Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cognitive Surplus – a new name for what Sailors always have done

Reviewed by Nancy Harrity

As the social media debate continues inside of the military, government and corporate entities worldwide, Clay Shirky continues to enlighten today’s leaders about how “our social media tools aren’t an alternative to real life, they are a part of it,” in his latest book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age.

While this book is not on the Navy’s Professional Reading Program list, any Navy leader looking to find new ways to engage their Sailors and to harness their efforts can benefit from Shirky’s analysis of what can happen when ordinary individuals pool their cognitive surplus, their cumulative free time in aggregate, toward a common purpose. With the diffusion of social media tools throughout the world, others are benefiting from cognitive surplus in ways the Navy has long enjoyed, even though we never called it that.

Sailors at sea are particularly adept at finding creative and useful ways to use their cognitive surplus – for purposes both good and not-so-good. Why? They’ve always had the three things that the rest of the world are just getting access to thanks to improved social applications of technology – means, motive and opportunity -- the very same traits that make any military unit successful in meeting its mission.

Each ship at sea has a certain number of people populating it in a limited amount of space. Sailors run into the same people everywhere on the ship, all the time unlike the general population. This frequent contact and knowing something about everyone simplifies coordinating activities and finding others with similar interests. Once their work is finished for the day, the obvious motive is to get their mind off their work or to do something that provides them with something they might not get from their work, such as autonomy or the opportunity to share knowledge and competence in a non-work-related skill. With outside distractions at a minimum on a ship, Sailors get very creative in what they do in their off time on the ship. While they don’t have a lot of free time, Sailors at sea make the most of every opportunity they have.

Before YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, blogs, etc., the general public usually did not see the results of a ship’s crew’s cognitive surplus as there wasn’t an easy way to share it. On my second deployment on USS Shenandoah (AD 44), crew members created amazing Christmas decorations for the ship from surplus and scrap materials, but only the crew members saw that. Generally the only people writing for audiences outside the ship, taking photos and shooting video were the ship’s photographer’s mates and journalists. We didn’t have an easy way to share photos or videos of the decorations. The only people who were able to visit the ship were family members participating in a Tiger Cruise at the end of a deployment and if we had tours during our port visits. Today it is very different. Anyone anywhere in the world can check out Sailor-produced videos on YouTube, photos on Flicker or both on Facebook and on blogs.

Before you get hung up on any particular tool as is common in these debates, Shirky reminds his readers, “the use of a social technology is much less determined by the tool itself; when we use the network, the most important asset we get is access to one another. We want to be connected to one another,” and our use of social media allows us yet another means to. Social media allows Sailors to connect to each other, not just within their commands, but across the entire Navy to learn from one another, to coordinate efforts and to share best practices and ideas, all of which can save time and effort as well as improve job performance. How are you going to harness social media at your command?

Thanks to guest reviewer Nancy Harrity for her post this week. We're looking forward to more Knowledge Management insights, as they apply to the lives of Sailors, in the months ahead. -- Bill Doughty

Sunday, August 22, 2010

First 18: Top Ten Highlights

By Bill Doughty

It’s been 18 months since I started Navy Reads, blogging about the Navy Professional Reading Program (NPRP) and commenting about books.

Since April 2009 Navy Reads has had 5,568 visits from 99 countries: Australia to Zimbabwe.

Here are my top ten highlights, so far, doing this blog:

  1. John Finn and Pearl Harbor Survivors - I met John Finn on Dec. 6, 2009 when he visited his namesake, the John W. Finn, a biodiesel-fueled boat that takes visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial. He told me that in 1941 his favorite author was artist and naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton. Seton’s books and life, especially his dedication to conservation and native American culture, are worth rediscovering, which I did, thanks to my local library. Lt. John Finn, 100-year-old Medal of Honor Navy hero, passed away this year. It was a thrill to share his and other Pearl Harbor survivors' favorite authors.
  2. New York Times Link to Navy Reads - When the Freakonomics guys mentioned Navy Reads on their New York Times blog, we had 300 hits in a few hours. Leavitt and Dubner thought it was cool that the library on USS Nimitz (CVN 68) features their book, as pointed out by innovative blogger Roxanne Darling.
  3. Interviewing the Creator of NPRP - The interview with Capt. John Jackson revealed how and why titles were chosen and how the program is evolving. In the words of CNO Adm. Roughead, the NPRP is a “starting point.” Jackson shared other great new suggestions in that interview.
  4. Comments from Iraq and Afghanistan - Navy readers shared what they’re reading in the sands of South Asia. Perhaps not surprising, they read books like The Kite Runner, Three Cups of Tea and A Thousand Splendid Suns -- books that help us all understand more about history and context.
  5. 1776 - The review of David McCullough’s great book about the trials faced by Gen. George Washington has had the most hits on Navy Reads. Few authors can breathe life into history like McCullough can.
  6. Interviewing Presidential Advisor Dr. Betances - Here’s a man who’s larger than life. Meeting and interviewing this presidential advisor, community activist and good human being was a highlight. He shows how reading and diversity are tied to freedom. To free your mind, read.
  7. April 2009 - I started this blog in March 2009, but the first full month was April; I posted a link to the Hokule‘a blog and their amazing voyage and gave a review of a seminal work of modern philosophy, Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This book should be in everyone’s top-10 bucket list of books to read and may be one of the most important books I’ll review. It’s one I’ve given to a number of friends and colleagues.
  8. A Woman’s Perspective - A common thread running through Navy Reads is diversity. One of the best Navy Reads posts was by colleague Theresa Donnelly, now a lieutenant at U.S. Pacific Command. She wrote about the Sea Services Leadership Symposium and shared her commentary on Dee Myers’s Why Women Should Rule the World.
  9. Navy History Hawaii Blog - Another of the proudest moments for me is how Navy Reads helped plant a seed with a colleague, Navy historian Jim Neuman, who subsequently started his own blog, with insights into the history of arguably the most important place in U.S. Navy history -- Pearl Harbor. (That reminds me, I’ve got to return that book Jim loaned me...)
  10. Father’s Day Perspective - My favorite and most personal post, and a way for everyone to gain perspective on history and world events. It's all about time.

More top ten: The top ten countries and territories checking out this blog are U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, Philippines, Brazil, Japan, India, Germany and Djibouti. Others, though, include Tanzania, Peru, Estonia and El Salvador. This blog has connected or reconnected people, helped put books into individual's hands, shared ideas through reading and discovery. Thank you!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Surprising Choices on Petraeus Reading List

Among the titles on Gen. David Petraeus's summer reading list are books about the Ulysses S. Grant presidency and Rudyard Kipling’s years in India, Petraeus revealed on today’s Meet the Press episode, surprising insights with connections to the Civil War on the one hand, and British legacy in Asia, on the other.
Both subjects for the yet-unnamed books and authors are rooted in the past. Grant and Kipling were complex individuals who were seen over many decades through the prism of history -- in a different light at different times. Gen. Grant, who once said, “I am not a politician, never was, I hope never to be,” has proven to be an evolving enigma for historians.

On today’s special edition of NBC’s Meet the Press, General Petraeus spoke to host David Gregory about the military and civilian team serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He addressed questions about public frustration, the Taliban threat, the Karzai government, recent leaks of documents, and timeline for leaving Afghanistan after nine years.

He speaks about President Bush’s “courageous” decision to call for the surge of troops in Iraq, and some of the similarities and differences for the approach in Afghanistan.

“Over the last 18 months or so, what we’ve sought to do in Afghanistan is to get the inputs right for the first time,” Petraeus said. “We needed to refine the concepts — to build, in some cases, concepts that didn’t exist” seven years after the Afghanistan war began in October 2001.

Gen. Petraeus studies historiography, where he can learn from others’ experiences -- different conflicts, different times, similar complex situations with potential long-term consequences.
He’s already generating interest in reading more about the life and times of Grant and Kipling, as contemporary historians write about this century.