United States Special Operations Command hosted a conference themed “Building a Culture of Innovation,” at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Fla., Jan. 7 – 9, 2012.
The three-day conference encouraged SOCOM staff to pursue innovative ideas and integrate those pioneering thoughts and processes within the headquarters.
“The primary purpose of this conference is to educate our command on the ingredients necessary to create a more innovative culture to meet the demands and lead the way in a constantly changing global environment,” said Adm. William McRaven, USSOCOM commander. “The conference will serve as a starting point for future innovative initiatives and will establish a relationship with those who can encourage audacious ideas and decisive actions.”
McRaven also encouraged attendees to engage with the speakers and panel discussions in order to foster a culture of innovation, allowing the headquarters to reform what the team believes is within the realm of the possible at USSOCOM.
“We encourage all who will attend to come with an open mind and shake the paradigms of old,” said McRaven. “An innovative culture, when wholly embraced and encouraged, will enhance and improve the entire SOCOM enterprise, improve the knowledge and capabilities of our workforce and continue to make us the most agile and effective warfighting organization in the world.”
During the conference, a myriad of government, academic and business leaders provided valuable insight into what they believed was required to stay on top and in front of an ever changing world.
A bank of laptops with access to Twitter and MilSuite was also available to attendees, along with instructions for personal mobile device access, to encourage participants to comment in real time their thoughts and questions regarding the conference topics and guest speaker remarks.
Panel discussions provided a baseline perspective of the headquarters’ current culture, particularly as it relates to innovation in the four areas of people, structure, process and systems. The panelists also discussed new innovative initiatives already working at the command.
According to Daniel Wade, SOCOM Command Digital Engagement Cell Advisor and “Systems” discussion group representative, a new command crowd sourcing and collaboration function called SOFBOX, has already proven to be a catalyst for change at the headquarters. This online command communication tool allows user generated ideas, from any level, to have visibility by senior leadership for action.
“We want people to have the tools and digital space within the command to discuss innovation,” said Wade. “Systems provide the tools to empower folks to collaborate and have a voice, no matter their rank or position.”
Private sector academic and business leaders, including representatives from Google and IBM, addressed a wide range of factors affecting organizational culture as it relates to innovation. This included the role that trust, communication, risk and reward all play in the process of innovation.
“If trust is down, then speed is down and cost is up,” said Jeff Shumway, Senior Management Consultant for FrankilnCovey Co. “If trust is up, speed is up and cost is down.”
Panelists further discussed what various military and government organizations are doing to unlock their innovative and creative potential, sharing their stories of change and exploring what capabilities already exist to create a more innovative mind set.
The commander of Joint Special Operations Command, Lt. Gen. Joseph Votel, discussed the importance of supporting innovation and communication within the special operations community.
“Innovation isn’t just about technology, it’s about conceptions,” said Votel. “Ultimately risk taking is about trust…We should recognize and reward innovation.”
Other discovery provided insight into what information was collected through their research and applied to improve the organization and ensure a future progress.
Maj. Marty Bedell, representative for the “Peoples” discovery group, discussed the importance of motivating others within the headquarters to innovate.
“We’re trying to think and act in different ways. There are innovators within the organization, but I think everyone has the ability to be an innovator,” said Bedell. “The extent to which the systems are shared will amplify ideas from others. This will also allow us to become a more flexible and agile staff.”
Panelists also mentioned the importance of having a diverse headquarters’ staff from various occupations to foster this innovative environment. Breaking through the barriers of bureaucracy, information hoarding, lack of relevancy and complacency are all vital to becoming a more efficient and effective organization.
The “Structures and Processes” discovery group discussed the questions of where do good ideas go in the command and how developing processes and structures for this ensures these ideas are not lost. Without these processes in place, there is no way to put these ideas into action. This also fosters trust, transparency and a means to manage, track and measure progress of innovative thoughts.
“We have to tap into the talent,” said Col. Pamela Hoyt, representative for the “Structures and Processes” discovery group. “We must take the steps to foster an innovative culture. Once the trust is established in an organization, there is nothing they can’t do.”
The “Systems” discovery group is working to ensure SOCOM personnel have the capability and technology readily available to share their thoughts and suggestions within the command. These capabilities consist of government e-mail, social networking, collaboration and risk opportunities. Each different capability presented provided a range of benefits to increase communication effectiveness and efficiency.
At the closing of the conference, Adm. McRaven provided his insight into what he feels the command can improve upon to take care of the operator and remain a cutting edge command in the future. He also said an innovation office will soon be established at USSOCOM and each directorate will provide representatives to ensure their new ideas are being heard by the leadership.
“I want to make sure that the staff understands that what I’m trying to build is a culture that accepts new ideas, risks and diversity… I’m going to work hard to reinforce that,” said McRaven. “If you have a problem with something, then you need to raise that… No commander is good without new ideas.”