Building Bridges

Building Bridges

U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott H. Swift fosters innovation with his bottom-up, solution-oriented program

Cmdr. Tom Ogden/U.S. Navy

Adm. Scott H. Swift

The Bridge started at U.S. Pacific Fleet (U.S. PACFLT) to enable its 140,000 Sailors to share their solutions to Navy-specific challenges. The Bridge helps guide Sailors as they take their ideas from concept to reality.

Commander of U.S. PACFLT Adm. Scott H. Swift has championed this initiative that amplifies an organic Navy network to enable collaboration and idea generation by advancing education, enabling empowerment, stimulating connections and spurring transition.

The Bridge also encourages Sailors to perceive their workplace environment through the lens of innovation; to see challenges as opportunities instead of as roadblocks. The Bridge cultivates Sailors’ abilities to create and sustain a culture of change, inspiration and creativity.

In its simplest form, The Bridge is a belief and a commitment — the belief that the best idea can come from anywhere, and a commitment that no Sailor is ever alone in pursuing a solution.

Mission and Goal

The Bridge’s mission is to explore, discover and cultivate solutions to fleet-centric challenges. The Bridge’s goal is to provide a platform for the U.S. Navy to harness the intellectual surplus of its total force by transitioning combat-effective solutions from concept to prototype to program of record.

Vision

The vision of The Bridge is a future where all U.S. Sailors can contribute to the development of fleet solutions by generating, refining and transitioning their ideas freely through four key pillars: education, connection, empowerment and transition. This foundation advances the Chief of Naval Operations’ focus on warfighting, learning faster, strengthening our Navy team and building partnerships. Additionally, it neatly fits into the U.S. PACFLT Commander’s guidance to preserve a resilient workforce, be ready to fight, reinforce the international order, lead credibly, embrace opportunity and project power.

The initial pilot program operated in 2016 from January through May. It consisted of a series of live events open to all uniformed and civilian Sailors on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. The first event was a rapid innovation workshop to teach Sailors how to create and present an effective pitch for their ideas. Subsequent events provided them with opportunities to pitch their ideas to larger audiences and be evaluated by experts, who not only judged the content of their ideas, but helped them refine their presentations.

Adm. Scott H. Swift answers questions from Sailors assigned to Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Sterett and USS Dewey at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii in April 2017. [PETTY OFFICER 1ST CLASS BYRON C. LINDER/U.S. NAVY]

From these events, two Sailors were selected to brief the U.S. PACFLT Commander and other senior Navy leaders in the Pacific on their ideas, prototypes and proposed paths to transition their concepts into a program of record. The Bridge paired these Sailors with mentors to help guide them in finding organizations that would fund and further test their ideas.

Currently, the program is in its second year and has continued with the same robust success. The Bridge will continue to bring the same excitement and energy that existed in the pilot program to the entire fleet, and it will encourage U.S. PACFLT to be a culture willing to experiment, unafraid to fail and able to solve problems.

In the summer of 2017, a five- to six-week fellowship program in the private sector strove to build connections and exchange ideas between the Navy and industry. Another event, a five-day innovation boot camp in spring of 2018, will educate Sailors in topics related to innovation. Through these opportunities, The Bridge is propelling real world learning where high-velocity learning scenarios are examined and practiced.

The Bridge has created a sense of community among the “Bridge Builders” who participate. This community of learning and innovation breaks down barriers to ensure a culture of learning through the ideation life cycle. The Bridge is most successful when key institutional stakeholders are connected and are best positioned to influence the enhancement of our acquisition system’s agility, so an idea becomes a true impact. It is a team effort among Sailors who are the problem solvers, senior leaders who endorse and support the innovation process, and the resource sponsors who make it possible to transition the ideas to a program of record.

What makes The Bridge special and successful? As an innovation program that is popular with Sailors and senior leadership support, The Bridge has demonstrated a clear Sailor-generated demand signal for this type of initiative. In addition to Sailor participation, The Bridge thrives with leadership participation and endorsement. Sailors feel more empowered to share their ideas, knowing they will be heard and supported by their leadership.

The Bridge has the endorsement, participation, and engagement of Adm. Swift and other U.S. Navy senior leaders across the fleet. This has encouraged other leaders to view ideas with an open mind and to build a tolerance for failure. Such an environment builds an entrepreneurial ethos and ecosystem of inquiry in which Sailors are encouraged to take smart risks.

Interactions are customarily face to face, from the first rapid innovation workshop to the inaugural Pitch Fest event, to the mentor meetings, and then finally to the senior leadership presentations. This has allowed meaningful connections to develop between the junior Sailors who brought forth ideas and the senior leaders who could implement them. It also provided a real-time collaborative environment. Feedback is instantaneous, usually actionable and decidedly authentic in a way that generally does not emerge in virtual environments.

The Sailor-generated ideas are notable for what they have in common as well as what differentiates them. They have come from a variety of active duty and civilian Sailors — there was no pattern for the type of applicant who proposed an idea. They also rely on different types of solutions to problems. Together these key differentiators create unparalleled value for Sailors and stakeholders solidifying The Bridge as a broad, reinforced ideation ecosystem.

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