SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
“Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the change in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after the changes occur.”
Italian Air Marshall Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air (1921)
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
Steve Jobs (2001)
As I write this article, I’m pulling from two recent events. First, the Air Force’s 69th birthday on Sept. 18th is a reminder of how the Air Force originated, who we are as Airmen and where we’ve been. Second, our recent Unit Effectiveness Inspection (UEI) has brought the 50th Space Wing’s focus and activity into the forefront.
Reflecting on our Air Force history, I argue innovation is part of our organizational DNA. The USAF, after all, was born out of the U.S. Army Signal Corps creation of the Aeronautical Division, flying new aerial platforms from the Wright brothers. Throughout the years, Air Force pioneers have continually borne out the promise and pursued the mastery of air, space and cyberspace—via the airplane and jet aircraft, aerial weapons, ballistic missiles, advanced technology, systems engineering, modern logistics, launch missions, space and satellite operations, C4ISR and most recently, cyberspace operations. Our Air Force core value of “Excellence in all we do” calls for us to push the limits of what we can do and be the best in our endeavors. In short, the Air Force has a strong tradition of innovation that has powered our service’s success.
Failure is one pathway to change, but innovation and proactive leadership is a much preferable way to get to where we want to be. Innovation allows us to continuously improve, stretch our knowledge, advance our capabilities, attain competitive advantage and shape the future. While innovations and innovators can come from the top or bottom of any organization, some conditions must be present in order for change to take root. I think innovation requires both a culture of change and change agents. Organizations must be willing to take risks, suffer ambiguity while exploring unknowns, lead adoption of novel ideas or ways of doing business, challenge the status quo and promote experimentation and progress in the face of setbacks and even failure at times. On an individual level, the author of “The Innovator’s Mindset”, George Couros, says change agents demonstrate some consistent qualities. Change agents have clear vision, are patient yet persistent, ask tough questions, are knowledgeable and lead by example, establishing strong relationships built on trust. Change agents reinforce a culture for innovation and foster learning, creativity and dynamic improvement.
It’s evident the 50th Space Wing innovates to drive and survive. In the lead up to the recent UEI, I was struck by how our wing, while maintaining compliance, prioritized its “running with scissors” focus and continued its relentless pursuit of innovative efforts. Our 50th Space Wing vision and priorities reflect our commitment to “Innovate space and cyber operations to stay ahead of the enemy”. We regularly celebrate “Innovators of the Month” who are nominated from within our units. Our “Team 360” partnership provides daily integrated active duty/reserve cooperation and synergy. Space Mission Force has re-written the rules on how space operators train and posture. Space operational mission automation and virtualization is allowing us to re-leverage our workforce and our systems. We prepare Schriever for a lead role in transformational enterprise ground systems and space enterprise vision efforts. Communications Squadrons are leading the Air Force in driving toward the future’s cyber squadron. Teamwork across the wing is pursuing persistent defensive cyber operations to master our cyber terrain, protect and assure “fight through” capability for our critical mission systems. Support to the Joint Inter-agency Combined Space Operations Center is enabling readiness for a fight in space. Mission support is extending base services in novel ways. The list goes on. Bravo, Team Five-O!
While appreciating our wing’s innovative drive across all leadership levels is important, we must never forget our national security imperative to change. The world continues to be unstable with increased threats and risks ranging from aggressive nation state peers to trans-national threats using asymmetric means to mitigate U.S. military might. We must be ready. We can’t be a non-moving target. Especially within the critical space and cyber domains where we perform our operations, preserving the status quo and being the best isn’t good enough. We must innovate to shape the future, increase our competitive advantage and ensure our survival as the “Masters of Space.”