Edwards AFB ‘Feeds the Dragon’—Next Stage of Innovation Campaign

With the help of a “Hustle Squad” and a winged cartoon dragon, installation commander and commander of the  412th Test Wing  Brig. Gen. E. John “Dragon” Teichert is promoting a culture of innovation at the second-largest base in the U.S. Air Force. U.S. Air Force photo by Kenji Thuloweit

With the help of a “Hustle Squad” and a winged cartoon dragon, installation commander and commander of the 412th Test Wing Brig. Gen. E. John “Dragon” Teichert is promoting a culture of innovation at the second-largest base in the U.S. Air Force. U.S. Air Force photo by Kenji Thuloweit

Empowered by a constellation of unique innovation enablers, a street team of volunteers called “Hustle Squad,” and a winged cartoon dragon named “Eddie the Innovation Dragon,” Edwards Air Force Base commander Brig. Gen.  E. John “Dragon” Teichert ignited the second stage of an initiative to enhance problem-solving across all departments and organizations.

The “Feed the Dragon” campaign features non-traditional tools such as “Innovation Culture Walls,” T-shirts featuring “Eddie the Dragon,” stickers, and catchy social media hashtags. U.S. Air Force photo by Kenji Thuloweit

The “Feed the Dragon” campaign features non-traditional tools such as “Innovation Culture Walls,” T-shirts featuring “Eddie the Dragon,” stickers, and catchy social media hashtags. U.S. Air Force photo by Kenji Thuloweit

Indications of a seriously playful message? A slogan of “Feed the Dragon,” and stickers promoting a hashtag campaign for #InnovativeAF.

“We’re trying to catch people a little off guard,” says Heidi Williams, a civilian propulsion systems engineer who also serves as the Hustle Squad’s team lead. “One thing the U.S. Air Force isn’t traditionally known for is playing to the market. The first step is to let people know we’re here, that we’re here to stay and to get people talking creatively—about creativity!”

On Tues., Jan.  15, 2019 the squad toured seven gathering-space locations on base, including dining facilities and break rooms. Located in Southern California, the 308,000-acre installation is the second-largest in the Air Force and is historically rooted in the can-do culture of testing, maintaining, and engineering new aircraft and systems. Teichert is simultaneously commander of the 412th Test Wing and the installation commander of Edwards AFB. HE oversees nearly 8,000 service members and employees, and a base that supports more than 11,000 active-duty, reserve, civil service, and contract personnel.

Through the events, the Hustle Squad ensured that audiences of pilots and crews, healthcare professionals, engineers, office workers, and more were among the first to see a new “Innovation Manifesto” video, and to meet the “Feed the Dragon” campaign’s mascot.

Not coincidentally, “Dragon” is Teichert’s callsign as a pilot. Both he and Eddie the Innovation Dragon are “hungry for ideas.”

The “Feed the Dragon” campaign amplifies the value and purpose statements that represent the can-do, problem-solving spirit found throughout all organizations on Edwards Air Force Base. U.S. Air Force photo by Kenji Thuloweit

The “Feed the Dragon” campaign amplifies the value and purpose statements that represent the can-do, problem-solving spirit found throughout all organizations on Edwards Air Force Base. U.S. Air Force photo by Kenji Thuloweit

The roadshow takes place after a rocket-like initial 116-day booster project—the same number of days it took to debate and draft the U.S. Constitution, the general notes—to lift up the ideal of innovation. Now, at the January event, the team pointed to specific ways people can put ideas into action.

That includes access to “Eddie’s Big Quest for Innovation,” which is newly listed on the online U.S. Air Force Ideation Platform. Once logged in, visitors can submit ideas, vote on ideas, add comments, and request to form teams.  All submitted ideas will go to a panel of innovation stakeholders at Edwards AFB for consideration. Ideas will be evaluated using criteria for scalability and impact, as developed by the 412th Test Wing’s “XCITE” team. The team’s name stands for “Experimentation Center for Ideas/Technology Exploration.” Visit: usaf.ideascalegov.com

For a series of AFWERX tutorial videos on how to use the ideation platform, visit here, here, and here.

“For the last 116 days we’ve gone through our innovation blitz,” Teichert said in his announcements. “That was a period to develop a culture to help us till and fertilize the ground of innovation and now we’re taking the next step, which is activating to get ideas going and energize our force so any airman, at any time, can feel comfortable raising their hand with ideas of ways to do things better.”

One of 25 planned art installations across the base, an “Innovation Culture Wall” was revealed to attendees of a “Feed the Dragon” campaign roadshow at Edwards AFB Jan. 15, 2019. Developed with the assistance of  Gapingvoid Culture Design Group , the wall presents messages of values and purpose, such as, “We must not hide behind rules and regulations” and “’No’ is just an excuse.” U.S. Air Force photo by Kenji Thuloweit

One of 25 planned art installations across the base, an “Innovation Culture Wall” was revealed to attendees of a “Feed the Dragon” campaign roadshow at Edwards AFB Jan. 15, 2019. Developed with the assistance of Gapingvoid Culture Design Group, the wall presents messages of values and purpose, such as, “We must not hide behind rules and regulations” and “’No’ is just an excuse.” U.S. Air Force photo by Kenji Thuloweit

Also unveiled at the events were visualization tools called “Culture Walls,” which are displayed collections of illustrations, each of which evokes a specific organizational value, goal, or purpose. Plans call for some 25 to be installed in gathering spaces across the base.

Jason Korman is CEO of Gapingvoid Culture Design Group of Miami Beach, Fla.—the part of the team that was charged with designing and articulating the innovation culture at Edwards. "Innovation is often mistaken as just something that generates ideas. In reality, innovation is about mindset and Brig. Gen. Teichert is driven to create innovation by changing how people relate to their work," says Korman. "He's committed to leading and motivating his people to think differently. What's exciting is to scale this to such a large number of people."

This project was brought to the team at AFWERX Vegas last summer by Chris Klug, a technical advisor in 412th Test Wing and an XCITE team member. Along with others, Klug saw the need for some outside social-movement energy and expertise. The base was already known for its various centers of technical innovation, but the creative spirit of the place and its people needed to be celebrated, socialized and expanded.

“The 412th Test Wing had some great innovation successes over the first couple of years, but we weren’t able to scale that success beyond a few people and ideas,” says Klug. “We discovered, through an innovation culture assessment, that we just weren’t as good at communicating as we thought we were. We needed help engaging with the workforce.”

Mark Rowland, Innovation Actualizer for the AFWERX Vegas Innovation Hub, helped Klug connect with experts and enablers such as Gapingvoid and theDifference, a design-process facilitator headquartered in Marietta, Ga. “It has been amazing seeing the excitement in the Edwards Air Force Base team, as we were producing the materials for this campaign. I am very impressed with the courage of the team at Edwards to try something new,” says Rowland.

AFWERX Challenge logo.png

AFWERX was started in 2017 and is funded by the Air Force to support outreach to business and academic communities. The location is one of three such AFWERX centers—the others are in Austin, Texas and the District of Columbia. Other AFWERX endeavors include online challenges and SparkTanks—innovation events in which U.S. Air Force personnel can participate on their own respective bases. For more information on the latter, visit: afwerxdc.org/spark-tank/

Each AFWERX effort is focused on delivering design solutions to Air Force problems faster, more effectively, and more efficiently than in the past.

As envisioned by U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson in 2017, AFWERX is intended to solve some of the toughest challenges that the Air Force faces, through innovation and collaboration amongst our nation’s top subject-matter experts. The world is changing quickly—new technologies, new threats, and new opportunities.

To learn more about AFWERX, visit: www.afwerxdc.org

AFWERX taps into the power of creativity and empowers intentional innovation that unleashes emergent approaches for the warfighter through a community of intrapreneurs, industry, academia, and non-traditional contributors. AFWERX has the ability "to bring together our nation’s best and brightest to collaborate, innovate, fabricate, and present accelerated results to the United States Air Force to better serve our No. 1 customer: the warfighter and operators in the Air Force."