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Basking in Irrelevance

Changing a culture, that ought to be easy, Right? I mean you are the big cheese in your outfit so all you gotta do is line the troops up and start issuing the order, “Change. Be innovative, go ahead. I have faith and trust in you, now go forth. Be prosperous and live long.” But how do you really inculcate a culture of innovation in a group of people who are highly successful type-A personalities?

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US Army CSA Gen. Eric Shinseki said it succinctly, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” But the how-to of developing a culture of change and innovation are the sticky wickets we all must pass through. The top three things that bring about an innovative culture that come to my mind are People, Process and Technology. Now before you groan and say “Dan, c’mon, you’ve got to have more for me that that?,” hear me out.

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So first, ask yourself what you or your boss don’t like about your current culture and what do you want to “change to?” I recall discussions about ARFORGEN and the “Ready Pool,” which were eventually followed up by the ultimate question of “Ready for What?” The same question must be answered for change, and that is change in to what? You have to have a destination because it is important to know where you want to end up. Once you have that destination, how do you develop a culture of innovation?

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One common theme you may hear is to develop innovative and adaptive leaders. FM 3-0, Operations, says “The Army requires agile and adaptive leaders able to handle the challenges of full spectrum operations in an era of persistent conflict.” It is Soldiers who will accomplish the mission, and that my friends are the “People” part of the equation. You execute change with them and through them. Usually you will find that your most innovative results come from your most adaptive soldiers, no surprise to those who understand the nature of soldiering today. Seek them out and give them new challenges and to help you discover and nurture other innovators.

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Culture change is like the toy Slinky I had as a kid where I learned I must start at the head and work down towards the tail to get in moving in the right direction. If I did it right my Slinky made it to the bottom of the stairs. But if I tried from the middle or from the bottom, it would crash every time. Change starts with senior leaders who espouse, support, cajole and exemplify an innovative environment. They reward those who excel and sometimes have to use a boot to encourage others to get moving in the right direction. They push through the red tape that hampers innovation for subordinates and use their executive authority to empower their people. The greatest strength of the Army is its people, but they are often times hampered by archaic processes developed for another time, and without the benefit of the technological advances of today. You can have the greatest people and the best equipment, but if the processes do not effectively and efficiently support them, our advantage is lost.