The Air Force’s history is a timeline rich in success stories of innovation and calculated risks taken by Airmen to achieve a legacy of dominance in airpower, yet behind any of these success stories there’s a series of lessons learned from failure.
Yet today many Air Force senior leaders express somewhere along the way in the current heightened risk adverse culture the Air Force has simply forgotten how to fail.
“We’ve lost the ability to go fast, test and fail,” said Gen. John Hyten, U.S. Strategic Command commander. “We tie the hands of our engineers and acquisition folk because we expect every test to work and if it doesn’t work it’s on the front page of the newspaper. We have got to get back to where we accept risk.”
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson addressed the relevance of innovation and significance of taking risks in order to ensure Air Force success now and in the future during her 2018 State of the Air Force speech at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium.
“It’s time to take risks. It’s time to productively fail,” Wilson said. “Innovation has to be part of the way the Air Force does business.”
Wilson stressed an era of great power competition has re-emerged in which adversaries jostle for global influence and it is a central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security. The Air Force also faces the challenges of a world where far more innovation is happening outside the government than inside of it.
“The creativity, initiative and spirit of the American Airmen and American industry must now be leveraged in new domains in more contexts to solve more problems faster,” Wilson said. “Focusing on great power competition will change our culture and it will change the way we operate.”
At the same symposium, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright urged Air Force leaders to allow Airmen to fail forward.
“Failing forward means learning and growing and getting better. If we fail, as long as we grow for it, it’s okay,” Wright said. “We have got to allow Airmen to try and we have to allow them to fail.”