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Innovation key to our future

  • Published
  • By Col. Riz Ali
  • Air Force Network Integration Center Commander
Our nation is facing a number of challenges that affect our government. As a result, change is happening all around the Air Force.

The institution of the Air Force will survive but there is no doubt we'll be operating differently. Over the past several years we have implemented a number of efficiency efforts to shape the force while maintaining ops tempo. Efficiency is important, but it is not enough.

Innovation is what will get the Air Force through these tough times. John Kotter, a recognized thought leader on leadership and change, and professor at Harvard University said, "Anything that is creating change outside a company adds a premium to innovation within the company." If this is the case, there has never been a better time for innovation in the Air Force.

When one thinks of a military organization, "creative" is not usually a word that comes to mind. We are trained to be regimented, by-the-book and disciplined. Good order and discipline are critical traits that contribute to our being the greatest Air Force in the world.

Creativity has its place though. There are always new ways of doing things or using an existing tool differently. Just because we have always done something one way doesn't mean it is still the best way. Our world is changing quickly and we must stay a step ahead. This requires a culture change and new way of thinking.

You may be familiar with Air Force Innovative Development through Employee Awareness program. The IDEA program has been a catalyst for some remarkable process improvements and savings in our Air Force. Innovation is not just big, ground-breaking ideas though. It is about constantly assessing yourself, being adaptive, reinventing when needed and moving forward.

Innovation differs from invention because it looks at new ways to do things. It can be something as simple as finding a new use for product or tool. It can also be a change in strategy or processes that completely reinvents the way an organization functions. It is taking what you already have and doing it differently, better. James Dyson, founder of the Dyson Company, perhaps best described where innovation comes from when he said, "Where does the impetus for product innovation come from? Frustration!"

Think of the last time you were frustrated at work. Was it with a process? Bureaucracy? Perhaps another instance of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole? If you are frustrated with something there has to be a way to do it better!

At the Air Force Network Integration Center, we are encouraging new ideas through our internal innovation program. Through this program, AFNIC personnel can submit their ideas to improve center operations, the Air Force enterprise network, or both. An innovation committee made up of senior leaders reviews each proposal and the plan to achieve it. If approved, the submitter is given resources and time to bring their idea to life.
Of course, not every idea can be implemented, and that is okay. An innovative culture understands and accepts that not every idea will work. The goal is to get the ideas flowing.

I encourage everyone to make a conscious effort to think innovatively every day. Start by identifying a specific challenge or something you are frustrated with. If you had the power to change it what would you do?

If your organization doesn't have a program to bring ideas forward, maybe your first step can be to help initiate one. Now more than ever our Air Force needs your ideas and creative energy to make them happen. And I mean everyone, from the airman basic to our senior leaders.

While our Air Force navigates through this challenging time we all have the opportunity to help shape the way we operate. I challenge you to bring your ideas forward. Innovation drives progress and is the key to our future.