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5/16/2016 – WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — A few months ago, I was reading the book “How We Got to Now,” by Steven Johnson, and noted in one section many parallels with the materiel work we do in our Air Force. The book described a team of multinational engineer, machinist, and physicist inventors known as “The Muckers.” By definition, this is anything but a compliment, but based on their leader and the mentality that led them through numerous accomplishments, it’s actually quite fitting. History tells us those Muckers were second-to-none!
One of the things that made the Muckers great was their ability to work within a diverse group of individuals while solving complex problems. The Muckers created not just an invention that fundamentally changed the way we see life, but an entire system to implement it. As members of the Air Force you may not consider yourself to be in the invention business, but maybe you should – and truthfully your Air Force needs you to.
Another lynchpin of the Muckers’ success was their ability to roll up their sleeves, adapt, learn, and get the job done! Their famous leader was quoted as saying, “I am quite correctly described as more of a sponge than an inventor” and was said to have quipped, “Invention is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Learning, hard work, and adaptability; I couldn’t agree more with those ingredients to success. And everyone who’s been in the Air Force for more than a few weeks has heard “Flexibility is the Key to Airpower.”
The leader of this team was, of course, the renowned inventor Thomas Edison. Although often credited with inventing the light bulb, Edison and his team actually didn’t create it. Instead, they capitalized on ideas others had already invented, improved them, and created a system of successes. What they did create was a way to make a sustainable light bulb that didn’t burn out in less than 5 minutes… but they didn’t stop there. A light bulb by itself is useless; to truly reach its full potential, a mechanism is also required to connect individual lightbulbs to electricity, so they created one. Then, they had to create a reliable source of electric current and a system for distributing the current – and once again, they created it. Then, to maximize their profits from their new inventions, they created a meter to gauge how much electricity each house was using. And thus, they created the world’s first reliable electric grid with the lighting of Pearl Street.
Just like the Muckers, our Air Force assembles the right team, we’re flexible, we adapt, we learn, and we work hard. In fact, I’d argue we’re really good at each of those… but there’s always room for improvement and a few lessons we can take from Edison’s Muckers to make our great Air Force even better. First, we don’t always value innovation while accepting appropriate risk and smart failures – this is something Edison implemented and followed through on incredibly well. Second, we don’t necessarily incentivize our team with rewards aligned to the overall success of the organization. I think it’s fair to say most understand and agree with the value of innovation; however, I think we often overlook the environment and culture required to maximize the potential from our Air Force’s greatest assets – you. It is your innovative and collaborative thinking that makes the United States Air Force the greatest in the world, and what will ensure our Air Force’s future success.
In the “Spirit of Invention,” it’s time we celebrate your ideas and expertise! Over the summer, we’re building an AFLCMC-wide competition where individuals or groups will present their very best ideas on how we can become more efficient, eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy, improve effectiveness, or any other idea you have to make our Air Force better. Best idea wins! While we work the finer details, I’ll share the following:
Starting in June, my Commander’s Action Group will begin collecting initial submissions from individuals or teams, and a panel of experts will select the top submissions/ideas. Once selected, those chosen will be notified to build a short presentation and pitch their idea to a team of experts (think “Shark Tank”) and a winner will be chosen. The winner(s) will receive a 5,000 O&M fund dollars reward to legally spend within their units. But $5,000 isn’t just a random amount, it’s historically significant, but more on that later!
Further details to come soon. Channel your best “Mucker,” and the best idea wins! I look forward to the competition and your innovative submissions!