TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk — two titans of industry who have impacted our lives and changed the way business is conducted in the 21st Century. While assigned at Air Force Space Command, I met both of them, and what resounded from each of their stories of success was the same: failure.
Each of them told AFSPC leadership how their journeys were shaped by failure and how the lessons from failure were more valuable than those from success. In business, risk is a key component and with risk comes success and sometimes failure. Musk and Bezos welcome failure for the opportunity to learn and improve, but both were clear that they do not accept failure.
What does this mean to you and what does this have to do with the Air Force?
We are all part of an Air Force that is re-inventing itself and placing focus back on the squadron. In doing so, our leaders are asking for our help redefining what the 21st century squadron looks like. Innovation is being pushed at all levels, and with innovation comes risk and possible failure. For the leaders reading this, do you have the appetite to allow for failure?
This may sound cliché, but to look forward, we must look back at history. Our tactics, techniques and procedures of today have roots in the successes and failures of yesterday. The Air Force was born from technology and innovation. The giants that came before us and fought in previous wars knew all too well about risk and failure, and their leaders could stomach failure. Those Airmen were resilient and found innovative ways to keep planes flying when the environment was contested and degraded.
I see our squadrons as organizations that employ innovation in everything they do. We have no choice but to do so. Contested and degraded operating environments will certainly be in our future and could mean the loss of communications or access to automation. Our near-peer opponents may take away the systems we rely on to carry out our missions and we must be innovative if we are to succeed.
Innovation does not come from headquarters or leadership; it comes from the squadron and the individual. I challenge all of you to look at your daily tasks and think of ways you can improve upon them. Focus on ensuring you can complete those tasks in degraded environments.
To foster innovation, we must employ leaders at the squadron level with risk tolerance, allow our Airmen to fail and learn from those failures. But, we must not allow failure in our mission. Our job as leaders is to understand the risks, know what is and is not acceptable and be ready to clear the path to allow for learning and innovation. All of which should ultimately achieve mission success.