April 6, 2018

Dense planetary core stifles epic changes

Lt. Col. Cory Damon
Travis AFB, Calif.

I am not an astrophysicist, an organizational psychologist or someone that thinks change is good for the sake of change. I’m a thinker who appreciates a visualization analogy every now and then … so, yes, I’m a little bit nerdy.

My planetary analogy provides us all an opportunity to continuously evaluate our inherent human condition to resist change. As an experienced Air Force officer and commander, I find myself naturally “gravitating” back towards how I accomplished tasks as a young officer. Granted, some of those processes and principles still work and may not be worth changing. However, when I “gravitate” to antiquated processes, I get too close to the dense core of our organizational planet and change is stifled. Similar organizational density is seen in political and corporate landscapes, and, yes, in military organizations. Let’s visualize.

Please picture in your mind, a planet with, of course, the North Pole on top. Around the planet, picture a mountain on top of the North Pole and an atmosphere surrounding the planet. In the southern portion of the atmosphere, picture some of your best and brightest critical thinkers with free-floating ideas, unbridled by the planet’s hard surface. For me, I like to picture the youngest of our amazing Airmen and officers in the 22nd Airlift Squadron. These are the people with the fresh ideas, new technology prowess and in most cases, great energy to initiate and complete improvements.

On top of the mountain, picture our senior leaders that continually call for and celebrate innovative ideas and smart change actions. Our Air Force culture has always been about transcending capabilities. As leaders at various levels ask for these ideas from our best and brightest, there are two primary, dissimilar ways to connect our Airmen’s ideas with our decision makers on top of the mountain.

The first option is to go straight through, A to B, right through the ground we walk on, and through the dense core in the center, emerging out the other side like lava from a volcano. It sounds spectacular, but you’ll need to dig through “crust” and “mantle”, similar to some Air Force Instructions, entrenched processes or even some leaders and functional staff members resistant to change. This path takes an exorbitant amount of clawing, digging and drilling, plus it’s really hot, you’ll break some drill bits and may feel uncomfortable as you may hear “no” at various levels. I don’t totally discount this option because if successful, it will provide a consistent path to the solution with collaborative buy-in at all levels.

However, if your idea is intelligent and beneficial for rapid implementation, there is another option: fly around the planet. The Air Force obviously takes great pride in this, as if you are flying a C-5 from Antarctica to Alaska to climb Mt. McKinley. In my analogy, our leaders are asking exactly for that with programs like Phoenix Spark and the Air Force’s Airmen Powered by Innovation. In order to maintain our competitive advantage, these atmospheric transports provide the less resistant path that is needed to get to the top of the mountain amidst our dynamic national security environment outpacing bureaucratic change and acquisition models.

So, I ask you all, up and down the chain, what is your density to change? Do you usually find yourself closer to the core of the planet or are you on the surface creating ideas, or assisting others to get to the top with their ideas? Now, tweak and apply this analogy to caring for your Airmen, developing leaders and executing the mission. Do you see ways you can become a better atmospheric agent for change in all of these areas?

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