CSAF Innovation Letter to Airmen, 17SEP2021
Since the dawn of airpower, Airmen and innovation instinctively aligned to create the world's dominant Air Force. However, diminishing competitive advantage threatens our national security. This is why I wrote Accelerate Change or Lose. Just as the very first Airmen supporting the trench warfare of World War I lived by the mantra of "over, not through," Airmen today must lead the innovative change required to secure our nation tomorrow. In my first year, I've witnessed Airmen doing this worldwide; from using local additive manufacturing to rapidly reconstitute aircraft here at home, to slimming down the footprint necessary to achieve air superiority in austere environments overseas. We must continue building upon this momentum.
Innovation is more than a buzzword—it goes beyond just creative thinking and lofty expectations. It is evolutionary or revolutionary changes to existing processes, capabilities, and mindsets. To succeed, we must properly identify problems, empower decentralized solutions by individuals and teams, and infuse an ethos of innovation at all levels. Innovation depends on both creative individuals and supportive organizations to turn concepts into reality.
Keep in mind that our Airmen, at all levels, already identify innovative solutions to address complex problems and drive modernization. If they do not have the answer yet, they will be the ones to discover it, given the right environment. I expect leaders, from front-line supervisors to MAJCOM commanders, to provide the intent and authority critical to creating an environment that allows experimentation and encourages innovated Airmen. The Air Force needs a culture underwritten with empowerment and trust. Airmen need their leaders to be their early supporters and early adopters.
Not all ideas will be practical; some will be prioritized over others, some will be shelved, and not all of them will be perfect—that is okay. An idea that is never presented is worse than an idea that does not work. Innovation requires courage, and rewards tenacity; we must iterate to find the best solution. For those that are truly innovative, setbacks are fully expected. The lessons learned during those attempts are necessary parts of the process and frequently serve as springboards for further improvements. This is why we debrief.
Remember, we value boldness and initiative. We need both innovative Airmen and their supportive leaders to achieve "over, not through" approaches for the 21st century. This takes an innovative ethos, this takes courage and creativity—this takes you!
CHARLES Q. BROWN, JR.
Chief of Staff