Innovation- simple solutions to change the system

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Richard Fojtik
  • 41st Electronic Communication Squadron commander
When you hear the word "innovation," what comes to mind? Some may see technicians in white lab coats, searching for the cure for cancer. Others might visualize the newest sports car, put through its paces on a test track. But innovation such as this is rare. More often than not, innovation is finding a simple solution to part of a bigger problem. Rather than changing the world in a single stroke, we must constantly and relentlessly search for opportunities to implement small improvements. 

In the context of today's Air Force, I think of innovation as any change to a system, process or organization that improves efficiency, effectiveness or both. 

As busy as the Air Force is today, you may ask, 'why should we invest time and effort to change the way we do business?' Here are three reasons: First, with an active duty strength of less than 330,000, the Air Force is smaller today than it's been in decades. 

This means everyone must pull their weight to accomplish the mission. More than ever, we are counting on the contribution of every single Airman. Second, current fiscal constraints mean fewer resources are available for our people to do their job. What resources do remain, continue to wear thin due to the current tempo of operations. 

Finally, over the last few years, Airmen have been asked not only to do more, but to take on new and challenging missions not previously associated with the Air Force. So today's environment of less people, fewer resources and an expanded mission require that we all make improvements from the ground up. 

For the troops "in the trenches," the burden of developing and implementing innovative solutions rests squarely on your shoulders. You're the experts, the professionals with the detailed knowledge and expertise who understand what is possible. It's your creativity and ingenuity that keeps our Air Force flying. 

For officers and NCOs, your responsibility in this effort is twofold. First you must create an environment open to change and encourage input from every corner of your organization. Without this, no one will step forward and take the chance to make suggestions for improvement. Everything we do today, every tactic, every technique, every procedure began as an idea in the mind of a single individual. 

Secondly, as leaders, you're ultimately responsible for the safety of our people and the success of the mission. As suggestions are sent up the chain, it's your critical eye and judgment that must ensure new systems and processes are safe, while complying with official guidance and ultimately improving the current state. 

You can bet that, every day, the enemy is looking for new ways to defeat us. We must remain agile and adjust our tactics, techniques and procedures to stay one step ahead of them. 

Today's world is a dynamic and challenging place. Amidst all the uncertainty, there is only one thing we can count on; and that is change. While it's human nature to resist change, we must, as a disciplined military force, overcome this instinct and remain open and flexible to new ideas and approaches to solving problems. An innovative attitude to solving such problems will keep the Air Force a tactically effective and strategically relevant force capable of carrying out our nation's will.