Change sometimes requires a kick to get going

  • Published
  • By Col. John Powell
  • 33d Maintenance Group commander
In 1962, Thomas S. Kuhn, a scientist, wrote a book describing the structure of scientific revolutions. He specifically noted that revolutions occur when "existing institutions have ceased to adequately meet the problems posed by the environment."
Interestingly, he stated that the same shift applies to political institutions or other systems/organizations.
So it seems appropriate, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks (as I write this article), to discuss how governmental bureaucracies or, more appropriately, any organization, handles significant change to its environment.
I remember five years ago standing in the hallway just above the Secretary of Defense's office, when I felt the building shake and the air get sucked through the corridor.
The chaos of that day was significant, but the fear we felt on the next day was just as profound. As we pushed the ashes off our desks, we were forced to see that our current security institutions were inadequate to combat the newly revealed security environment.
But just as Thomas Kuhn pointed out, the same type of environmental redefinition is happening constantly, all around us.
For example, we understand that both the Global War on Terrorism and Air Force acquisition programs are becoming significantly more expensive.
In response, our senior leaders have chosen to decrease personnel by about 40,000 people to help alleviate some of these costs. Similarly, we know that the F-15 is becoming more expensive to operate and more difficult to repair.
We also know the F100-PW-100 engine will become obsolete by around 2014 and Air Force Materiel Command is already shutting down the F100-PW-100 Periodic Depot Maintenance line.
Combined, these difficulties require the Air Force to draw down the F-15 fleet and limit its size to about 178 "golden" or "long-term" Eagles.
Therefore, as you know, we are facing significant change -- change in the way we think, the way we work and the way we go to war. And although change means pain, it also is a necessary requisite for growth. For without change, we would remain stagnant, atrophy and die.
Like working out in the gym, you must push outside your comfort zone in order to grow stronger. Similarly, as an organization, we must push ourselves in new and innovative ways to prepare for the changing environment. So, how do we do this?
Leadership! I believe that leadership has nothing to do with your rank or position. A leader is someone who sees a problem between the organization and its environment and then does something about it.
Matter-of-fact, it is often people in supervisory positions who are so entrenched in the organization that they can't see environmental shifts or impending problems.
So, true and effective leadership is often executed by non-supervisors like our Airmen who recognize issues and become passionate about fixing them.
Look at what Rosa Parks was able to accomplish by igniting the civil rights movement in the fifties.
In the 33d Maintenance Group, we are standing up an Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st century office whose purpose is to give you leaders the tools to fix problems and eliminate waste.
Many innovative ideas such as wireless flightline, improved sortie generation, revamped phase, Aerospace Ground Equipment tracking, or fuels productivity are currently undergoing significant process improvement.
But this is just the beginning; I look forward to hearing powerful and passionate ideas from those leaders on the flightline or in the backshops who want to make an impact. The reality is I need everyone to execute leadership, work to solve problems and not ignore them.
In closing, the Sept. 11 commission found that the terrorist attacks were no surprise. But the people who were aware of the problems either chose not to or were unable to draw enough attention to the impending crisis to stop it.
Similarly, each of us is probably aware of impending problems within the 33d Fighter Wing. But it takes a leader to solve them ... I'm ready, are you? Let's roll!