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2018 AFA inspires leadership, innovation

col. kehl

Col. Brian Kehl, 50th Mission Support Group commander. (Courtesy photo)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Earlier this month, several 50th and 310th Space Wing members attended the 2018 Air Force Association Symposium held just outside Washington D.C.

Secretary of the Air Force, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force shared messages centered on growing the force, revitalizing squadrons, restoring readiness, cost-effectively modernizing, multi-domain operations, driving innovation, developing leaders and building resilient Airmen.

I proudly report that Air Force senior leadership is proactively engaged in each of these priorities and focus areas to ensure we have the Air Force the nation needs. It was articulated many times during the AFA symposium the Air Force we need requires innovation and leadership from all ranks within our squadrons.

Everyone has the ability to influence processes, procedures and people. The question is, how and when do you assert your influence?
Leadership requires you to understand the big ideas, how they impact tactical operations and to eagerly engage with institutions and people to improve operational excellence, build customer focus and develop a unit’s professional pride. It also requires understanding risk and encouraging a sense of innovation in those you work with and lead.
Gen. David Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, talked about the Doolittle’s Raiders during one of his AFA speeches. He reminded us retired Gen. James Doolittle was a squadron commander when he designed and carried out an important attack on the Japanese homeland four months after Pearl Harbor. Doolittle led his squadron to develop an innovative plan to launch B-25 bombers from a Navy carrier, something never done before, to provide a critical strategic outcome through an innovative tactical operation. Doolittle led his squadron to develop rapid innovation that produced extraordinary results in a very short time frame.

Your Air Force senior leaders want each of you to innovate. Former Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force retired Gen. Larry Spencer, hosted a discussion with Jeff Bezos, founder, chairman and CEO of Amazon, at AFA. Bezos spoke extensively about his company's innovation and experimentation. He shared that a lot of experiments will fail and that’s OK, as long as the failures are not tied to things you are good at. Failures while you are striving to innovate are common and to be expected; a thousand failures can be overcome by one good idea.

Bezos told AFA attendees that to be an innovator you need to be an expert in your domain while simultaneously approaching a problem with a beginner’s mentality so you are not blinded by the current way of thinking. He also indicated that innovation comes when the decision making process is pushed to the lowest level so there are lots of paths to “yes.”

He said nimbleness is required for innovation, and you remain nimble by making decisions fast. He also provided his thoughts on the two types of business decisions, and for that matter national defense decisions – one-way and two-way decisions. One-way decisions require a senior decision maker like a CEO or a wing commander to approve because once the decision is made, there is generally no opportunity to go back so the risk reward trade-off and the financial expense is often very large.

Two-way decisions, which are most of the decision we face, can be undone with little or no cost if the wrong decision is made. Two-way decisions do not and should not require a CEO or wing commander’s attention or approval.

Leadership and innovation will drive us to the Air Force we need. I challenge each of you to be leaders in your Air Force, to actively improve space and mission support operations at Schriever AFB, and to understand when you are facing a two-way decision that you can make it. I also challenge you to take advantage of the 50 Space Wing’s new iWAR program which allows every Airman the ability to secure funding for innovative ideas. A foundation of customer focus, an eagerness to invent, professional pride and operational excellence are the foundations for building the Air Force our nation needs.

To quote Goldfein, “Fight’s on!”