Creating an Intellectual Force

To date, we have necessitated a military defense force that can operate with physical strength, stamina, agility, and demonstrate all these abilities consistently under extreme stress. At the highest level, a strategic mind has always been necessary. In many positions within the military branches, the same holds true. There have traditionally also been positions where physical prowess was the primary capability needed.

As we move further into the 21st century, we will see increasing demand for intellectual-only positions. We will see the need for drone operators, cyber security analysts, and psychological specialists. In many ways, the intelligence community has been the driving operator in this more purely intellectual space but the future battlefields are increasingly requiring not only the intellectual capability and knowledge but also a warrior mindset. It begins to move out of the deep analysis space and into the intellectual warfare space where battles are fought through non-co-located reality or virtual reality. As we progress as a world into this nebulous battlespace where there are no boundaries, visual information is limited or absent, and where the human body is not required to be at the highest level of readiness, we begin to see the need to consider with a wider swath of eligibility requirements for military service.

Do you need to be fully able-bodied to fight war from a desk? Do you need additional skills, capabilities, and training to be cognitively agile? Intellectually stealth? Have high attentional stamina?

Much research within the U.S. Department of Defense as well as in other militaries across the world are asking these questions, developing proposals for improved talent management systems and requirements, and taking action to curate the latest research in cognitive science to inform the creation of an intellectual soldier – one that optimizes mind capabilities but perhaps not physical skills.

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Expanding the definition of Service

It is widely stated that while our active duty and reserve personnel are the key individuals within the military ecosystem, without the other supporting entities, they would be unable to do their jobs at the high-level Americans expect. Additionally, it is often recognized that military training is some of the best life training for discipline, self-reliance, and decision making under pressure. But with only 29% of Americans ages 17-24 eligible for military service, not only do we lose access to these individuals’ other talents but they lose access to the life training opportunities available. Expanding the definition of service can create the opportunity for all Americans, regardless of skill set, interest area, or physical capability, to serve our nation and to benefit from the lessons this service experience brings.

There is a need to a) create a culture that shares this message and b) create structures to support it. How do we accomplish both?

First, we would need to develop a centralizing structure that recognizes local, state, national, and international service. Structures already exist within government that can collect, organize, and label this data. Second, we would need to create a number of service positions with differing commitment timing. Specifically, this includes analogous programs to reserve units, developing a second responders program, and intermittent volunteer opportunities through private or public programs.

By tangibly recognizing service to the nation, socializing the need for it and the benefit of it, as well as making it easy to participate, a national service program office could be established and supported within the DoD to ensure that all Americans have an opportunity to share their expertise with the nation and ultimately improve national readiness.

Photo by Daniel Tausis  John Middelkoop  Holly Mindrup

Military Suicide

Flag in field

We have come a long way in talking about this understated elephant in the room. Yet we have not found a solution. I used to say that our military personnel risk life and limb in theater (on the battlefield). I have revised my statement to say:

Our warfighters risk life, limb, and mind.

As a psychologist, this is not only an area of concern but it is also an area of expertise for me. My last billet was under personnel and readiness and this is the segment of military that focuses on these issues. Though I worked more on the readiness side, there is a reason these two subsections are connected. ‘Readiness’ is not just about being physically capable anymore, it is as much about being mindful of one’s surroundings, capable of making difficult and complex decisions under stress, and protective of the mind’s limitations.

There is no question that the services are taking this issue seriously. There is no question that society is doing the same. Sadly, there is also no question that we are not winning this battle of the mind and it is costing us dozens of servicemembers…daily.

How do we change course?

We need to take what is called a multi-dimensional approach to understanding why this continues to happen in such numbers and the pattern of events, thoughts, and feelings that lead up to suicide. These are not new ways of looking at this issue but what is new is recognizing that a) we have a self-selecting group that enters the military, b) we have traditionally looked at how to treat our personnel after they return from theater, and c) we focus on the individual when perhaps we need to consider the system. There are many avenues that have yet to be thoroughly researched or implemented including preparatory mind exercises to reduce the onset or severity of PTSD and structures that can be put in place following service to ensure that our vets are receiving the same daily life support to which they become accustomed during their active duty time. It can be significantly disconcerting to come back to a society so unaware of the realities of what our servicemembers experience.

We can create readiness programs that focus on mind insulation and preparation.

We can create support structures post-service that provide a continuation of the design they are used to.

We can improve our transition preparation and process to ensure success!

No one avenue will help. Rather, it needs to be a combination of assets, preparation, tools, options, and ultimately, continued teamwork within the military community to support all our active duty, reservist, and veteran defenders.

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Modeling Collective Brilliance

In my observations of and time spent working with the military, I am consistently impressed by the collective and pervasive ability of service members to, actually or metaphorically, duct tape anything together and make it work.

Ingenuity is a hallmark of the services.

But there are two other common mantras (I suppose I should acknowledge here that in fact there are many more as well): ‘Don’t reinvent the wheel’ and ‘Teamwork matters.’

All of these ideas are employed in the Veterans’ support team in Bowling Green, Kentucky. This may be a small town, but it boasts an extensive decorated military heritage and a huge active support team for vets. I had the honor of getting to meet and talk with many of the members of this exceptional city and learn about not only the individual programs that they each run but also about how they work together to meet all needs for all vets. These men and women represent what I call ‘collective brilliance.’

As I come out of military readiness, the mantras above resonate with me, guide me, shape how I look at problems. Rarely is it the case that money is the sole element required to solve a problem. Even more rare is the probability that someone hasn’t already solved it. Rather, it is most often the case that some person or some group have solved either the exact problem you’re facing or at least a portion of it already. When this is the case, it is cheaper, easier, and far more effective to simply connect the dots than it is to spend more money solving the same problem…yet again.

I call this process: Find Brilliance; Repeat.

This idea is what has driven me to traverse our country. It is my hypothesis that we have all the talent, ideas, programs, and examples across the amazing, large, exceptional country of ours that we need to solve all of our national issues. We simply need to find those that have solved pieces of each issue and connect them.

Bowling Green, KY has demonstrated how teamwork matters for true change. They have proven that federal dollars can be used to pay for facilitative actions (like a coordination person or team) and combined with local programs that know their residents and needs best. It sounds simple in concept but too often in federal work we aim to create large-scale, costly solutions because we focus on budgets, politics, and solving problems in Washington while unintentionally missing the local capabilities.

BGKY helps confirm my belief that government operates at its best when it acts as a facilitative entity that helps coordinate local brilliance and share models of success across states.

Thank you to everyone BGKY – you guys embody my campaign motto: Unity Strength Action. Thoughts and ideas are great but if and only if they result in action. You all are exemplary.

Disclaimer: As always, interviewees provide information, not endorsements.

Focus on Prevention

Running Shoes

Too often, we focus on solving problems by looking at symptoms, then trying to eradicate them. If healthcare costs too much, then we find a way to reduce the cost with subsidies or increase taxes for the rich to pay for the poor. If we see people without healthcare, we create a government program to give it away for free. And of course, there’s always the plan of – if we can’t fix the situation, we’ll ignore it until it goes away or the people affected stop complaining.

Unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, these plans will never work because they don’t actually solve the root issues. What needs to happen is a full re-architecting of the healthcare system. One of the first changes needs to focus on teaching, encouraging, and focusing on preventative health. Anxiety, depression, heart disease, and a host of many other ailments are induced by high, continuous stress. Well known as this is, we continue to favor the ‘well-rounded student who does everything,’ reward and encourage work-a-holic behavior, and focus on, as well as measure, achievement over experience. In other words, it is not enough to create access to doctors, clinics, or hospitals, we have to create a national cultural shift that values wellness. We have to educate young people, design a value system that views life as an experiential journey, and use the power of the government to facilitate healthcare that starts with prevention as a measurable pillar of the system.

If we hope to create a healthy society in mind and body, we must look beyond medicine to cure disease and begin by looking to ourselves and living a healthy lifestyle.

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Healthcare is not a punchline; It’s an ecosystem

wellness picture of sand raking

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that short punchlines often spoken by politicians tell us little about how such chants can be realized. And yet, the wonk that shares all the details bores the crowd. Where’s the middle ground? Medicare for all is a widely shared idea but very little information exists regarding how it would exactly be implemented. Further, it relies on Congress to allocate extensive funds to get the existing system expanded and maintained.

Beyond these challenges, I am constantly perplexed by the fact that, not just in healthcare but across most areas, there already exist mature programs that could address many of these national issues, cheaper, faster, better. You might wonder why people running for president do not know about these programs. For that matter, why don’t Americans, who are paying for all these solutions, know about these programs? Two simple reasons: 1) there are too many for anyone to track and 2) government employees aren’t allowed to share information without permission. Ultimately it means that we are all forced to make decisions with limited knowledge and out of necessity to be short and sweet, politicians provide us with punchlines they believe will make us vote (regardless of whether or not the stated goal is achievable or not).

How do we change this practice? We approach problems through a new lens and ask different questions. We look at healthcare not just through the lens of a new law or more money but rather by looking at the entire system and idea of health and wellness care, combining that information with government programs already being funded, and talk to the individuals both providing services as well as receiving them. When we put all that information together, we have a chance of creating a system that really works in terms of cost, care, and citizens.

National Readiness starts with ensuring our Earth is healthy but very next, ensuring that our people are healthy. When Americans are ready to learn, ready to work, and ready to live – that’s when we truly have created a system that works.

Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

Building Community

It’s been over a month since I posted and for good reason. I’ve been touring the country looking for the best ideas across our nation and interviewing these experts to create national strategies. Why? In short, it’s because I believe there is value in bringing people together, listening to multiple opinions, and engaging in conversation that focuses on solutions more than problems.

We need politicians because lawmaking is tough business that requires significant amounts of energy and stamina to argue until a bill is passed. We need activists because they give a voice to those who aren’t being heard. Nonetheless, these two groups, on their own, are insufficient for long term change because they aren’t focused on the third component needed: a pathway and plan for achieving the goals they both set. This is why we need problem solvers. This is why we need a third community that complements the work of the first two. This is why politics must also involve innovators.

How do we connect better? How do we start this conversation? How do we demonstrate value-added? We work together. We create a community of designers, innovators, thought leaders – and come together in a way that helps aid progress in our nation.

Let’s get more concrete. We need to create a virtual space where solution-oriented thinkers can work together bringing ideas, knowledge, experience, connections, influencers, and supporters who can generate idea abundance, curate information, and have the community influence to drive action.

But as my professor used to always say to me…”JJ, it doesn’t matter what you start, it only matters what you finish.” We cannot only discuss ideas, we must also carry them out. Action matters.

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Saving the Environment: But how?

The verdict is clear: the earth is changing. The questions that are debated are: 1) Are we the culprits and 2) Can we stop or reverse the changes? But these are only the surface questions. The underlying, often unstated questions are: 3) If we are the culprits, what are the top priorities to address and 4) how do we mobilize to create change?

So working through these questions….

  1. The science is profound – the earth goes through cycles over millions of years but also, we are speeding up our own demise. This duality though, creates confusion and argument and at the national level, also handicaps us from making changes. This is most pronounced in two areas – when those changes require individuals to do things that are inconvenient and when they require businesses to spend money or lose revenue. It means, we need to find ways to a) make individual changes easy and b) create new revenue streams for businesses that allow them to change course without cost, or at least minimize it
  2. The priorities are not clear – the reports and activists emphasize everything from fixing soil water absorption to dividing opportunities for our people to affecting military spending. When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority and more importantly, spending decisions get divided to the point of losing impact while individuals strive to ‘do the right thing’ but without being sure that what they are doing matters. We clarity in our messaging across the variety of goals.
  3. Defining the priorities requires deep understanding – with so many scientists and activists available to get involved, we have the opportunity to deep-dive into the key problems. However, we need a connecting agent that can both understand the science and make the difficult decisions about how to determine the top 5 issues for individuals and for businesses. The challenge is that it makes a leader unpopular – perhaps then the better goal is to triage. Rather than choosing what gets address, choose what gets addressed first.
  4. Mobilizing change has less to do with regulation and more to do with facilitation – When congress tries to regulate fairness, what results is more and more rules. When the nation chooses to work together and people or businesses choose on their own to make change, those changes are much more likely to be successful and sustained.

So the right questions are: 1) How do we clarify for individuals and businesses the easiest ways to make changes? 2) How do we clarify what to change first? And 3) How do we facilitate throughout the nation without focusing solely on regulation? This is how we focus our efforts and this is how we will better serve the nation connecting individuals to activists to businesses to scientists to government to the world. THAT is our goal. THAT is our mission.

ANNOUNCEMENT

While Americans continue to be frustrated by the administration, the media, and Congress, no one has asked the people in the system how to fix these very problems. No one has asked the 2.4 million executive branch employees what is happening on the inside.

But what if we designed solutions from within the branch? What if we listened to the true experts in the U.S. Government?

I was an Innovation Fellow and scientist that was brought into the executive branch to address these root issues. Though not often recognized, innovation in the U.S. Government has historically impacted 60% of economic growth, enabled the superior capabilities of our defense program, and solved problems facing our nation ranging from healthcare to the arts. But now, we need to modernize the executive branch for the 21st century and unify this nation for the future. The question is: How?

I believe we need to focus building a nation ready for the future and to do that, we need to first fix the chaotic and locked government systems, empower Americans by re-imagining the U.S. education system, and develop programs in the executive branch that address the impacts of digitization, automation, and globalization. It may sound like a daunting task but I spent the last two years organizing teams of people both on the inside and outside of the federal government. This extensive list of contributors helped write two official government books: Innovating Government and Modernizing Learning. The first is essentially a president’s management agenda and the second is ostensibly a national education strategy – something this country has never seen.

The next step in my journey is to take to the streets – across all 50 states, to be exact. There is so much information that isn’t reaching Americans and it’s time to give a voice not only to executive branch employees but also to highlight talent, energy, and capabilities that exist across the country. We believe it doesn’t take an act of Congress to fix the country, it just takes a lot of dedicated Americans to work together.

On June 1st, I and a team of energetic Americans will embark on a 50-state Ready Nation National Tour. We will be highlighting innovative ideas, activism, and tools that when combined support resilience and readiness in creating education for the future, 21st century healthcare, a modernized defense force, environmental rebuilding, and global employment capabilities. By combining ideas from across the country with system knowledge from the inside, we aim to create solutions that will be fully implementable.

Our goal is to create an extended team of Americans from every state, in every area, that when connected, create the solutions that help us become a nation ready for the future!

DC: The land of power

We say by the people, for the people. But do we mean it?

Perhaps at one point, or in a vacuum, we did….or at least we try to tell ourselves we do. But the reality is that nothing happens without money, ideas, influence, and systems of people working together. And with time and energy in short supply, we turn to the easiest, clearest, fastest methods for making change. Change plans then tend to reflect these thought processes. Accordingly, DC culture tends to start with a power assessment: It almost feels like being scanned by a laser – The questions are: Who do you know? and How much money do you have? These are the easy questions, the fastest ways to make change.

But there’s a glitch – true change doesn’t occur when these direct power lines are used because at their core, they are superficial – they don’t represent anything new, anything exceptional, or garner any true connection. They are simply transactional – what can you give me and what can I give you?

True change can only come from a swell of influence and chosen buy-in from individuals, groups, and communities because otherwise, the brittle nature of the transactional relationships ensures that a) you’ll never reach sustained change, b) you’ll never create meaningful change, and c) you’ll have to keep feeding the bear, so to speak. In other words, you’ll continually have to make deals in order to sustain your perceived level of power.

I stand by the belief that “It doesn’t take an act of Congress to fix the nation; it only takes a whole lot of Americans to work hard, together.” We have more power than we realize – but we need to know how to exercise it.

We’ve been taught that our vote is how we spread our influence. When that didn’t work, we turned to activism. When that didn’t work, we focus on our communities and things we can change quickly and without too much oversight or overbearing influence. But even this hasn’t worked – else we wouldn’t be a nation so angry and intra-fighting at the moment.

What we must do is to come together – not because a politician says so – not because we want to argue – not because we want to be heard – but because we want to save this nation for our children. We have to decide, together, to create a culture shift that balances power across our people. It’s wonderful to say that we lift up people who need help because we’re nice but in actuality, the reason we need to lift up this entire country is because when we are all working at our best, our nation has unbelievable power to be the iconic dream of freedom, creativity, innovation, and leadership.

If we don’t shift from a top-down power structure to a web-of-influence structure, we will collapse while entrenched deeply in our own biases. Change is possible but it requires everyone to participate – and everyone to recognize the power they have.