Are you leading innovators?

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jillian Frazier
  • I.G. Brown Training and Education Center

Editor’s note: Commentary by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jillian Frazier. This is the third article in an ongoing series in which the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center staff and faculty share their perspectives and spark discussion about the organization’s lines of effort.

When it comes to innovation, we have to allow our Airmen to try. And we have to allow them to fail.

If our Airmen have an idea on how to do something faster, cheaper, smarter, or safer, let them try. And if they fail, it's okay - as long as they fail forward. Failing forward means learning and growing and getting better. If we fail, as long as we grow for it, it's okay.

As Michael Jordan said, "I can accept failure; everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying."

Innovative people might get a bad reputation. They can be classified as always questioning, never seeming content with the situation, and it can be frustrating as their leader.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright said, "It takes an interesting breed of person to not only be innovative but to not be swayed by failure. These types of people see opportunities in everything that they do, with everything they interact with."

We have an exciting opportunity as leaders to give those innovators a seat at the military table. We, as leaders, also have an excellent opportunity to find the innovation within ourselves to create an environment of outside-of-the-box thinking.

Need a hook? Maybe use a hook from a shower curtain rod. Don't you like your dress? Perhaps it would look better worn backward.

Our leaders have charged us with the duty of being open-minded to new suggestions and ways of doing things. Gone are the days of, "That's how we've always done it," and we need to embrace that.

So how can we move forward and embrace these changes?

We all have those people in our work centers who always seem to have an idea, good or bad. Let's call them Creators. Some can take those ideas, and put steam behind them, to get the ball rolling to put the idea in place; we will call them Advancers. Advancers are assisted by those in your work center that can pick things apart, find the kinks, and work them out. They are called Refiners. Executors are the last piece to this change puzzle; they put the solution into action.

Here is an idea of how you could properly use your Airmen's skills: Have quarterly brainstorming sessions. Let members come with problems, even if they don't have the solutions. Let other members (creators/innovators) brainstorm answers, as crazy as they may be, no judgment — narrow down solutions to feasible ones. Advancers could take a look at the solution to see how they could put it into place. Refiners could then take a look at the answer, know where some of the pitfalls might be, and could either come up with solutions or go back to the Creators for help. Executors would then take the final solution and make it a part of daily operations.

It is an exciting time to be a part of the United States Air Force. As an innovative force, we will be more flexible and, therefore, more resilient. We will be able to look outside of the box for solutions or be able to turn to those who can look outside of the box.

Leaders should have the intellectual humility to know when to turn to those innovators who can see things in a different light, who don't have the same perspective on things as we do. When we do that, we will be able to broaden our perspective; which can only lead to greater things.

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jillian Frazier is a professional military education instructor for the Chief Master Sergeant Paul H. Lankford Enlisted PME Center.)