Monday, August 23, 2010

The "C" Word

Just like every other Weekly Operations Brief at NIOC Pensacola, I witnessed something new.  The difference last week was that my observations had little to do with the subject matter and everything to do with the words chosen to communicate the progress since our last brief.  For the first time in maybe forever, I was in a room with fellow Sailors and though I was repeatedly hearing the "C" word, it was coming from someone's mouth other than my own.  Usually, I am guilty of overusing various forms of the word "collaborate" as I espouse the merits of working beyond our individual "cylinder of excellence".  Instead, I listened with great pride as Sailors repeatedly boasted of the collaborative approach they employed to achieve rather substantive analytical progress.  I was prideful not because I believed I had anything to do with the team seeing the value of collaboration, but because I knew I was amongst true team players.

My parents taught me the value of teamwork early on and it was reenforced throughout my childhood by way of constant participation in team sports.  Life at the Naval Academy took the concept of teamwork to another level and I have never felt completely comfortable about working in isolation since then.  That is not to say that I am not capable of working by myself, but I am wired to create opportunities to work with others and have evolved to one who thoroughly enjoys helping others to leverage their own personal network to get the job done.
I have recently done some reading on learning curves, collaboration curves and institutional innovation, which has helped to put words and arguably, some "science" behind what has always been just plain common sense to many.

Learning Curve -  Rate of improvement in performing a task as a function of time, or the rate of change in average cost (in hours or dollars) as a function of cumulative output.

Collaboration Curve -  The more participants--and interactions between those participants--you add to a carefully designed and nurtured environment, the more the rate of performance improvement goes up.

Most of us are familiar with the term "Learning Curve" and we do our part to drive that curve closer to zero.  We may even apply the learning curve model across a small team to achieve the same objective.  The real power is in aggregating the learning curves across disparate members multiple teams.  Navy Leadership was attempting to do just that when we created the Information Dominance Corps.  And though we have begun to leverage that model, we still seem to stay in our comfort zones and focus on individual learning curves vice a singular collaboration curve.  I could not be more proud to be a part of the NIOC Pensacola Team.  A small command who continually finds ways to not only drive our learning curve towards zero, but to create ways to help the larger team enhance our collective collaboration curve.

Locally, we talk of "Teamwork, Effective Communication, Continual Improvement and Entrepreneurship." None of which are achieved without a deliberate demonstration of COLLABORATION.     

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mid-Life Crisis...Not Here (at Least Not Yet)

As I was enjoying the last weekend prior to my 40th Birthday, I started to contemplate the idea of the stereotypical "Mid-Life Crisis" that some "grown men" express by buying sports cars or chasing after younger women. I then picked up my iPad to read a bit from Rick Johnson's Book titled "Better Dads, Stronger Sons: How Fathers Can Guide Young Boys to Become Men of Character". The following quote caught my attention...

"Midlife crisis happens when it finally hits us that we have not really accomplished anything significant with our lives, that our names will never be remembered beyond a few words in an obituary, that we wasted the nobility that God gave us by chasing after material goods and transitory, self gratifying experiences."

I am no psychiatrist nor do I mean to come across as the least bit judgmental or righteous. I firmly believe that life is too short not to be spent doing the things we enjoy most. And I am the first to admit that many people question how I choose to spend much of my time. Once again, I use the word "choice" because I truly believe everything we do is a choice. To get back to the original thought, why is it that I do not feel a mid-life crisis coming on? I guess because I have convinced myself that as a Father, Son, Spouse, Friend and Sailor, I continue to accomplish much in my life. That my ego is not so big as to give me reason to panic knowing my legacy will not last forever. And that I have clearly not been chasing after "material goods", "self gratifying experiences" or as I see so often in the Navy, a specific rank. That said, I do feel a sense of urgency and though it is regarding time, it is not about a looming death.

The sense of urgency I feel is about maximizing the fleeting opportunity my wife and I share to nurture our son, the relatively short time I have left to contribute to the lives of my fellow Sailors and the numerous friendships not yet fully developed.

As I have been known to say, "Life is so good I often times feel guilty." So as I get ready to celebrate the end of my 40th year of life, I will catch my breath and enjoy the guilt. The guilt that comes with being so fortunate in so many ways, the guilt that comes with having no real regrets and the guilt that comes with knowing the future remains promising.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Because All Goals Require a Team Effort...

In my last post, I made mention of the fact that I am in the process of meeting individually with each of the 150+ members of our team to discuss their personal goals, among other things. Given the high caliber of person the Navy continues to attract and the fact that Cryptologic Technicians are far above even the average Sailor (barriers to entry in the form of ASVAB scores and in-depth background investigations mandate such a distinction), I am not the least bit surprised by the variance in, specificity of, and effort being applied to both their individual and team goals. Though we talk of many things, one thing that is purposely not part of the conversation is my goals. That said, goals cannot be accomplished if we do not share them with those who can and want to help us to accomplish them, so here it goes...

I have numerous goals in life and have been fortunate enough to accomplish many of them, though even more allude me. What I have noticed repeatedly is that the accomplishment of one goal results in the addition of a few sequentially related goals. Obtaining the position of Commanding Officer in our Navy has been a goal for quite some time and now that numerous people have helped me to achieve that goal, I find that my goal sheet is more populated than ever. As I look at the list, I can sort my short term professional goals into three categories...

1) Become the Commanding Officer the Sailors at NIOC Pensacola deserve
- Seniors, peers and juniors alike (most prominently Chief Petty Officers) have helped me to develop many of the tools necessary to be the leader I want to become. I recognize the Sailors at NIOC Pensacola are more deserving of what I am delivering today. Each and every day I strive to become the leader worthy of the platform to which I am fortunate enough to be assigned.

2) Help a command full of leaders to grow into a command that leads
- Like many places of business, OUR command is full of great leaders/followers, Sailors, technicians, operators, teachers, etc. But, because of our command make-up (size and experiential diversity), entrepreneurial culture, and complete control over our collective focus (i.e. We are not force providers, but accountable for the direct employment of our entire team), we are uniquely postured to lead beyond our command lifelines. We will grow into the team that contributes well beyond our assigned charter as we find and address areas in which we can add value to the larger effort.

3) Change the way Commanding Officers across the Information Dominance Corps approach command
- As with most businesses, commands have a specific mission, vision and set of values. Over time our commands have become more prone to operating in isolation and looking to Headquarters to synchronize our collective efforts. The following is from a letter I recently sent to all IDC Commanding Officers in hopes of us working toward more of a franchise model, where we realize we are collectively leveraging a single workforce toward a unified goal:

"...I am writing to seek your advice and assistance, as it is clear our fundamental goal is strengthening our collaborative IDC culture. Sharing high aspirations for our time together in command and complementary objectives for our collective Commanding Officer experience is important. Following the lead of some of the Navy’s best senior leaders, we see collaboration, synchronization and continual learning paying huge dividends. For example:

Self-Synchronization – We have much to learn from each other (particularly me from all of you) and there is no reason why we should wait for our ISICs to synchronize our efforts, define “Best Practices” or “Benchmarks” on our behalf or direct changes to our respective MF&T. Through professional networking and other collaboration tools, we can learn from each other on a regular basis. I am eager to begin the learning process and keep it going.

Exponential Learning – We must lead beyond our respective “cylinder of excellence” and demonstrate the requisite commitment to institutional innovation. By allowing individual expertise to extend beyond the walls (i.e. geography and MF&T) of our respective command, we enable our ability to collectively leverage the “Wisdom of the IDC Crowd” to meet, exceed and further shape/satisfy operational requirements."

Because we only have but 24 months together (and one is already in our wake), there is a sense of urgency. I firmly believe one and two are achievable, but three may prove to be a bit of a stretch given the timeline. But stretch goals are a tool to help focus our efforts as we strive for more. Though I hope we are successful, as we say at NIOC Pensacola "Fear of failure is not authorized!" We are who we are in large part because of our failures and must continue to acknowledge that any failure is but a temporary setback along our individual and collective learning curve to success.