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AFCENT Workshop Promotes Innovation

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Robert Porter
  • U.S. Air Forces Central

The modern world is changing quickly, forcing individuals and organizations to adapt at an accelerated rate or risk falling behind. Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central) seeks to meet the challenge to innovate by tapping into what it considers one of its most important assets – the experience and capabilities of Airmen.

Recently, a group of 60 young Airmen from across Shaw AFB met together to learn how to better tap into that potential. The event was hosted by the MITRE Corporation and directed by Dan Ward, a U.S. Navy veteran and author of three books on innovation in the military, and Lynne Cuppernull, a healthcare professional with experience in collaborative innovation. 

Over a two-day period, Airmen participated in interactive discussions, group projects, and skills building exercises meant to help them learn the skills to translate their ideas into innovative solutions to address roadblocks, inefficiencies, and frustrations in their units. 

One focus of the training was that innovative changes don’t have to be big, structural, expensive processes, but rather should focus on collaboration and experimentation “Collaborative means we’re going to do these experiments with not to our stakeholders, with the people that were working with, with the people that are affected,” Ward explained. “An iterative experiment should be simple, reversible, and each one built on the previous.”

To illustrate the power of differing experience, capabilities, and backgrounds, the trainers presented Airmen with a challenge to work together in small teams to create a flying airplane out of paper plates, straws, and rubber bands. Airmen were given a basic pattern, but needed to rely on their own ingenuity and each other’s assistance to complete the project successfully. Emphasis was made on how each member of the team brought a valuable skill set and perspective to the project that enriched everyone’s experience and provided unique utility to the team.

At the end of the two day training Airmen wrote down an innovation that they could implement by the middle of the next week. One attendee, Staff Sgt. Paige Moloto, 20th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron bioenvironmental engineering craftsman and readiness and training NCO in charge, stated that, for her, the most impactful part of the training was having permission to innovate in small ways “the one thing I’m going to take back immediately is being okay with taking small steps,” she said.

This event is part of a broader effort to encourage innovation across the U.S. Air Force, which includes initiatives like Project Mercury, AFWERXS, Task Force 99, and the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown’s Action Order B - Bureaucracy.

Chief Master Sgt. Katherine Grabham, Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central) and Combined Forces Air Component Command command chief, and Lt. Col. Charles LeDeatte, Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central) deputy chief of staff and chief technology and data officer visited the training and offered insight into the value of a program like this one.

“You know, we were perfectly fine with landline phones until somebody handed us a cell phone,” said Grabham.

Integrating innovation at all levels ensures that Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central) is well positioned to meet the challenges and opportunities presented by an unpredictable and fast-paced modern world.