to deteriorate on the inside. The real solution lies in innovation.

Time and again our Air Force history has shown that there’s no better place to find money saving efficiencies than the Airmen, civilians and contractors that work day-to-day operations. That’s YOU. YOU create the innovative solutions that often cannot be seen by outside leaders, and YOU are the ones who identify, invent, solve, create and propose the innovations that will not only save the Air Force money, but also save the Air Force mission. At one time or another almost everyone has thought of something that would help them do their job better, or asked themselves, why do we do things this way?” These are usually the thoughts that precede an innovative idea. So next time you have an idea, act on it, bring your ideas forward and get them out in the open for discussion. Commit now to dream about what can be, challenge the status-quo and innovate today!




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(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Betty R. Chevalier)

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