As part of our #FreeChapterFriday
Series, every first Friday of the month, CATSHOT Group will release a new chapter of Building a Culture to Win: Expanding the Frontier of Human Achievement
Use Promotional Code "FreeChapterFridays"
to purchase a discounted, full copy of the book.
This week, we're looking at Chapter 2: The Value of Relentless Innovators.
Below you can find the chapter in full. Enjoy!
“Cultures of excellence naturally attract and select Relentless Innovators who are always seeking improvement and perfection even in the most simple tasks.”
It was a bright sunny day in June 1988 in San Diego when I walked into the front door of the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, better known in the military as TOPGUN. It was my first of two tours as an air combat instructor. I was 29 years old, single and eager to begin training with this elite squadron made famous just two years earlier in the blockbuster movie, “Top Gun.”
The Navy’s then-20-year-old process of selecting and training its fighter pilots, as well as its policy to immediately send them right back to their fleet squadrons, remained unchanged since the program’s inception. That process made sense during the Vietnam conflict, as the Navy needed to get the best tactics back to the guys in the fight as quickly as possible—lives were at stake.
With all that publicity and fanfare surrounding the TOPGUN program at this time, I was sure that the tried-and-true method of training the best fighter pilots in the world and turning them into instructors was as good as it could get.
I was wrong.
The tactical landscape had changed dramatically in sophistication and capability. As before, we still needed pilots who had the eye of a tiger in the air-to-air combat arena. However, we also needed our pilots to have a highly technical understanding of their weapons system, as well as the teaching skills to coach others on how to successfully defeat the enemy. Additionally, the list of threat weapons systems that they had to know, equally as well as their own, was only increasing every day in both lethality and proliferation.
We needed to raise the level of performance for the best fighter pilots in the world – much, much higher.
Prompted by research into U.S Air Force and Marine air combat training programs and by our own intuition that we could find ways to train our combat aviators better, my fellow TOPGUN instructors and I began to formulate a new training methodology. It was bold. It was very different. And it would require significant changes in the manning and equipping of TOPGUN and the fleet squadrons.
We knew that our new, improved training would elevate the combat readiness of the entire Naval Aviation community when it was complete. However, we also knew that we were in for a challenge as this was a change in status quo from a system that seemed to be working well and that was glorified in the movies. The changes would require shifting millions of dollars of assets as we fundamentally reorganized how TOPGUN students would be equipped to complete the course and how these students were later assigned their duties.
As expected, our first proposals to those effected organizations were met with significant resistance. We heard all of the standard status quo defense arguments: “Why change something that is not broken?” “It will cost more in the long run.” “The Fleet squadrons won’t support this.”
Despite clear evidence from our research and planning that we had to change, the project continued to meet with resistance.
Yet, from that point forward, a long list of distinguished fellow TOPGUN instructors became Relentless Innovators – they not only had great ideas, but also led the charge for the execution of those ideas. True innovators do not simply toss out ideas; they actually work to make them happen.
These Relentless Innovators ignored the naysayers and forged ahead to create the Navy’s new Air Combat Training Continuum (ACTC) and TOPGUN’s new Strike Fighter Weapons and Tactics Instructor (SFWTI) course. They understood the words spoken by one of our nations’ first Relentless Innovators, Henry Ford:
“Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes shine to the stars. Vision without execution is just hallucination.”
Despite our powerful drive and strong resolve, our new training program was still in jeopardy five years later when I returned for my second tour at TOPGUN. We knew we would have to be relentlessly persistent if we were to do what we knew was right and to overcome our critics.
Fast forward to today: The ACTC and SFWTI programs are heralded as the cutting-edge in air combat training. Other communities within the Navy and other services have modeled programs in a similar fashion. Amazingly, many of the former naysayers are now the biggest proponents.
Without the dedication of our Relentless Innovators, the TOPGUN changes would never have taken place. This incredible group of dedicated men and women showed what a determined, committed group could do. They made the Navy more effective in combat, and our nation is better for it.
The reinvention of TOPGUN remains one of my best examples of what it takes to challenge organizational status quo and win. It highlights the importance of having a system that recruits and promotes Relentless Innovators who will relentlessly pursue organizational improvements.
Relentless Innovators Continually Strengthen and Reinvent their Organizations.
So, who are the Relentless Innovators? They are people who can think on their feet and have a drive to innovate. They see “No” as a challenge to navigate, not a roadblock to avoid.
We have all seen people work their way up in an organization simply by biding their time and not making mistakes. They do not improve anything along the way. They are the maintainers of the status quo
These caretakers, who can be found at every level of an organization, rarely leave an organization much better than it was when they started. They do their jobs, but they do not do much more. They do not innovate.
In contrast to caretakers, Relentless Innovators constantly build and innovate. They are not bound solely by status quo procedures and checklists to determine what needs to be done. While caretakers may be good people who are efficient at executing their responsibilities as described, they lack the added motivation, or maybe even the guts, to improve their organizations.
Therefore, whether you are hiring from outside or promoting from within, a key attribute of a culture of excellence is implementing a hiring system that will attract a solid core of Relentless Innovator candidates.
When you are a fighter pilot – especially when you are part of the Blue Angels or TOPGUN – playing as a team isn’t just a slogan. Your life is literally in the hands of your fellow naval aviators. A wrong move could easily create a tragedy. With that constant reality, everyone wants to know they are working with the best and that those people have the drive to always search for improvement, and the conviction to put the team and executing the plan ahead of themselves.