Diversity as a force multiplier

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Sean McNamara
  • 341st Medical Support Squadron Commander
A colleague recently recommended a book to me which is an informative read about creative thinking strategies.  Many of Roger von Oech's concepts in "A Whack on the Side of the Head" are also focused on finding various solutions to difficult or multi-faceted problems.  As I continued through the book, however; I began to think of different situations in my Air Force career where I observed many examples of exactly what von Oech was describing.  As I reflected on those situations I had a renewed appreciation for the diversity of our Air Force.

Oftentimes when we hear the word "diversity" we think of race, religion and gender (well, some of us may also think of an old, old wooden ship--thanks Ron Burgundy) but forget about how each of us were raised and learned in different environments.  It is that diversity of our individual ideas, thought processes and problem solving which I consider to be one of the Air Force's greatest collective assets.  Not only are we brought together at our first duty assignment and expected to provide input and solve problems; throughout our careers we are provided opportunities to go TDY, deploy, and permanent changes of station.  In this way, we are constantly exposed to other diverse individuals' ideas and problem-solving techniques.

A great example of diversity in action was the many ideas and collective problem solving 20th AF observed under the Force Improvement Program.  While there is still quite a ways to go and not everyone will agree on each of the initiatives, diverse ideas from airmen to generals made positive changes across the command.  Many of the advancements arose from what von Oech described in his book as the "Aslan Phenomenon" which is:

· We make rules based on reasons that make a lot of sense.
· We follow these rules.
· Time passes, and things change.
· The original reasons for the generation of these rules may no longer exist, but because the rules are still in place, we continue to follow them.

While our mission is driven by the necessity to be absolutely safe, secure and effective; technological, societal, and policy changes altered the prerequisites for certain ways of doing business. The FIP was simply the instrument used to harness the diversity of individuals across three geographically separated wings.

Another recent example was our Vehicle Mishap Safety Day. Certain circumstances require us take downtime to provide the opportunity to step back and take a holistic look at a problem.  Being allowed the time to come together in various groups to brainstorm offered an excellent chance to quickly gather diverse ideas and then "cross-fertilize" those into actionable solutions. 

We encounter frequent chances to exploit the diversity of our Air Force.  The difficulty comes in recognizing those opportunities and then taking the time to fully consider the potential benefits or implications.  However, the development and utilization of diverse ideas and problem-solving techniques is a tremendous force multiplier.