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Episode 15

Leadership Development and Balancing Creativity and Control with Admiral John Richardson (Part I)

Admiral John Richardson, Former Chief of Naval Operations for US Navy (Plus, special guest Dr. Steve Spear)

For sponsorship inquiries, please contact Ann Perry ([email protected]).

In the first episode of Season 2 of The Idealcast, Gene Kim speaks with Admiral John Richardson, who served as Chief of Naval Operations for four years, the top officer in the Navy. Before that, Admiral Richardson served as director of the US Naval Reactors, which is comprehensively responsible for the safe and reliable operation of the US Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion program.

In part one of this two-part conversation, Kim and Admiral Richardson explore how the Department of Defense and the armed services can lead the way to respond effectively to the digital disruption agenda. Admiral Richardson discusses how he operationalized creating a high velocity learning dynamic across the entire US Navy. He also presents his theories on how we need to balance compliance and creativity. And, he presents some amazing examples of how to strip away the barnacles from processes, those layers of controls and supervision that may have crept in over the decades.

Also joining the conversation is Dr. Steve Spear, who has written extensively about the US Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program program in his book The High-Velocity Edge.

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About the Guests
Admiral John Richardson

Admiral John Richardson served as the Chief of Naval Operations for four years, which is the professional head of the US Navy. While in the Navy, Richardson served in the submarine force and commanded the attack submarine USS Honolulu in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for which he was awarded the Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale Inspirational Leadership Award. He also served as the Director of Naval Reactors, responsible for the design, safety, certification, operating standards, material control, maintenance, disposal, and regulatory oversight of over 100 nuclear power plants operating on nuclear-powered warships deployed around the world.

Since his retirement in August 2019, he has joined the boards of several major corporations and other organizations, including Boeing, the world's largest aerospace company, and Exelon, a Fortune 100 company that operates the largest fleet of nuclear plants in America and delivers power to over 10 million customers.

Dr. Steve Spear

Dr. Steve Spear (DBA MS MS) is principal for HVE LLC, the award-winning author of The High-Velocity Edge, and patent holder for the See to Solve Real Time Alert System. A Senior Lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School and a Senior Fellow at the Institute, Spear’s work focuses on accelerating learning dynamics within organizations so that they know better and faster what to do and how to do it. This has been informed and tested in practice in multiple “verticals” including heavy industry, high tech design, biopharm R&D, healthcare delivery and other social services, Army rapid equipping, and Navy readiness.  

Visit Steve Spear's Website

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You'll Learn About...

  • Why high-velocity learning was so important to Admiral Richardson when he was the Chief of Naval Operations.
  • How Admiral Richardson operationalized creating a high velocity learning dynamic across the entire US Navy.
  • His views on the need to balance compliance and creativity.
  • Specific advice on what leaders must do when the balance tilts too much toward compliance and has taken away people’s ability to unleash their full creative potential.
  • Examples of how to strip away the barnacles from processes.
  • Why radical delegations are so important.
  • How Admiral Richardson came to believe that creating leadership communities and connections are essential.
  • Where software competencies must show up in modern organizations.
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About the Host: Gene Kim

Gene Kim is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author, researcher, and multiple award-winning CTO. He has been studying high-performing technology organizations since 1999 and was the founder and CTO of Tripwire for 13 years. He is the author of six books, The Unicorn Project (2019), and co-author of the Shingo Publication Award winning Accelerate (2018), The DevOps Handbook (2016), and The Phoenix Project (2013). Since 2014, he has been the founder and organizer of DevOps Enterprise Summit, studying the technology transformations of large, complex organizations.

In 2007, ComputerWorld added Gene to the “40 Innovative IT People to Watch Under the Age of 40” list, and he was named a Computer Science Outstanding Alumnus by Purdue University for achievement and leadership in the profession.

He lives in Portland, OR, with his wife and family.

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Gene Kim (00:00:00):

Welcome to the Idealcast. I'm your host, Gene Kim. I'm an author and researcher, and have been studying high performing technology organizations for 23 years. I started this podcast to better understand how and why organizations work the way they do both in the ideal and not ideal. In season one, I was able to interview some of the people.

Gene Kim (00:00:22):

I admire most within the DevOps enterprise community. And I hope you have learned as much as I have. And season two is going to be incredible, because I get to interview so many incredible experts often outside of the technology community who share so many surprising insights, relevant to any leader, to better enable their organizations to compete and win. In this season, you'll hear me interview amazing people, such as Dr. Ron Westrum, who created the famous Westrum Organizational Typology Model, which I suspect nearly everyone who's read The State Of DevOps report is already very familiar with.

Gene Kim (00:00:58):

Admiral John Richardson, who served as Chief of Naval Operations for four years, which is the highest ranking Naval officer in the U.S. Navy. And who previously served as a director of U.S. Naval Reactors, which has been talked about so much throughout season one. And Dr. Gail Murphy, Professor of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia, who is one of my favorite academic researchers in all things related to architecture, modularity, and developer productivity. If you enjoyed season one of the Ideal Cast, I know you'll enjoy season two. In this opening episode of season two, you're going to hear part one of my two-part conversation with Admiral John Richardson. I learned so much from these conversations, and I suspect you'll find them as mind expanding as I did. Here's the interview. You're listening to the Ideal Cast with Gene Kim. Brought to you by IT Revolution.

Gene Kim (00:01:54):

Welcome to the first episode of season two of the Ideal Cast. Today I'm so delighted that I have on Admiral John Richardson, formerly Chief of Naval Operations for the U.S. Navy, which is that service's highest ranking officer. Over the years, Admiral Richardson's name has come up over and over again in my conversations with Dr. Steven Spear. And I was so delighted when I was able to finally meet him last year. I am so grateful for how he tolerated the volumes of questions that I asked him. Some of which I've been carrying around in my head, literally for over 30 years. I learned so much from our interactions that I had to interview him for this podcast, because I am certain that all of you will learn something as well. To motivate this statement, I feel like the best thing I can do right now is recite some of his amazing achievements.

Gene Kim (00:02:42):

He served as the Chief of Naval Operations for four years, which is the professional head of the U.S. Navy, which reports into the Secretary of the Navy. Before that, he served as a director of U.S. Naval Reactors, which is comprehensively responsible for the safe and reliable operation of the U.S. Navy Nuclear Propulsion program, which Dr. Spear has written so extensively about in his book, The High Velocity Edge. And has been the topic of so many conversations on this podcast. This position is so important that it is led by a four-star Admiral, of which there are only six in the entire U.S. Navy. And he also commanded the Los Angeles Class Submarine, the USS Honolulu. I think that this community of technology leaders can learn so much from him and his experiences. Everything from the problems he's had to solve, the way he leads, informed so much by his technology background, having gotten his Master's degree in electrical engineering at MIT.

Gene Kim (00:03:37):

Now that he's retired from the U.S. Navy, he serves on the board of directors of numerous companies, including Boeing, the world's largest aerospace company. And Exelon a Fortune 100 company, which operates the largest fleet of nuclear plants in America, and delivers power to over 10 million customers. So I've mentioned how excited I am that I have Admiral Richardson on today. But it may not be obvious why. So let me take a moment to state something that I'm coming to believe. As you likely know, I've been studying high performing technology organizations for 22 years. And since 2014, I've been studying how DevOps is being adopted, not by the technology giants, the Facebooks, Amazons, Netflix, Googles, and Microsofts of the world. But instead by large complex organizations who have been around for decades or even centuries. These are the largest brands across every industry vertical who are all trying to figure out how to respond effectively to the digital disruption agenda. And based on some data points, I'm starting to believe that is going to be the Department of Defense and our armed services that will figure out how to do this in a repeatable systematic way first.

Gene Kim (00:04:43):

I think there are two reasons why. The first reason is the urgency of the mission. When your mission is to defend a nation, to prepare for a future fight against a thinking adversary, who is just as motivated to use technology to gain the advantage, it creates genuine urgency. This is true when competing against smaller adversaries, such as what was described in this podcast by Dave Silverman in the team of teams context. But it's even more true when competing against peer or near peer adversaries. I think the second reason is something that became so evident to me during this interview. It is so clear that the military invests so much time and effort in training their leaders. I've always been amazed at how much the military invests in formal education, on-the-job training, and increasingly on self-education. It always amazes me when I talk to senior military officers, how expert they are on so many topics, whether it's doctrine, military history, leadership, leadership development, supply chains, and so much more. Someone told me just last week how senior military leaders must spend five to seven years or more in post-graduate education programs to get to where they are. Which is often considerably more than their commercial counterparts in industry.

Gene Kim (00:05:56):

I think these factors will contribute to faster adoption and integration of digital capabilities into mission achievement in the DOD, than in the commercial sector. So in this episode, I learned so much from Admiral Richardson, including why high velocity learning was so important to him when he was the Chief of Naval Operations. And how he operationalized creating a high velocity learning dynamic across the entire U.S. Navy. His theories of how we need to balance compliance and creativity, and some very specific advice on what leaders must do when the balance tilts too much towards compliance when we've taken away the ability for people to unleash their full creative potential, which can be the source of incredible asymmetric advantage. As well as some amazing examples of how you can strip away the barnacles from processes. Those layers of controls and supervision that may have crept in over the decades.

Gene Kim (00:06:49):

Why he believes radical delegation is so important. And how he came to believe that creating leadership communities and connections are so important. And we explore where software competencies must show up in modern organizations. This is part one of a two-part interview. I trust you will be as dazzled as I was on what Admiral Richardson has to share. I learned so much and found it to be so inspirational. Okay. Let's get to the interview. Admiral Richardson. I'm so honored that you're here. So I've introduced you in my words. Can you introduce yourself in your own words and describe what you've been working on these days?

Admiral Richardson (00:07:25):

Yeah. Well, thanks Gene. And let me just say how thrilled I am to be here with you. I've been a fan of your work for some time. And so to be actually speaking with you like this is really the thrill of a lifetime. And I'm embarking on what my wife has affectionately called act two. She's not letting me call it retirement. And act two consists of a number of different activities, a portfolio of things that includes service on the boards of directors for Boeing and Exelon, as you said. And also another nuclear company called BWXT, which provides nuclear components, is into radio pharmaceuticals and some very creative work in the nuclear business.

Admiral Richardson (00:08:01):

And then a couple of private boards in the artificial intelligence arena, and the offshore support vessel arena. Some very, very sophisticated, complex vessels. And doing some consulting, helping other leaders, particularly in the private sector and also in the national security business to do what I can to help. So all about continuing I guess, the agenda that I tried to set in terms of being a leader of people, a leader of leaders. And a leader that wants to build organizations that are continually learning.

Gene Kim (00:08:32):

By the way, it thrills me that other organizations are going to be able to benefit from your vast experience. I have a big smile on my face. We also have on Dr. Steve Spear, who has been on so many of these podcast episodes. Steve, why don't you briefly introduce yourself as well?

Dr. Steven Spear (00:08:46):

Yeah. Thank you, Gene. And it's good to talk with you and CNO Richardson. So real quick, I was made curious probably 30 years ago as to why seemingly similar organizations amongst those, some were able to perform at such a higher level than everybody else. And through some fairly intense study, what we discovered is that their ability to manage the collective through which we try to do collaborative work, their ability to manage that, to really tap deeply into people's creativity and have it expressed as useful products and services out into society, it was off the charts. And one of the things that was really encouraging was that, as different as they were by sector, there was some common principles, almost like a science of organizations or science of systems. So I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out parsimonious as possible, what that science is and how to bring it into practice.

Gene Kim (00:09:39):

Awesome. So Admiral Richardson, we were able to meet because of Steve. And so can you describe what about Steve's work caught your attention and what made it so important to you?

Admiral Richardson (00:09:49):

Yeah. Well, first, I was introduced to Steve by a colleague of mine who was a fellow submariner. A very, very good friend, Dennis Murphy, who now works for Amgen. And he had become familiar with Steve's work. And called me up and said, "Hey, you've got to take a look at this guy's thinking." And so I dove in, got the ... I think, Steve, I got the book first and read through it. At this point I was just about to become the Director of Naval Reactors. And lo and behold, there's Naval Reactors as a major case study in the book. And so Steve had me at hello here, with respect to the way he approaches this question. And then I got in touch with him. And it's been even more rich, this collaboration for probably close to 10 years now, Steve, I think the time we've been working together.

Admiral Richardson (00:10:35):

And the thing that I find really powerful about Steve's approach is one, as he said, it's pretty parsimonious, right? I would call it simple, but not simplistic. And also not easy to implement. Don't confuse simple with easy. It's actually challenging to achieve those levels of performance that he described was such a simple approach. I also liked it because it's scalable, right? And so the cycle that Steve describes could work at every dimension of an organization, from a small work center, all the way up to a corporate level or an enterprise level. It's measurable, right? It's based on feedback.

Admiral Richardson (00:11:15):

And so there's some hardcore measurements, you know when you're making progress. And then the thing that really captured me was that by virtue of taking this very simple, but powerful approach centered around feedback, you engage the people in your organization in a way that kind of sustains all of the excitement and the thrill of a startup. But you can capture that and sustain it even for a mature organization. When you get that type of excitement coming to work every single day, you can't beat it. And so there's this kind of very analytic, but also a very powerful human dimension to Steve's approach to it. So that's what made it is such a rich relationship as it is today.

Gene Kim (00:11:57):

One of the thing that Steve shared with me was your efforts to create a learning dynamic across the entire enterprise that is the U.S. Navy. Can you describe why that's important? Why does it seem that as something that was worthy of your time?

Admiral Richardson (00:12:08):

It's going to be the decisive factor. In fact, one lens to look at the difference between winning and losing, victory and defeat, to success and failure. Particularly when you're up against a thinking adversary or competitor is, who learns more quickly? Right? And so Steve and I have collaborated on a lot of different examples where it wasn't necessarily the technology. It wasn't necessarily the plan that you went in with, it was really who had the better system to sense the environment, adapt to that environment, learn, spread those lessons across the organization, and move out in a different direction faster than the competition. And as things have sped up with the the advent of the revolution that you spent so much time thinking about, Gene, it's become even more important it seems to me to be able to learn that much faster. Right? And so I think it was absolutely fundamental to the success of the organization, particularly in a competitive environment including conflict.

Gene Kim (00:13:20):

And can you talk a little bit more about the program that you would set up to go from that very aspirational goal, that statement that a winner of the future fight depends on the ability to learn and adapt. I mean, how do you go from a statement like that to influencing hundreds of thousands of sailors?

Admiral Richardson (00:13:36):

Yeah. Well, the way that we approached it was to build it in as a separate and distinct, what I'll call a line of effort or a line of emphasis in our highest level plan. Right? So the plan that I signed out for the Navy included this learning line of effort. And it also included some more traditional things that address the importance of our people and leader development. It addressed the importance of our mission and our operational doctrine, as you say. But this learning thing was new to everybody. And it took some time really to continue to talk through it, and bring people into an understanding of, "Hey, why learning. And then exactly what does that mean?" And so the first iteration in the Navy, it was sort of, if I wasn't in charge of a formal school, I'd breathe a sigh of relief. Because that learning stuff, that's for schools. And I get off.

Admiral Richardson (00:14:30):

And so we had to work through, "No, this was everybody. Everybody's got to be learning at every level." And so it just took some soak time, to be honest, Gene. A lot of communication. I would say that when you do something this new in an organization, a lot of times leaders underestimate the amount of just personal energy and fortitude it's going to take to see it through. And so I was lucky to have a number of leaders that really pitched in and made this happen. And it's still unfolding, Gene. It's something that'll never stop. You've just got to do that. So you set some sort of high level goals. And then that penetrates down into the organization. And each person has a program at their level of the team supports the higher level objectives, and move out. You just make it part of the business.

Gene Kim (00:15:21):

That's awesome. And I love that statement where the sigh of relief when you are sure that it's someone else's job.

Admiral Richardson (00:15:29):


Gene Kim (00:15:29):

[inaudible 00:15:29] delegate it away.

Admiral Richardson (00:15:29):

We've all been there.

Gene Kim (00:15:32):

But I was reading USMDP, the Marine Corps Doctrine Seven was all about learning. And there was a quote from Brigadier General, Lorna Mahlock, "I've found that ordinary people can do the extraordinary, who are committed to experiential learning, are intellectually curious and possesses an unquenchable desire to acquire new knowledge." And I love how she ends that quote. "This may be our only advantage in the future fight." I just thought it was a ... Just wonderfully evoke so much of what you said. Can you talk about maybe one thing that you did that was effective in demonstrating to what extent you are owning your piece of creating this learning dynamic?

Admiral Richardson (00:16:07):

First of all, it's really not about me, Gene. And so I would give the credit to some of the people that really worked so hard and creatively to set up, I would say a curriculum for leader development. Where we kind of tried to bake these types of skills into how we train and develop our new leaders. Right? And so there's a lot, I think that goes with that. Because once you train everybody to learn, they're going to want to go and do that, right? They're going to want to go and lead, and put all of these skills to work.

Admiral Richardson (00:16:44):

And so the aspects and the ingredients for delegation, right? So you can go off and let them do this learning, this experimentation, this adapting on their own with full ownership of their part of the organization. Watching that happen is just very, very exciting. I've got to tell you that from my particular standpoint, I try and live by verse 17 of The Tao, right? Where the ultimate leader, the people said they did it themselves. And so if I can be completely invisible on this, and the organization just gets better, that would be my ultimate goal. But they did a tremendous amount of work to adjust our leader development process, to bring together leaders that would give everybody trust and confidence in one another, that they could do that delegation. We all share the same value system, and we were going to learn on the fly and help one another.

Gene Kim (00:17:42):

And just to make sure I'm hearing what you're saying. You're saying that that outcome of that group coalescing and owning those objectives is a point of particular pride and evidence that this actually moved the needle on these objectives that you talked about?

Admiral Richardson (00:17:56):

Yeah, we hope so. And in fact, one sort of very discreet measurable example would be, after about a two and a half years, we'd achieved a lot of the objectives on the first plan. And so it was time to refresh the plan and put out a new set of objectives, and get everybody going on those.

Gene Kim (00:18:14):

But what year was that?

Admiral Richardson (00:18:16):

This was probably 2018 for the second edition. And I can send you these things if you like.

Gene Kim (00:18:24):

Oh, my gosh. Yeah. Yes.

Admiral Richardson (00:18:25):

Yeah. And so as we were thinking about the structure of a version two, we wanted it to be continuous, right? And in fact, we built in this kind of very DevOps thing, "Hey, this is version one," implying it is going to be modified. And so this was the design for maintaining maritime superiority version two. And I said, "Hey, I know that this learning line of effort has really given people a challenge. You do we want to work it in or eliminate it?" And the feedback was after they thought about it, "No, we've really come to kind of like it. So we'd like to keep it in version two." So that was a nice validation that it had some penetration into the organization, and it was being adopted.

Gene Kim (00:19:09):

What was potentially on the table to be taken out or to be left in?

Admiral Richardson (00:19:14):

Whether it was going to be a discreet line of emphasis. And so I was like, "Hey, if this is too complicated, we can think about maybe another way to get at it, or write it out." And they said, "No, no, no. We've kind of come to like it. So let's leave it in."

Gene Kim (00:19:29):

Gene here. Okay. Admiral Richardson did indeed send me those documents. And holy cow, they are amazing. I had mentioned just how much fun I had reading some of the U.S. Marine Corps doctrinal publications, such as MCDP-1, and the recently published MCDP-7 that I just mentioned. I didn't realize until I had read the documents that Admiral Richardson sent, that these were public planning documents that serve a somewhat similar function. I'll just read about how it was announced on the U.S. Navy website. The headline reads, "CNO releases a design for maintaining maritime superiority from Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, January 5, 2016. This is a document that addresses how the Navy will adapt to changes in the security environment and continue to fulfill its mission." And then there's a link to read the document. So that looks like the equivalent of a press release announcing the availability of this document.

Gene Kim (00:20:25):

And a quick Google search shows how widely this document was read and commented upon within the Naval community and the defense industry. I loved reading it, because it does such a superb job in doing what great vision and mission documents do. I want to read a couple of parts of this document, especially the introductions for a couple of reasons. One, it's so clearly written. And two, there are some real surprises, which I think many of you will find quite inspirational. So this is the 1.0 document published in January 2016. And the version 2.0 document, which Admiral Richardson mentioned was published nearly three years later. I will put links to both documents in the show notes.

Gene Kim (00:21:07):

So version one was an eight page document. I'm going to read through it just because so much of what Admiral Richardson talks about, you can find here. Okay. On the first page, there's a one paragraph mission statement. "The United States Navy will be ready to conduct prompt and sustained combat incident to operations at sea. Our Navy will protect America from attack and preserve America's strategic influence in key regions of the world. U.S. Naval forces and operations from the sea floor to space, from deep water to the literals, and in the information domain will deter aggression and enable peaceful resolution of crises on terms acceptable to the United States, and our allies and partners. If deterrence fails, the Navy will conduct decisive combat operations to defeat any enemy." Great mission. All right. Right after that is a one paragraph introduction.

Gene Kim (00:21:57):

My favorite line in there is, "We'll learn and adapt, always getting better, striving to the limits of performance. This can not be a top-down effort. Everybody must contribute." The next section is strategic environment. He paints and evokes some of the history of the U.S. Navy going back hundreds of years. This is about two and a half pages. The really great part here is that he frames three problems that shaped the strategy and his thinking. I'm going to read a couple of sections just because I think it's one, marvelously written. So clearly communicates the urgency that he feels.

Gene Kim (00:22:32):

And I think you'll find it incredibly relevant to the work that any technology leader will feel viscerally, regardless of industry. The first of the three global forces he talks about is how the world is increasingly reliant upon traffic on the ocean seas and waterways. He calls it the classic maritime system. As the global economy continues to expand and become more connected, this maritime system is becoming more heavily used, more stressed and more contested than ever before. The next to astound me, "A second increasingly influential force is the rise of the global information system. The information that rides on the servers, undersea cable, satellites and wireless networks that increasingly envelop and connect the globe. Newer than the maritime system, the information system is more pervasive. Enabling an even greater multitude of connections between people and at a much lower cost of entry."

Gene Kim (00:23:26):

"Literally an individual with a computer is a powerful actor in the system. Information now passed a near real-time across links that continue to multiply is in turn driving an accelerated rate of change. From music to medicine, from microfinance to missiles." Okay, here's the third one which mentioned Moore's Law. "The third interrelated force is increasing rate of technological creation and adoption. This is not just an information technologies, where Dr. Gordon Moore's projections of exponential advances in processing, storage and switches continued to be realized. Scientists are also unlocking new properties of commonplace materials, and creating new materials altogether at astonishing speeds. And as technology is introduced at an ever accelerating rate, it is being adopted by society just as fast. People are using these new tools as quickly as they are introduced in new and novel ways."

Gene Kim (00:24:20):

So for anyone in the technology community, isn't it interesting that two of the three factors that are shaping Naval strategy are technology related. I just find that so super interesting. It just shows that the work that we are doing in this community matter to people who matter. Okay, one last thing I'll read here, just because it's so prevalent in the DOD. I'll quote, "And the competitors themselves have changed. For the first time in 25 years, the United States is facing a return to great power competition. These goals of potential adversaries are backed by a growing arsenal of high-end warfighting capabilities. Many of which are focused specifically on our vulnerabilities, and are increasingly designed from the ground-up to leverage the maritime, technological and information systems. They continue to develop and field information enabled weapons, both kinetic and non-kinetic with increasing range, precision and destructive capacity." Why I love this document is that it communicates so clearly and simply in a way that can be copied by others.

Gene Kim (00:25:23):

So if you watched the presentation given by the Kessel Run Team, that amazing program in the U.S. Air Force, you're going to hear very similar statements of goals and aspirations. This was a presentation that was given at the DevOps Enterprise Summit in Las Vegas last year by Adam Furtado, a Branch Chief at Kessel Run. And Lauren Knausenberger, Deputy CIO inside the U.S. Air Force. Dr. Andy Grove, CEO of Intel for many years said, "You have to keep repeating your message over and over, and over again. Just when you feel like you can't repeat it anymore, it's only then that people actually start understanding your message." The next section is, "Why a design?" And he writes, "The scope and complexity of the challenge we face demand a different approach than that offered by a classic campaign plan. This guidance frames the problem in a way forward, while acknowledging that there is an inherent and fundamental uncertainty in both the problem definition and the proposed solution."

Gene Kim (00:26:18):

The next section is core attributes. He writes, "One clear implication of the current environment is a need for the Navy to prepare for decentralized operations guided by commander's intent. The ability to achieve this end is reliant on the trust and confidence that is based on a clear understanding among peers, and between commanders and subordinates of the risks that can be tolerated. This trust and confidence is enhanced by our actions, which must reflect the core values of honor, courage and commitment. Four core attributes of our professional identity will help to serve as guiding criteria for our decisions and actions." And he lists four, "Integrity, accountability, initiative, and toughness." The next section is, "Four lines of effort." Admiral Richardson wasn't kidding. The learning dynamic is the second of the four. So the first one is strengthened Naval power at and from sea. And the second is, "Achieve high-velocity learning at every level." And the third is, "Strengthen our Navy team for the future." The fourth is, "Expand and strengthen our network of partners." And again, just to underscore what I think is so interesting is that it's all written out. It reminds me of that quote, "In order to speak well, you need to be able to think well. And that usually requires being able to write well."

Gene Kim (00:27:35):

Before we go back to the interview, I want to go to version 2.0 of the document, which was published in December 2018, which is nearly three years later. It's a longer document at 18 pages. But what really struck me about this document is that it's more specific. He addresses it on page two, describing how it's a continuation of the version. 1.0 document. He writes, "There are however some adjustments. Design 2.0 provides updated operational guidance to link strategy with execution. The line of effort, achieve high velocity learning, has been tightened, focusing on outcomes rather than processes. The tasks supporting all the lines of efforts have been updated to establish new and ambitious goals that will spur us to accelerate our progress. This is an all hands effort." End quote.

Gene Kim (00:28:20):

So the first thing that really strikes me about this document is focused more on execution and achievements, that focus on outcomes as opposed to processes. Will be very familiar to anyone who's worked on OKR as objectives and key results. The second thing that struck me was the theme around urgency, which shows up throughout the document. And next eight pages describing more detail each one of the four lines of effort. Each one of the lines of effort is about two pages, describing key objectives that appear to break down into specific programs. And on the last page, conclusion reads, "The margins of victory are razor thin, but decisive. We will remain the world's finest Navy by fighting each and every minute to achieve excellence in everything we do."

PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:29:04]

Gene Kim (00:29:03):

... Navy by fighting each and every minute to achieve excellence in everything we do. Our rivals are intent on taking the lead from us. We must pick up the pace and deny them. We cannot be satisfied with achieving minimum standards. We are a Navy focused on being the best we can be everyday. I'm counting on you. I'm honored and proud to lead the Navy team. Signed, John M. Richardson, Admiral U.S Navy, Chief of Naval Operations.

Gene Kim (00:29:25):

I'm cognizant that I'm reading a lot from a document that anyone can download and read by themselves, but I do so just because I think these documents model so well what so many of us in the technology leadership community are trying to do. Set high standards, create a sense of urgency, communicate values that we think are important. And I think these letters just do a phenomenal job in showing how writing can be an enormous aid to helping achieve those objectives.

Gene Kim (00:29:53):

Okay. Back to the interview. I want to ask before I forget, I love that sort of end outcome that you state, where the organization has fully owned the objectives. Their hearts are in it and they're bringing their best energy to the achievement of those outcomes. And the leaders left with... Not left to do, maybe overstate what you said. What do you do with the leader who is actually afraid of that concept? Because what they might hear is, "Holy cow." You've given all the authority to the team, they make their own decisions. It's their ideas. They're going to put the energy into it, and they're left thinking, "What is there left for me to do?"

Admiral Richardson (00:30:28):


Gene Kim (00:30:29):

And I think there's a fear there that now I'm utterly irrelevant. Can you maybe just directly speak to that, an anonymous person who might feel that way? What is it that you would want them to see?

Admiral Richardson (00:30:41):

I would say that I can 100% guarantee that there are things as a leader that only you can do, and that what you have done by virtue of enabling the team to perform at their maximum level and do a lot of the things that perhaps you were doing before, you've learned that those are actually things you can delegate very effectively, in fact, more effectively than doing it all yourself.

Admiral Richardson (00:31:06):

And now, that illuminates those things that perhaps only you can do. And so, you need to spend some time identifying what those things are because they're super important to the organization. And you're the only one who can get them done. And so, it provides you some intellectual space to get after those very important things, strategic thinking, working across leader to leader at your peer level, et cetera. Those are the things that only you can do. They may not take as much time as you're used to spending, but they have a much bigger impact.

Gene Kim (00:31:42):

That's awesome. Maybe to go into some concrete scenarios. I think we've all witnessed situations where an organization that once exhibited these kinds of dynamic learning characteristics, they start to calcify. So when I attended Steve's workshop at MIT, I met him in 2014. I loved the way he cast the US space program in the 1960s, as one of fundamental dynamic learning. I recently read Gene Kranz' book, Failure Is Not an Option. And I love the way he described his role in it. And a part of it was saving Apollo 13.

Gene Kim (00:32:13):

And even in the events leading up to it, he described the NASA philosophy as high risk, high gain. And as he described that engineering discipline, it reminded me so much of the Naval reactor program that was described as of what Admiral Rickover built. So I'd love this narrative that says something was lost in the US-based program, as it went from this culture of learning to a cultural of compliance.

Gene Kim (00:32:35):

And it was most notable after they embarked on US space program was pitched to Congress as a low cost, frequent access to space. The focus became around turnaround times and safe access to space. We started sending school teachers in space, even though the failure rates were probably still around 5%. So under those conditions, due to the structure, and dynamic signals were starting to get suppressed. Deviances would get normalized. So once if a tile falls off the shuttle, we might say it happened before. So it should be okay. So can you talk a little bit about whether you've seen these contrasts between a learning culture and a compliance culture, and what advice would you give to leaders to ensure that what was once a learning organization doesn't devolve into this compliance culture? How do you keep organizations from getting into a rut? And as I've heard you say, prevent the barnacles from growing on-

Admiral Richardson (00:33:26):

Yeah. Nice nautical analogy there. So, well, there is always in high risk, high gain or I would say high consequence organizations, there's a very appropriate focus on risk management, right? Because the consequences of failure can be existential, right? I mean, you could go out of business or something like that. Or the very, very high consequences.

Admiral Richardson (00:33:55):

And so, as we like to think about it, it was about risk management, right? And there's a number of ways to do that. I mean, I know you've read the Checklist Manifesto, that terrific book. It talks about the role of checklists in terms of reducing risk. And I'm a huge fan of the appropriate application of checklists to do that. If you could just... A visual image is you set up this compliance structure. And inside of that, it defines an operational envelope, if you will, right?

Admiral Richardson (00:34:28):

There's some boundaries to that envelope that are defined by the risk that entailed in those boundaries. And so, your compliance structure is just set up to make sure that you don't cross one of those boundaries. In fact, you want to not only know where those boundaries are, but you probably most definitely want even give yourself some margin inside those boundaries because things go wrong. They don't go as planned. You don't want to go right up to the boundary. You want to give yourself plenty of margin.

Admiral Richardson (00:34:58):

And so now, you've got this envelope to sign or this landscape, this field on which you can operate. Inside of that creativity can go, right? You can be as creative as possible. In fact, you want to encourage each other to be as creative as possible to take full advantage of all of the acreage that exists inside of that risk, that operational envelope. That entails teaching all of your leaders in particular, but just about everybody, okay, certainly what are the boundaries. Make those very clear, including the margin.

Admiral Richardson (00:35:35):

Most effective when you also explain, why are those the boundaries, right? What is the specific risk involved? Is the risk to whom and for how long, et cetera, and then you empower them and you unleash them to operate inside those boundaries. Now, I think that this calcification, this barnacle buildup can happen as you become more risk intolerant over time. Certainly, these things can happen over time. And then it can also happen kind of in an echelon organization where at the top level, I define my operational envelope and my risk boundaries. The next level down, well, they're going to say, gey, I don't even want to get close to there. So I'm going to apply another set of margins. And then as it goes on down, by the time you get three or four levels down in the organization, the operational envelope has become so small.

Admiral Richardson (00:36:33):

It gets really hard to be creative inside of that. Right? And so this again goes to, I think, leader development. So say, hey, look, let's open this back up. This is the real risk. The barnacles growing don't really reduce risk. In fact, they might even increase risk, because what'll happen is you strike this balance between compliance and creativity. It'll set the cultural tone for your organization, right? And so, this is where the decisions that your leaders are making on a day-to-day basis, they are going to be consistent with that organizational culture.

Admiral Richardson (00:37:11):

And if it's dominated by layers of barnacles that have existed either over time or through layers of the organization or both, they're going to be mostly a compliance mindset, right? A checklist type of approach to things. Even a checklist approach where it's not appropriate, right? You don't want to be doing checklist things in the creative space. So you've got to kind of open it back up and make sure you strike the right balance. You don't want to be foolhardy, right? Don't want to be a cowboy, so you get too close to those margins, but you've got to leave enough space for creativity and that's... I think that's serious leader... So going back to your question, that's something that the leader who has delegated so much, that's something that they need to monitor very closely because they're going to own that culture.

Gene Kim (00:38:01):

And so like what would they monitor for? Like, "Hey, I'm coming to you Admiral, and I hear the logic of what you're saying, but I'm not even sure what to look for." How would you advise me in terms of-

Admiral Richardson (00:38:13):

Yeah, I think that some could be, just take a look at the policies, right? So you've got your policies that define the risk tolerance, and then you need to take a look at the policies that exist out in the other parts of the organization. But that I think is actually a pretty sterile way to do it. A much more rich way to do it is to really just have conversations amongst leaders, right? And to communicate kind of what we call commander's intent. Right? And the team of teams concept centers on this, because, hey, at some point, all of the laptops are going to go shut. All the tough books are going to go shut and you're going to go off and execute. And you've got to have just the most fulsome understanding of the operational envelope, all the what ifs that you might encounter out there so that they can go and execute with as much creativity as possible.

Gene Kim (00:39:08):

Can you maybe paint the contrast? I would imagine, like if you were to put two liters in front of you, one of them has a very rigid set of everyone's managing to the checklist and one is achieving the same sort of compliance objectives, but enabling a higher degree of creativity. I suspect you'll be able to spot them and very quickly. Can you describe what that conscious would look like?

Admiral Richardson (00:39:26):

It's one of those things that you know when you see it. Well, one, what are they rewarding in their organization and how are they running their teams, right? Who are they promoting, rewarding, et cetera. And for what?

Admiral Richardson (00:39:41):

Are they striking this balance that is sort of more consistent with the compliance creativity balance that you want the organization to espouse? It's not good to get either one out of balance, right? And so, there's a real reason for this compliance structure that's in place, to make sure that you control risk, but you don't want to be dominated by it. There's a saying in the Navy, and it's very true that a ship will take on the personality of his commanding officer. It is tangibly noticeable. And so, it's just in the conversations that you have with different people in that organization, you know right where their set point is, but it comes to person to person engagement. And you got to get down there, get that finger [inaudible 00:40:27], the fingertip sense of things.

Gene Kim (00:40:31):

Gene here. I am loving so much of what Admiral Richardson brought up, the notion of balancing compliance and creativity. I'll ask him more about that later in the interview. The notion of ships taking on the personality of their commanders. I asked more about that, which leads to some of the most profound insights about leadership that I've heard in a long time. But I just to explore more about the topic of finger [inaudible 00:40:57].

Gene Kim (00:40:58):

I had heard that term before, but when I looked it up after the interview, there was some surprising nuances that were completely new to me. So on Wikipedia, [inaudible 00:41:07] is defined literally to mean fingertips feeling, suggesting an intuitive flair or instinct. It describes a great situational awareness and the ability to respond most appropriately and tactfully. It can be applied to diplomats, bearers of bad news, or to describe a superior ability to respond to an escalated situation.

Gene Kim (00:41:29):

The term is sometimes used to describe the instinctive play of certain football players. So it goes on to say there are two contexts in which the word's used. The first is the social context, suggesting tact and diplomacy, and a certain amount of sensitivity to the feelings of others, which is a quality that can enable a person to negotiate tricky social situations. But the longer definition is in the military context. In military terminology, it is used for the stated ability for some military commanders to describe "the instinctive and immediate response to battle situations."

Gene Kim (00:42:04):

It is a quality needed to maintain with great accuracy and attention to detail an ever changing operational and tactical situation by maintaining a mental map of the battlefield. This idiom is intended to evoke a military commander who is in such intimate communication with the battlefield that it is as though he or she has a fingertip on each critical point. The term is only figurative and cannot itself give a realistic picture of the ability being described. It is cognitively related to personal possession of multiple intelligences, notably those pertinent to visual and spatial data processing. The terms suggest that in addition to any discursive processing of information that the commander may be conducting, such as mentally considering a specific plan, the commander is automatically establishing cognitive relationships between disparate pieces of information as they arrive and is able to immediately resynthesize their mental model of the battlefield.

Gene Kim (00:42:56):

So they give an example of how maps are somewhat static and things that you might put on the map. Like men, materials, weapons can change far more rapidly than a cartographer could change a map. And so, a commander with [inaudible 00:43:11] could hold such a map in their mind and adjust it by incorporating any significant information that was received. So that is not what I actually thought the word meant. I had thought of it as something much more vague, like I'll know it when I see it or an intuition. But this definition seems as just something far more profound and even uncanny. It seems to suggest an ability to understand what is going on, informed by lots of disparate information, to adjust that person's mental model of what is actually going on so they can best sense, make, and respond. That is super cool. And you're going to hear a lot about what Admiral Richardson believes is required to be able to get that uncanny ability to predict the world around you.

Gene Kim (00:43:55):

Okay. Back to the interview. Steve, I'm sure you have some thoughts on compliance versus creativity.

Dr. Steven Spear (00:44:00):

Oh yeah, Gene. Thanks for asking. So a couple of quick thoughts here is the importance that [inaudible 00:44:05] was talking about of having guard rails. We were talking also about things like checklist and guard rails. And I think actually guard rails are critically important to allow compliance and creativity. It's not one or the other. If I know how I'm supposed to appear to the larger system of which I'm a part, and so long as I don't violate those agreements, the guard rails, I can do pretty much anything and be as creative as I want to be, just so long as I'm in compliance with those agreements. And now connecting that to this notion of checklists, in part, what checklists are supposed to tell us is when we're starting to veer towards those guardrails and starting to lose control and start presenting risk.

Dr. Steven Spear (00:44:48):

And it's not only risk within our locality, but risk in our relationship to the larger system. And so, just one last thought to think about this is it got entered into the conversation, this idea of flat organizations and whatnot. I mean, not our conversation, but just sort of the dialogue about management, flat organizations. And it never made sense to me because if I'm working within my guardrails, that's actually liberating. It sounds kind of contradictory. It's liberating because it gives me all this latitude to be creative within the guard rails. If I start veering towards the guard rails, I need help. And if I'm in a flat organization, who the heck do I ask for help? I mean, I need someone whose job is actually to manage the guard rail. And the relationship I have with you, so that if I'm going to violate that guard rail or we have to negotiate the guard rail, is someone there to facilitate that?

Gene Kim (00:45:34):

You're smiling, John. Maybe can you verbalize what you're-

Admiral Richardson (00:45:38):

Yeah, I think we can open up a whole part of this dialogue that talks about leader development and how do you kind of unleash a leader's full capability within that structure. But before we go there, Gene, I also want to also relate that we're talking about people here, right? And so, they respond in a very human way. And so, how a particular leader might behave as he approaches a guardrail might depend an awful lot on how he was treated the last time he approached it, or maybe crossed over it. You know, if it's a very risk intolerant or punitive thing, then he's going to remember that and he's going to apply his own increased margin.

Admiral Richardson (00:46:22):

And so, you'll see that creativity just kind of slowly and slowly suffocate out. And so, there's all sorts of discussions about, hey, are we a no fault or zero tolerance type of an organization? That's something, again, that bears a lot of thought between a leader and another leader, right?

Gene Kim (00:46:41):

As you were talking about... I loved your phrase, simple not easy. We all strive for simplicity, but there's nothing easy about it. And when you described kind of the way a set of compliance controls might cascade down, I can't imagine something easier than if I'm a leader and I have like 100 safety checklists, and I'll give 10 to that person, 10 to this person. Sort of decompose it down, right? Get the job done. That seems like a very easy way to distribute compliance responsibilities across an organization. But I suspect that does not lead to the best outcomes. Because not everyone's managing to the compliance objective versus really the larger objective of which compliance is in service of. Does that resonate with you and like how do you sort of prevent that leader from that mechanical distribution of compliance responsibility to a team, right? I'll take these 50 and distribute them out.

Admiral Richardson (00:47:34):

Well, certainly there is a role for efficient delegation of these parts of the compliance piece are yours, right? But I think to really achieve sort of the maximum performance, particularly as I said, against a learning and responding adversary or competitor, spent a lot of time on crafting what we would call commander's guidance. But that would be something I always think it should fit on a five by eight card. Very concise. A litmus test for that is, hey, if a leader gets completely separated from headquarters, right? And can't communicate, but they're out there, they've got responsibilities. They still have to move the ball down field, achieve the mission.

Admiral Richardson (00:48:18):

If they just consult this commander's guidance, they would know what to do to continue to contribute to the overall team's objectives. There's a lot of, I think, supporting assumptions that go with that type of an arrangement.

Admiral Richardson (00:48:35):

So for instance, okay, where is my risk tolerance, right? I'm going to delegate this risk to you. That's yours to control, but if you go outside those boundaries, we got to talk, right? So there's not only commander's guidance command, but there's also feedback, right? And so, I'm sending a teammate out to achieve this objective in a remote part of the organization. And you can think about remote in a lot of ways. It doesn't have to be geographic. And you own that. Right? And here's the set of assumptions that go along with that, an understanding of the guard rails as Steve put it, understanding of our best characterization of the environment. That's all part of it.

Admiral Richardson (00:49:19):

If you go out there and it doesn't look anything like that, call me up, right? Because we got problems. And so there's this kind of command and feedback in the structure. And so it really does really depend on dialogue between leaders and that's forms the basis for those times when, hey, if a leader does get separated or out of communication, they've got all of that to draw on, all of that context and they can continue to move forward, contribute to the mission until they get back in communication.

Gene Kim (00:49:56):

And I've heard you say the goal is to reconnect with the first principles of the organization, with energy and enthusiasm, to unleash creativity. Is that embodied in the five by eight cards? Is that in the backup material? Like where does that fit in?

Admiral Richardson (00:50:11):

I think a lot of that goes in your leader development program, right? Because that's some serious foundational work. And so, the five by eight I think would be a little bit more mission dependent. Right? So, hey, given that you've kind of been brought up as a leader in this organization and we have done the genetic engineering to instill you with our culture, instill you with our values. We've set that balance between compliance and creativity. All of that is foundational work, right? And those are the confidence building measures that allow leaders to have that trust and confidence in one another, that each is going to do what they need to do, right? For the good of the team.

Admiral Richardson (00:50:53):

And so then, the five by eight is, hey, this is our mission. Given that foundation as to how we're going to go about doing things, this is what we want to do. So by all means, here are the things that are good to do, and you might want to flip it over and say, hey, please don't do these things, right? It just won't be helpful. So I think it's sort of the investment you make in leader development is really important in terms of defining that culture and people. And then based on the trust and confidence that is instilled by virtue of that program, you can then give them the commander's guidance for this mission. They go off and do it.

Gene Kim (00:51:31):

So interesting. And you said one thing that really caught my attention is you observed the behaviors of what happens when someone strays too close to boundary or crosses it. Right? You said that how that leader would behave in that situation is often dependent on what happened the last time he or she was there. Right? Where I can imagine some situations, right? They get written up, they get punished. And it might not be for violating a rule. It might be violating a norm. Like stay in your lane. This is my lane, not yours, versus one that leads to a far more constructive, maybe generative... Something where it's like, oh, my goodness, that's actually a terrible rule. Let's revisit whether that rule should exist. Does that resonate with you in terms of like what you meant by what happened last time?

Admiral Richardson (00:52:15):

Yeah. Or what I was actually thinking of, Gene, was more things like near misses. Right? And so, you've got this episode that happens where there was a breakdown and it was all the ingredients for a catastrophe were there. It's just that you got lucky that day. And instead of actually colliding or whatever, you pass close by. You know what happens then? Right. And I think a thoughtful leader would want to say, hey, we were just lucky there. We were completely in the regime of luck. Let's get everybody in. We're going to do a full scrub of this to find out how it broke down, because the entire sequence of events was there. So I think that that would be a very productive way of that leader is going to be smarter, more capable, experienced.

Admiral Richardson (00:53:09):

His team is going to be sharper. Her team is going to be sharper the next time versus, okay, that was just too close. I'm done with you and let's find somebody else. So there are lessons to be learned in these. But sometimes they say, hey, are you a zero tolerance organization or a zero defect organization? I say, "Well, it depends on the defect." And sometimes it is one of those things that... And the communication has been clear, particularly in a value structure or something like that. It's like this sort of, I'm sorry, but one strike and you're out on this one.

Gene Kim (00:53:49):

Maybe if I can paint the counter of that. In the Unicorn Project, there was actually a scene that was actually based on a real life example that came from Heather Mickman. She's the senior director of development at Target. So I got to follow her around for three days and I got to see many interesting things.

Gene Kim (00:54:04):

But by far, the most interesting thing I saw was the certificate that was on her desk. And it looked like it was printed on a inkjet printer. It was actually in PowerPoint, right? And it said Lifetime Achievement Award given to Heather O'Sullivan Mickman for abolishing TEP and LARB. So TEP is the Technology Evaluation Process, LARB is the Lead Architecture Review Board.

Gene Kim (00:54:23):

So the reason why that's relevant is whenever you want to do something new, you have to write up a tech form, pitch the LARB meeting, and then they had all the ops and security architects on one table, the dev and enterprise architects at the other table. They would pepper you with questions, start arguing with each other, reassign you 40 more questions. Say "Hey, come back next month and we will reevaluate your idea."

Gene Kim (00:54:42):

Anyways, the point of the story is that she said none of my 180 engineers should go through this. None of the 2,000 engineers at Target should ever have to go through this. Why is this structure here? And she said, "No one could really remember." There was some vague memory of something disastrous happening 20 years ago, but what exactly that disaster was has been lost in the mist of time, but the process still remained. And I suspect that you would say this is an example of a barnacle that has lodged itself in the organization that now shaped the way that people act. Does that resonate with you? And if Heather had come to you back then, like what would be some directive advice? By the way, they actually got the certificate, because they did abolish the process due to her endless lobbying. So maybe you can just react to that story.

Admiral Richardson (00:55:27):

Yeah. Well, first of all, congratulations. And who would want to be part of a process, anything called LARB. Of all the acronyms, but the other response often, Gene, of the organization is someone gets too close to a guard rail, to just continue to use Steve's very good description. So there might be something that happened to that person, right? That's going to make that he or she just more conservative, but then the organization may respond and say, hey, we don't want anybody to get that close again. So we're going to create the following margin. They're going to build and increase margin, which just sort of closes down on that creative space as we talked about before.

Admiral Richardson (00:56:11):

And then, over the passage of time, "Oh, by the way, there'll be another thing that happens." And so another barnacle will be placed on top of that one. The other thing that you can do, Gene, is put in another layer of supervision, right? And so, an operator might make a mistake. And so, okay, now I'm going to put in a supervisor and then that system makes a mistake. And so, you put another super supervisor over it. And what emerges is kind of this implicit shared responsibility where the operator says, well, I've got two layers of supervision. How much do I really have to be focused on this? And the supervisors are saying, well, this operator is trained on that. So this should be pretty easy. And at the end of the day, nobody's really paying attention to the business and problems emerged.

Gene Kim (00:57:03):

And can you maybe give an example, whether concrete or abstract. How do you sort of address the fear of like taking out those layers of control? Like to make that person fully responsible for their actions?

Admiral Richardson (00:57:15):

I mean, I was a submariner for most of my career. And to submarines do their business submerge. So we only surface when we have to go in and out of port. And so we do all of those things that come with driving a ship around on the surface. And one of those... But a lot of that gear. Radar, for instance, right? We don't use radars very often. And so it's a skill set we have to continue to train on because we don't get a lot of operational experience. And so oftentimes, as I would move around, when I commanded the submarine force, you would see this exact dynamic emerge. There's a radar operator. Then there's a radar supervisor. Then there was a senior supervisor over the whole thing. I was like, why do we need three people to operate the radar? Right? And so it goes back to-

PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:58:04]

Admiral Richardson (00:58:02):

All right. And so it goes back to does that radar operator really get the sense that he or she owns that part of the business? Have they, one, the expertise? There's four ingredients for ownership as we boiled it down. One is you got to know what you're doing, so you have to, no kidding, be an expert at what you're doing. And then we're very familiar with the responsibility. You're going to be responsible for that.

Admiral Richardson (00:58:28):

And oh by the way, you'll be accountable for that. And then finally, a lot of times, particularly in the delegation business, have you really given that leader the full authority they need to own the task. Because very frustrating when you... Perhaps you're responsible and accountable for something but you don't have the authority to do it your way. And so that just creates a... Or you're put in a position where you don't have sufficient experience and expertise and no matter how enthusiastic you are you just wouldn't recognize right from wrong, because you just don't have the training.

Admiral Richardson (00:59:06):

So it was like, "Okay, let's get this person, this radar operator trained up, and she can... It's not above her capabilities," and make it clear that we're all relying on her and she'll do terrific. And that's what you almost always [inaudible 00:59:21] happened.

Gene Kim (00:59:23):

I hope you're enjoying this conversation as much as I am. I absolutely love Admiral John Richardson's view of leadership and it's been amazing to see how frequently his work has been studied and referenced within the technology community inside the US Department of Defense.

Gene Kim (00:59:38):

We are well underway in creating our 2021 virtual DevOps Enterprise Summit Europe event with the goal of making our best programming ever. One of the announced speakers is Dr. Ron Westrum whose work is so familiar to so many of us within the DevOps enterprise community.

Gene Kim (00:59:55):

This virtual conference will be held on May 18th to the 20th. Go to events. ITrevolution.com/virtual and use the code ideal cast to get $150 off your registration. And you may have noticed that the DevOps Enterprise video library has been loaded with new content. Behind the scenes we've been working to add all the talks from all our previous conferences, this is nearly 1000 talks dating all the way back to 2014.

Gene Kim (01:00:22):

We're publishing them in batches so check back in weekly to see what's new. To test it out, try searching for Dr. Andre Martin. His incredibly popular session from Las Vegas, 2019 hasn't been released to the public until now. Go to video library.doesvirtual.com to access it.

Gene Kim (01:00:46):

One of the things that I got to work on was the state of DevOps research, this was with a colleague Dr. Nicole Forsgren and Jess Humboldt. It was this cross- population study of 36,000 respondents over six years, and we learned what high-performance looks like, we learned what not high-performance looked like, and we could actually correlate and even predict what behaviors, what architectural attributes, what cultural attributes led to high performance.

Gene Kim (01:01:08):

One of the neatest findings was that having to get approvals from distant approval boards made every metric go the wrong way, and I didn't think it was just these lovely things that really show when responsibility is shared across too broad of a surface area you never get the results that you want. I'm guessing that resonates with your own experiences.

Admiral Richardson (01:01:29):

That's exactly it. Admiral Rick [inaudible 01:01:31] used to say if I didn't have a name and a phone number I didn't really have somebody responsible. So you could call up and say, "What is going on?" [crosstalk 01:01:41]

Gene Kim (01:01:43):

That story of a submarine operator having two levels of supervision because of the infrequent opportunities to practice on the submarine. So amazing. And I think Admiral Richardson's story of being able to safely remove those levels of supervision and increase effectiveness and efficiency and safety is fabulous.

Gene Kim (01:02:02):

The four elements that he talked about were expertise, responsibility, accountability, and authority. I am sure that story resonates with everyone in the technology community. Adrian Cockcroft, famous for his work at Sun, at eBay, Netflix and now at AWS, he talked about the phenomena of scar tissue.

Gene Kim (01:02:23):

I'll put a link to a post about one of the talks he did where he explains product development processes are built on this assumption that if you have really good processes you won't have any problems. And then when something goes wrong you have a process step and the check to prevent it from going wrong again.

Gene Kim (01:02:40):

The problem is that each time something goes wrong you add one more process step and your processes get longer and longer and slower and slower, and you build up something that he calls scar tissue processes. He says a similar situation occurs when you look at HR manuals, they are the result of everything anyone's ever done wrong in that company.

Gene Kim (01:02:58):

The unfortunate result can be that over time the organization can end up with so many rules that individuals can hardly keep track of them let alone remain in compliance. And the effort to avoid problems becomes counterproductive as it creates complex new ones. And so of course he describes how the product delivery process can get similarly bogged down.

Gene Kim (01:03:17):

And really, this is a story that I want to tell in the Unicorn Project, where what was once maybe a vibrant center of technology, creativity has collapsed in on itself due to burdensome rules where it has become impossible for anyone to get anything done.

Gene Kim (01:03:35):

Adrian speaks so eloquently and persuasively about how one has to strip these scar tissue processes out in order to increase product delivery speed, and the solution is an innovation process like continuous delivery.

Gene Kim (01:03:46):

I couldn't find the exact reference for this but I think it was Adrian Cockcroft who also said, "In so many organizations, especially when IT is a cost center or they have to get sign-offs for spending more than say $500, and yet those are exactly the same organizations that will put 15 highly paid engineers in a room together to approve changes."

Gene Kim (01:04:05):

And according to the meeting cost calculator, those 15 people at a salary of say $150,000 a year, that one hour meeting just cost $1,200.

Gene Kim (01:04:14):

So, all right, back to the interview.

Gene Kim (01:04:16):

When you said that every ship inherits the personality of their commanding officer, wouldn't it be easier if that weren't true. Do you ever find yourself wanting, just for your sanity, that there were more uniformity across your captains or is that naive and wrong-headed?

Admiral Richardson (01:04:34):

Well, I think...Gene, this is actually where you and I could have a great conversation about the Unicorn Project and all of that because I think it's an unavoidable human dimension to leadership. It's just whether we like it or not it's going to happen. And sometimes there's this sense of... In fact, we chatted about it a little bit before, okay, you put this culture in place and you've got this approach to doing business as a leader.

Admiral Richardson (01:05:05):

And then you move one. You're succeeded by another leader. How do you prevent from sliding back maybe into something that... Where that balance between compliance and creativity is out of whack. That's very difficult because that new leader is going to come in and they're going to put their imprint on that organization and they're going to create that balance.

Admiral Richardson (01:05:26):

And so underneath that, the deep currents, you would hope particularly if you're taking an enterprise approach to leader development and all of those things, those deep currents will still be in place. But within that there's going to be some variation just due to the leader that you put in charge. That's why you want to have this constant dialogue between leaders, just so you've got, "Hey, where are you here on this plus minus?" You stay in a place that's good, allows you to lead, because that's really a lot of fun, very rewarding and inspiring.

Admiral Richardson (01:06:02):

So you don't want to stifle that, but neither do you want it to go high and right. You've got a responsibility to monitor that as well.

Gene Kim (01:06:09):

And this may seem like a hopelessly naive question, but on a scale of one to 10, that human element, and maybe just from your most theoretical perspective, liberate yourself from the headaches of what this entails, how important is that idiosyncratic human part of leadership?

Gene Kim (01:06:26):

One is it's... Oh, it's all downside.

Gene Kim (01:06:28):

I want uniformity, I want consistency. [inaudible 01:06:32] like, "Oh no, it is the best leaders who actually need to exploit the dynamic range of people and their unique skills." What does your intuition say about that?

Admiral Richardson (01:06:41):

I'm going to use that classic answer, is that it depends a little bit. And so the Navy is a leadership factory, their armed services are, and just to use the Navy example. A sailor, just barely figures out where his rack is or her rack is on the ship, their bed, just gets comfortable. And before you know it she's put in a leadership position.

Admiral Richardson (01:07:03):

Because it's just the way the system works. I would say that the human element of this starts at a seven in terms of importance for a junior leader and goes to a 10 for more senior leaders. Now for a junior leader, a lot of those small team things are going to be one, getting a firm command of those guard rails that we talked about. So you really have to inculcate those, and that operational envelope for those more junior personnel is going to be necessarily smaller.

Admiral Richardson (01:07:41):

But as they get comfortable and demonstrate creativity and respect for the guard rails you're going to expand that and expand that and give them more and more room to be creative. And so that becomes a bigger and bigger part of the equation, such that I think at the, certainly at the CEO level, it's almost all about the human relationships and the trust and confidence that you share with one another.

Admiral Richardson (01:08:09):

That's the difference maker. You can assume a lot of expertise, that they know their business, et cetera. I don't think they would have been made the CEO if they didn't, but what are the real difference makers? It's the human element.

Gene Kim (01:08:26):

Interesting. Yeah, it's a [inaudible 01:08:28] army example, there was a lot written on just how much leeway general Patton was given in terms of whether he could get away with things that other people couldn't, and there's a narrative that says Eisenhower [inaudible 01:08:43] protected him because he was saving him for a certain phase in the invasion of Europe.

Gene Kim (01:08:47):

It sounds like that is an example of when you're really choosing the right person for the right job, that that was an example of why it's so critical, why it's a 10 as opposed to a one. You need to be able to find those uniquely gifted people for these unique jobs. Am I understanding that correctly?

Admiral Richardson (01:09:05):

Yeah. Steve, you can share your thoughts, but I think absolutely right Gene, you're going to give that person a tremendous amount of responsibility, a tremendous part of the success of the whole team. Maybe even the critical part.

Admiral Richardson (01:09:22):

And so choosing the right person for that, that's the asymmetric advantage, the thing that'll get you the result that you need. A lot of people have different approaches to this Gene, obviously it's a debate and we could talk about this all day, but that's the approach I like to take. Steve, I don't know what your thoughts.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:09:44):

What you're saying here certainly resonates with a conversation Gene and I have been having for the last couple of months about thinking through the structure of an organization so it gets the right dynamics. I think there's a assumption, people who as they get into leader positions, they don't have to worry about the details anymore. I have to create a vision, I have to be creative in creating a vision and let other people carry it out. The problem with that is that achieving the vision requires a lot of pieces coming together in just the right way, to the example of a General Patton or anyone else who's got let's say an idiosyncratic personality but well-suited to a particular thing.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:10:20):

If you don't have a good vision of what your system is you'll never know what you're saving that person for. And so then you run a risk of you put them in doing exactly the wrong thing, and a guy like Patton really could have been destructive I suppose in that. Or when the opportunity presents itself you just don't know. And so I guess pulling this together, this apparent tension between control and creativity, I'm going to keep coming back to, it's control for creativity.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:10:51):

By having clarity you liberate people to actually be creative. We can't be creative as in an environment of confusion because you have no idea what the heck is going on and why it's going on, and you have no sense of cause and effect or action and outcome or consequence. How can you be creative? It's just random.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:11:08):

But when you have clarity around you then all of a sudden it's like, "Oh, now I can see where I can go. And when I try something, I can see the consequence."

Admiral Richardson (01:11:18):

Yeah. We like to use the jazz musician analogy, to just get after what Steve just described. And so first of all, those Titans of jazz music, of course they are just... Have worked so much on the technical aspects of playing their instrument and their masters. And then even the music they play, it's got a key signature, it's got a chord structure. It's got all of those things. Inside that is where the creativity happens and they can riff and do all of that. So it's creating beauty within these constraints, that is the genius of leadership I think.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:11:57):

If I can just pause for a moment. Maybe I can articulate why my cheeks hurt right now, because I'm smiling so much. I love that... I'm absolutely loving the... I'm learning a ton, John. And I think there's a precision and a specificity when you talk about leadership that make me very envious of people who were able to serve and get trained in this, because I think there's a clarity of thinking that is just evident and enviable.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:12:24):

So I just want to expose that, so I can maybe... For what it's worth, this is amazing.

Admiral Richardson (01:12:30):

I was taught well. I learned all this from my mentor, so... And Steve is one of them. So it's all a-

Gene Kim (01:12:40):

[inaudible 01:12:40] I love that, creating beauty or greatness within constraints is part of the genius of leadership. That portion of this interview has led to one of the top aha moments of leadership that I've had, because it reveals what is required to create shared consciousness, which was written about so much in team of teams or finger spits and fuel, which was discussed earlier.

Gene Kim (01:13:02):

I spoke with Dr. Steve Spear earlier today about that topic and I'll share with you later where I think this fits into our notion of structure and dynamics. But the reason for this break-in is to explain that story behind general Eisenhower and General Patton.

Gene Kim (01:13:17):

I am reading from a couple of Wikipedia entries, one is about the film Patton, a 1970 film which was written by Francis Ford Coppola. So during World War II, General Eisenhower is the five star general serving as the supreme commander of the allied forces in Europe, and the five-star rank only exists during war time.

Gene Kim (01:13:38):

If I remember correctly, General Patton has a series of successes when he takes over the second core in North Africa defeating the plans of the famous German General Erwin Rommel. Patton had already developed a reputation in the US army as an effective, successful, and hard-driving commander.

Gene Kim (01:13:55):

He often had a larger than life personality. He became known for his flashy dress, highly polished helmets and boots, and a no nonsense demeanor. General Dwight D Eisenhower, the commander of the Sicily operation and Patton's friend and commanding officer had long known of Patton's colorful leadership style and also knew that Patton was prone to impulsive and a lack of self restraint.

Gene Kim (01:14:15):

While on a visit to a field hospital, Patton notices a shellshocked soldier crying. Calling him a coward, Patton slaps the soldier and even threatens to shoot him before demanding his immediate return to the front line. By Eisenhower's order, Patton is relieved of command and required to apologize to the soldier, to others present and to his entire command.

Gene Kim (01:14:33):

I'm reading the Wikipedia entry on George S. Patton slapping incidents, and there is pages and pages about the reprimands. So there's considerable media attention, with citizens rightly outraged that their sons that they're sending to war could be treated this way. Within a month, Eisenhower orders Patton's Seventh army to be broken up with a few of its units remaining Garrison in Sicily.

Gene Kim (01:14:57):

In a letter, Eisenhower tells Patton he had been informed of the slapping incidents, he would not be opening a formal investigation to the matter but his criticism of Patton was sharp. He writes, "I clearly understand that firm and drastic measures are at times necessary in order to secure the desired objectives, but this is not [inaudible 00:17:15] brutality, abuse of the sick nor exhibition of uncontrollable temper in front of subordinates. I feel that the personal services you have rendered the United States and the allied cause during the past weeks are of incalculable value. But nevertheless, if there is considerable element of truth in the allegations accompanying this letter, I'm must so seriously question your good judgment and your self-discipline as to raise serious doubts in my mind as to your future usefulness."

Gene Kim (01:15:39):

So those are some pretty stern words from Eisenhower to Patton. So here's a letter from Eisenhower to his boss, General George Marshall on August 24th. Eisenhower praises Patton's exploits as a commander of the Seventh army and his conduct of the Sicily Campaign, particularly his ability to take initiative as a commander.

Gene Kim (01:16:00):

[inaudible 01:16:00] in this article, I'm reading contrary to his statements to Patton, Eisenhower never seriously considered removing the general from duty in the European theater. Patton did not command a force in combat for 11 months. Exploiting Patton's situation, Eisenhower sends him on several high-profile trips throughout the Mediterranean.

Gene Kim (01:16:17):

In late 1943, by the next year the German High Command still had more respect for Patton than any other allied commander and considers him central to any plan to invade Europe from the North. Eisenhower wrote, "Patton is indispensable to the war effort, one of the guarantors of our victory."

Gene Kim (01:16:33):

I'm certainly no expert in military history, I did my best to stitch together the story from scanning a bunch of Wikipedia pages. The best book about this is a book called the General's, American military command from World War II to today by Thomas E Ricks. I'll put a link to that in the show notes.

Gene Kim (01:16:51):

I'm hoping that will give you some useful context behind the story of Eisenhower and Patton that was mentioned.

Gene Kim (01:16:57):

Okay, before we jump back into the interview I want to set some context for the next question. So here's the background. For almost 35 years I have been wondering about the nature of the different career tracks in the military. You have the enlisted and non-commissioned officer track. You have the officer track and more recently warrant officers, and I've been trying to understand where among these do softer competencies need to be integrated. Here's Steve giving some additional context, specifically around the three layers of where creativity can be applied. So you'll be hearing about these three layers in future episodes, but very briefly layer one is where work is performed. So that is the object being designed, created, formed, processed, improved, et cetera. So that could be the work of the developer, the intelligence analyst, biologists working on a vaccine, the designer, the machine operator, the submariner, the Navy Seal.

Gene Kim (01:17:49):

Layer two is the equipment and instrumentation through which creativity is expressed. So this could be the IDE, the code editor, the CAD layout tools, the lab bench, the laithe, the heat treat oven, the sonar, the communications and controls and armaments. And then layer three are the processes for which we integrate the pieces into a harmonized hole. And that incorporates the system level goals to structure and architecture at the interfaces. In other words the sanctioned ways that those component pieces can communicate with each other and the work methods.

Gene Kim (01:18:21):

So among those three layers, among those three tracks within the military, where does the softer competency fit? So here's Steve, setting some of that context.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:18:30):

Our side conversation, which has been entirely speculative and data free about this, the career track for enlisted versus officers. Maybe I can offer some background now, where Gene and I have been talking is around this idea that the processes of an organization, that we can bring individual contribution towards some harmonized collective purpose.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:18:54):

I guess the first thing is the reason we form organizations is because we have problems to solve collectively that we can't solve individually. And by and large, the problems we have to solve are intellectual problems not physical problems. Yes, I can't carry a cell phone by myself but most of what we do is... And Gene, just as an aside, I was talking to someone earlier today. You think about David Silverman's account of creating the flow through team of teams. And I started mapping out the process flow for what he was describing.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:19:24):

So there's the upfront violence by rangers to collect things. And at the end there's the downstream violence by let's say seals to act on what's... But everything in between those two violent acts is intellectual process. Turning what the rangers recovered and turning into a better understanding of what to do and where to do it and how to do it, et cetera, et cetera. And then it gets released through this managed controlled use of violence.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:19:52):

Everything in between is intellectual conversion, Anyway, sorry for that aside. So Gene and I have been talking about you create organizations to solve problems, most of which are intellectual. They're big problems which is why we organize because we can't solve them by ourselves. And then we started talking about the layers at which people are creative, and we've been test driving this idea of the object in front of us, where we exhibit creativity, there's the instrumentation we use to act on the object. None of this is creativity at the organizational level to design and redesign the processes.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:20:25):

So anyway, that's the setup. So when Gene lobs his question at you, we were speculating in the military, is it in part that the enlisted ranks are trained to have great expertise about layers one and two? The technical things and the way in which you use whatever the available instrumentation is to act on whatever that object is, and that a big part of what the officer core has to learn. And again, there's obviously overlap and whatnot, but a big part of what they have to learn is that third layer, about how to manage the enterprise to make sure the pieces are constantly coming together well. So that was a hypothesis we were generating.

Gene Kim (01:21:10):

And maybe to put some words on that layer three is the goal, architecture, structure, work methods, defining how teams interact. So the thesis is that's entirely this third layer. So one of the things that Steve and I are working on is [inaudible 00:23:27], explain why organizations work the way they do, both in the ideal and the not ideal.

Gene Kim (01:21:33):

The three constructs are dominant architectures, who are great at doing what they've been designed for. Effective, efficient, and they're resistant to change. So John, I think this is like... The barnacles can accumulate their structure, the way you set up the teams, put up sanctioned ways for the components to talk to each other, and the software, it's the architecture they work within. And then dynamics is everything else. The tone set by the leaders, now it's the culture that amplifies signals. Amplifies weak signals or one that extinguishes or suppresses them entirely.

Gene Kim (01:22:04):

And so there's an area of structure, and this is a question that I'm not overstating, I've been dragging around in my head for 35 years. Is one that you see in the military, where you have one track for officers, another for enlisted personnel and NCO's. And then more recently for warrant officers.

Gene Kim (01:22:19):

I'll be so grateful if you could just even describe why it's important to have these independent career tracks, and from your perspective the importance of this officer NCO partnership from a couple of levels. I think the... At the 01, 06 and... What does it even look like at the more senior ranks, say 09 and above?

Dr. Steven Spear (01:22:39):

Some of it, to be honest Gene, is leftover from approaches that have come before us. So you mentioned Patton, a lot of the personnel system was built to inculcate a massive force, train them as quickly as possible to be nominally effective and then get them out there.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:23:02):

And then they'll learn on the job. And so as we started to think about leader development, to be honest with the exception of the actual... The schools, the structures if you will, there wasn't any difference in the approach. And so we blended them together in our leader development framework. And the idea was that first and foremost, we have to say, "Hey, in the Navy context, what are we trying to make? If we're going to make... What qualities does that leader have to have before she or he is effective?"

Dr. Steven Spear (01:23:41):

So there's the goal. And then as we learn to think about, Okay, how do we take a person from wherever they are anywhere in the nation, actually literally anywhere in the world, bringing all of that variety to an induction point, whether that's a bootcamp for enlisted or some ROTC program or the Naval Academy, whatever it is for officers, OCS. And now the sailorization begins, where we take these people and bring them into some sort of common understanding.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:24:16):

So how do we now organize ourselves to go down that road? Well, we said that there's three lanes to go down. One is we've got to teach them the skills, the competence skills to do their job. So if you're going to be a radar operator, since I've talked about those, we got to teach you all about radars. We got to teach you how they work, what are the principles, and then how does this particular radar work? And so there's the competence part.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:24:45):

We also found, particularly as we started to get into a more radical delegation, that it was important to train on character. It was really important that as we gave someone a mission and then delegated them a bunch of authority and sent them off to do something important, we could be confident that we share the same value structure.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:25:13):

And we found to be honest that a lot of our problems were not so much competence-based but character based. And so particularly for an all volunteer force in which the people in the United States have tremendous trust and confidence, they're going to send their sons and daughters to go be part of this, they want leaders who are people of character.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:25:35):

And so we stood that lane up. And then it came to me relatively late in my time as CNO, but another lane, another dimension was this idea of what we call connections or community. And so how are these leaders... How skilled are they in connecting to one another, both professionally but also what we found emotionally? So everybody is going to have at some point a really terrible day. And how resilient are they to absorbing that bad day, that bad result, learning everything they can, getting their mojo back and then getting back on the horse if you will.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:26:19):

A lot of that comes from the emotional and professional support you get from your connections. And so there's a lot of resilience and strength that comes through that. I will tell you that late in my time as CNO I went to visit another very senior leader in the Navy, a three-star level, a tremendous amount of responsibility for this person.

Dr. Steven Spear (01:26:45):

And it was one of these visits where I didn't really say anything about why I was coming, I just wanted to talk with this person. So there was... I didn't say, "Hey, show me this or I want to see about this." So we arrived at the headquarters and we had a very nice greeting.

PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [01:27:04]

Admiral Richardson (01:27:03):

We arrived at the headquarters, and we had a very nice greeting party that met us there, and we went in and said, "Hello," to everybody. And then a lot of people kind of fall off as you get closer to the office, and you're in the C-suite, if you will. And then finally, those people fall off and it's just this leader and me.

Admiral Richardson (01:27:18):

And he said, "Hey, you didn't really give us a whole lot about why you're visiting here. What do you want to hear about?"

Admiral Richardson (01:27:25):

And I said, "Well, I really just want to hear what's on your mind. What do you want to talk about? I really just want to get a sense of that."

Admiral Richardson (01:27:32):

Now this person had a tremendous amount going on in their area of responsibility. And of all of those things, given this freedom to pick and choose what to talk about, this person said, "You know, I'll tell you what, it gets very lonely sometimes."

Admiral Richardson (01:27:47):

And that is true. There's that saying, "It's lonely at the top." But until you've been there, and you feel that, you might not fully understand the impact that has on that.

Admiral Richardson (01:28:01):

So, I had this connections idea floating around, and was wondering, "Well, is it worthy of another edition, another version?"

Admiral Richardson (01:28:15):

It was actually a very creative person with which I had become acquainted with, she had advised me, "I read your version one, and I think that you're missing something in this connections idea." And She was very compelling in terms of outlining that.

Admiral Richardson (01:28:33):

As soon as I heard that conversation about loneliness, I said, "Okay, this is what we've got to do." And so we started putting a lot more emphasis on, even at say the three-star level, one of the important dimensions of leadership is how well you're connected with your fellow three stars. They're like great white sharks, right? They're huge. They have a big part of the ocean to themselves, and that's just the nature of it. But still using technology and everything, how do they connect, share lessons, share stories and support one another professionally and emotionally?

Admiral Richardson (01:29:08):

Those are the three lanes. And then how do you move down those lanes? Well, there's formal schools, and we have a bunch of those. Then there's on-the-job training and we have a lot of that, formal qualifications, watch standard qualifications, et cetera. And then there's a self-learning. You mentioned Eisenhower and Patton, both of those tremendous self-learners, voracious readers. Those were the three motive forces to move down this road, this three lane road, to get to this objective of building the leader that we wanted to build. And that's how we structured it.

Admiral Richardson (01:29:47):

So that's another thing I'll send you a Gene, is the leader development framework, and you can kind of read how we put all that down.

Gene Kim (01:29:54):

There's like tears of joy dripping on my cheeks. And one of the things that Steve said once to me, he said if you take a look at the current leadership ranks, at the senior leadership ranks, these are the people who won the tournament of the last century, kind of the 20th century rules of what we thought leadership was about, and that they might be very unprepared for this.

Gene Kim (01:30:18):

And so when we talk about these things that were obviously very important to you, things like how does leaders have a community that can support them. Do you ever feel like if you were to talk to your predecessor a hundred years ago, and you had shared this, that you would get laughed at by them? That it would be so alien to them? Or do you think these were, if you look in the right texts, you would find evidence of this in the people that are held in such high regard in the Naval community?

Admiral Richardson (01:30:43):

I think you would find that it was much richer back then than perhaps it is right now.

Gene Kim (01:30:49):


Admiral Richardson (01:30:50):

Yeah. The conversations they had, the letters they wrote back and forth. You mentioned Patton, and I think it was Patton who, I'll get this a little bit off, but not too far off, the orders that he got was basically, "Go to Europe, conquer same." That was about it.

Admiral Richardson (01:31:11):

And they knew each other so well because they had grown up together, and because the stakes were so high, they had to be very honest in terms of confronting each other's strengths and weaknesses. And so I think that you would find that it was richer in terms of the interpersonal part back then. And technology has actually served to make it more antiseptic right now than it was.

Admiral Richardson (01:31:40):

So we have to fight to not become a Facebook friend, but just a real friend to that person, complete with all of the strengths and weaknesses, the vulnerabilities, and everything that come with that.

Gene Kim (01:31:55):

Is there an easy answer for why that's happened? When do you think that phenomena, that dynamic was reduced? I mean, 50 years ago, 30 years ago? Is there an easy explanation for why that happened?

Admiral Richardson (01:32:09):

I only have kind of my intuitive answer to that Gene, and it's not backed up by any research at all. I think that the rise of social media has... So I'll give you an example in kind of personal technology, I would say beyond just social media.

Admiral Richardson (01:32:24):

So when I first was in the submarine force, I was a junior officer, one of my collateral duties was the movie officer. And it was super important, because we'd go to sea for a long time, we had movies that were actually on these big reels. So you would get these movies down, and it would be three or four reels. You'd get maybe a dozen movies for an incredibly long time, so you better make them good. And so the movie officer was a high risk, high consequence job.

Admiral Richardson (01:32:57):

And in fact, I remember getting chewed out by my first CO, Captain Pete [Graff 01:33:02], who is just a terrific guy. He basically said, "Richardson, if you get me one more movie with, "Swamp," in the title, I'm going to kick him off the ship.

Admiral Richardson (01:33:11):

Because what we would do is then, the crew would get together in the crew's mess, and they would put these reels on a projector, and pull down a screen and everybody would get together and watch these. There was one deployment I made, a six month deployment, almost all of it's submerged. Every night we watched the movie Tombstone, every single night we watched that one movie.

Admiral Richardson (01:33:38):

And we could quote that movie a verbatim, end-to-end. But it was the gathering together really that gave everybody that chance to just enjoy that camaraderie, all the support, all of the ribbing, all of the the stuff that goes along with that.

Admiral Richardson (01:33:54):

Fast forward maybe even 10 years now, well, there's no reels anymore, they're all on DVDs, and everybody's got a DVD player. So when they come on board and load out their personal load out for deployment, they bring their player. And one of those DVD books, and instead of gathering in the crew's mess, they're more prone to just go to their rack, and they can turn on this thing, put on a set of headphones, and it's a very individual perhaps isolated experience.

Admiral Richardson (01:34:28):

And so I think that there's something to this, and I think that the pendulum will swing back Gene, I'm just confident that we're getting a greater awareness of this, and we'll learn to really capture the best of all worlds. But I think that this personalization of technology, and perhaps even social media has served to kind of have an opposite effect than it was intended and isolates people rather than brings them together.

Gene Kim (01:34:56):

I love the work of Tim Ferriss because he loves studying outliers. So when he wants to study weight loss he studies cancer survivors, and Olympic athletes, because he ended up with these kind of... Some strange learnings can come from these data points three, four standard deviations away from the norm.

Admiral Richardson (01:35:14):

Yeah. Limiting cases.

Gene Kim (01:35:16):

Yeah, exactly. And maybe just help me connect the dots. So I can imagine that happening at the submarine unit level, but what were the rituals that were lost at the senior ranks? What are the missing rituals that normally would have created those relationships, or nurtured those relationships?

Admiral Richardson (01:35:39):

Yeah. Well, I think it all builds on itself. So those shared experiences, it kind of goes again to leader development, those shared experiences that they had maybe by serving on the same command, but even if they didn't, it was happening across the army or across the fleet or whatever it was. And they would be in a particular class together, and that would be a relationship that would last. And so there's really, to your point, there's nothing that prevents us from doing that now. It's just, somehow there's been a drift it seems.

Gene Kim (01:36:14):

Right, right. I can of see see, here's all the social interactions that would have normally happened that are now missing as the decades go by.

Admiral Richardson (01:36:22):

Yeah, there are other options.

Gene Kim (01:36:24):

Right. And in terms of relationships, I was that an Air Force event, I got to see Chief of Staff for the Air Force General Goldfien-

Admiral Richardson (01:36:31):

He's a terrific guy.

Gene Kim (01:36:31):

... and the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. Oh my goodness, boy, do they make an impression? So his counterpart, the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, and they were talking about something very similar, about the high rates of suicide in the Air Force, and talking about just how important that was.

Gene Kim (01:36:46):

And boy, you couldn't be in that room and not feel like this is something that was of incredible importance to them. And so that was notable.

Gene Kim (01:36:54):

The second was the working relationship between General Goldfien and Chief Master Sergeant Wright. Can you talk about that relationship in your own experience, whether it was as a Oh-one, Oh-six, can you describe what that nature of that relationship and why that was important?

Admiral Richardson (01:37:10):

It's absolutely a fundamental to doing business in the Navy and the Air Force and the Army. And each of those, kind of what you might want to call your senior enlisted advisor, or senior enlisted leader, the character of it changes a little bit, but the fundamentals are the same.

Admiral Richardson (01:37:27):

And I would say that as a junior officer, a Navy chief, right, the Navy chief's quarters takes great pride in knowing that one of their missions is to kind of shape and train these junior officers who come running out of school, they've got no fleet experience, and they're going to take us under their wing and turn us into effective Naval leaders. And so that is just instilled in all the chiefs training, is that this is a big part of your responsibilities.

Admiral Richardson (01:37:57):

But where I found it was amazingly effective was when I first took command of Honolulu, the submarine I commanded, it's an epic position on a submarine, it's called the Chief of the Boat, the COB. And I had the best COB, his name is Billy [Kramer 01:38:16], he is just like a brother to me still. I would say that 95% of the success of the submarine was because of Billy Kramer. Because most of the crew, I will tell you that they knew me by captain, but they didn't know my name.

Admiral Richardson (01:38:34):

"Captain, what's his name?"

Admiral Richardson (01:38:35):

"I don't know, his name's, 'Captain.'"

Admiral Richardson (01:38:36):

But they knew what the COB's name was. And they knew what he had for breakfast that day. And they knew whether that agreed with him or not. Because he was just in their life. And he was just such a terrific guy. And just for instance, a new sailor would report a board, and it's a nerve-wracking time for a young man or woman to report to this new command, this new submarine.

Admiral Richardson (01:39:03):

And so there's a lot of nervousness and anxiety. COB Kramer would sit them down, within their first week for sure and say, "Hey, look, this is the way it's going to go. Your first year is going to be very hard. You're going to have to qualify. You're going to have to do your time in the galley, you're going to have to do all of these things, and it's going to be hard. And there's going to be times where it's going to feel really hopeless, but you're going to get through it. And so take heart. And here's kind of your mentor, your sea dad who can help you in those times. And then if you need to come and talk to me. And then after that year life gets a lot better. You're fully qualified. You're going to be a leader then, and you're going to help other people through this year. And you're going to go onto great things. So hang tough for this year. Don't let that discourage you."

Admiral Richardson (01:39:53):

And then he would say, "Okay, now we're going to call your mom.

Admiral Richardson (01:39:56):

And it's like, "What?"

Admiral Richardson (01:39:58):

He's like, "No, no kidding. So what's your mom's number?" And so he would call up and he would talk to this person's parents and say, "Hey we have Petty Officer Smith on board here, I'm the Chief of the Boat of the USS Honolulu. He's good, he's safe, he's sound. He's looking good. And we got him. Here's my number. And if you've got any questions about him at all, or her, you give me a call and I will answer you immediately." And so there was just kind of this level of comfort, I guess, to ease all of that anxiety that the COB had.

Admiral Richardson (01:40:32):

And sure enough I had so many people respond to that, and it unfolded kind of exactly as he said. But he always had the pulse of the crew, the respect of the crew. And he had direct access to me anytime day or night, 24/7 to come and tell me, "Hey, what's really going on on the deck plate?"

Admiral Richardson (01:40:50):

And that is absolutely valuable to getting an accurate pulse of your team. Are they really behaving the way that you would hope that they would? And then even up at the CNO level, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, the MCPON, I had a great MCPON. In fact I'm still working with him now, Mike [Stevens 01:41:17]. And he and I would go and do these calls just like you mentioned with fingers Goldfien, and we wouldn't do them separate, we would always do them together.

Admiral Richardson (01:41:27):

And I would have some people come up to me and say, "Hey, that was really effective. You guys really kind of look like you like each other and have fun together."

Admiral Richardson (01:41:35):

I said, "Well, yeah, that's because we do."

Admiral Richardson (01:41:38):

And he said, "Well, I'm going to try that."

Admiral Richardson (01:41:39):

I was like, "Yeah, well I hope, yeah, please, permission granted. It's a great idea."

Admiral Richardson (01:41:43):

So that's a partnership, and that no kidding, honest way to have the enlisted community represented to you there was just absolutely critical to success.

Gene Kim (01:41:55):

By the way, I have this big smile on my face, as you're telling all these stories up. And can you say it with a little more detail, what is the area of responsibility of Mike Stevens you described so brilliantly, or Chief of Boat Billy Kramer. What was on his plate back then in terms of-

Admiral Richardson (01:42:10):

Yeah, there were almost none. There was almost no guidance. It's sort of like, "Look, COB, you go out there, you're going to leave the chief's quarters," so that's very clear, "I really want you to make sure that the crew is taken care of, and that as the captain I'm not doing something inadvertent that would actually work against their best interest. Or if there's some something that they think would be, a change or whatever, I would want every one of those to be very comfortable coming up to you, describing it to you, knowing that you could get it to me," or whatever it might be.

Admiral Richardson (01:42:46):

So it's a pretty loose position description. But if you've got the right person and the right partnership... And I think that a lot of the effectiveness and the authority, if you will, of the Chief of the Boat or the MCPON comes from that relationship with the captain or the CNO. And so without that it's kind of a moot point.

Gene Kim (01:43:12):

And just to make sure I've heard that correctly, it sounds like you're also suggesting that there's this kind of broad discretion at, even at the MCPON level, do to the entire U.S. Navy as the Chief of Boat would do for the USS Honolulu?

Admiral Richardson (01:43:25):

Yeah. So, whereas the COB of the Honolulu though, Billy Kramer knew everything about every one of our 135 or so sailors, their strengths, weaknesses, family situation, kids, all of that. He was just terrific. Of course that's impossible at the MCPON level, 330,000 sailors, but he's going to know his fleet master chiefs very well.

Admiral Richardson (01:43:49):

So those people, the senior enlisted leaders for each of the fleet commanders. And he's going to be very mindful about who should we pick for the next person to fill that role, given that that person's going to be the fleet commander, how are we going to match these folks to make an effective team? And so it's as structured as you might think would happened in the executive level. In fact, it is kind of an executive position. I think it would be interesting to see how you could come up with kind of a business equivalent of the Chief of the Boat.

Gene Kim (01:44:27):

Let me just preface this by one thing, I met the Lieutenant General, formerly Air Force, now Space Force. He's working with a friend of mine, Dr. Mik Kersten, CEO of Tasktop, and we're talking about how do you stand up more repeatedly these software capabilities, whether it's in the U.S. Air Force, in the Marines. I am sure there's a similar initiative in the U.S. Navy.

Gene Kim (01:44:44):

He said something that I found incredibly impactful, the context of the specific quote was, "What's preventing us from achieving our goal faster. Is it the technical capabilities, the whatever?"

Gene Kim (01:44:55):

And I think Lieutenant General had this aha moment says, "Oh no, it's leadership. What's missing is we're missing a leadership capability."

Gene Kim (01:45:04):

When you ask hypothetically, what is the equivalent in a corporate structure of the MCPON? I've spent a lot of time trying to wonder what is the software equivalent? As you find an organization is trying to build digital capabilities, no board is not talking about digital disruption, is there something missing, or is it already there?

Gene Kim (01:45:29):

So do you have an intuition of where a software capability a [inaudible 01:45:33] needs to go? Is it a role like in a MCPON? What does your intuition tell you about where are these capabilities need to show up?

Admiral Richardson (01:45:41):

I think, well one I'm going to have to learn from you Gene more about the software companies. Not as familiar as I probably should be.

Admiral Richardson (01:45:52):

But I would say that a representative, let's say the coders, or whatever it might be. You know, the people that are working at that level who have so much knowledge of the challenges and opportunities, the person who can... And they also see obstacles and all of that exists there, having a representative for all of that part of the organization, which really makes everything happen to the person who has a lot more authority. So you connect this knowledge to the authority, you could really, if there's a receptivity there, a willingness to listen, boy you could just start knocking down obstacles. And that gets to your question, why does this rule exist?

Admiral Richardson (01:46:40):

It's just making everybody crazy going to these larbs all the time. Why do we do that? And the COB, or the software equivalent of the COB can say, "We don't see any value. There's just a giant frustration down there."

Admiral Richardson (01:46:53):

And you can scratch your head and say, "Shoot, I don't see any value either. I never thought of it to be honest, but now that you've brought it to my attention, I've got the authority to eliminate these things. So let's do that and come to a better, faster, more effective way."

Admiral Richardson (01:47:06):

And as we go through this revolution now, I think that there's going to be even more of a need to identify those obstacles that are sort of vestiges of the past ways of doing business that have no relevance anymore in a software world. But it's going to be kind of back to the basics, I'm sorry to keep harping on this like a broken record, but how are you going to get your people to just be as free as they can possibly be, instilled with all the trust and confidence that is founded on a common development program that you can just unleash on, as unconstrained as possible?

Gene Kim (01:47:46):

And I apologize that, I mean, I feel like I might have inadvertently sort of slotted that software component would ideally show up just at the MCPON level. I mean, clearly I think the vision you're painting is like, "No, no, no, at the most senior ranks of the officer's level"-

Admiral Richardson (01:48:02):


Gene Kim (01:48:03):

... "this is important, there's some authority and responsibility."

Admiral Richardson (01:48:06):

One thing that I'm talking about now, as I continue to work in this space is if you think about building a ship now, and historically what we would do is we would have a team design the ship, build the ship, and then launch the ship. And it would essentially be at its peak capability on launching. And then for a number of reasons, it would sort of become less capable over time, material, or maintenance, the end of the rest of technology moves forward.

Admiral Richardson (01:48:35):

So its relevance, its relative capability decays over time until it goes into a maintenance period, sometimes a long and costly maintenance period, and then it gets kind of a refresh and it becomes more capable. And then you start again.

Admiral Richardson (01:48:49):

But the modern way of doing it, I think, and software has a huge role to play here, is there's really kind of three levels, timescales, involved with building a ship right now.

Admiral Richardson (01:49:01):

So there's the hull and the propulsion system and those sorts of things, they're going to last for the life of the ship, which can be 40, 50 years. So put a lot of thought into that, very hard to change that out.

Admiral Richardson (01:49:14):

And that's the truck if you will. Then onboard that truck, there are systems that you load in. I'm preaching to the converted here, Gene, so correct me to 100% if I've got this wrong, but those systems kind of move at Moore's law types of timescales. They're mostly processors, computers, SCADA system, those sorts of things now. And so that's the hardware that goes in the truck, in the hull.

Admiral Richardson (01:49:40):

But now what we're seeing is there's another layer still, which is software. And the software really moves as fast as you can code it and validate it. And so now that makes better use of all those apertures, better use of all those systems. And so now when that ship is launched and it goes out into its environment, because of software updates, it can actually get more capable over time.

Admiral Richardson (01:50:05):

And if you can tighten that feedback loop, it becomes absolutely essential to learning faster than the enemy. Because you're out there and you're in the middle of whatever sea, close to the enemy, you detect some signal, or some something that you haven't seen before, so your systems aren't attuned to it, but you've recorded it.

Admiral Richardson (01:50:30):

And you send that record back, the people that are in the system design business decompose it, deconstructed, dissect it, come up with a countermeasure for it, it's all in software. Then they push that out to the entire fleet. The team that does that fastest wins. And so this timescale associated with software becomes fundamental to the speed at which the Navy learns.

Gene Kim (01:50:58):

Gene here. I love what Admiral Richardson just said. One of my mentors, Dr. Tom Longstaff, who is again, a CTO at the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, he was telling me about briefing a general that we should ideally be able to upgrade the firmware of a missile while it's in flight, which I thought was one of those typical, amazing, audacious long stuff goals of what she is famous for, which I guess these days is maybe not so crazy.

Gene Kim (01:51:25):

I think certain parts of the Air Force are actually demonstrating the ability to upgrade software in F-16s and U-2s while they are in flight. So maybe not so crazy after all. The other thing I want to mention here before we conclude part one of the interview is that Admiral Richardson did send me the Navy Leader Development Framework Version 3.0 document. And again, it is awesome.

Gene Kim (01:51:47):

Like the Designing for Maritime Superiority Document, the Navy Leader Development Framework addresses so much of what Admiral Richardson talked about. So it's about 20 pages long, and it describes the three lanes that everyone must progress down, the three ways to learn.

Gene Kim (01:52:03):

So I'm going to read some sentences from the introduction because it's so good. It reads, the design for maintaining maritime superiority makes it clear that our Navy faces a competitive security environment unlike the past 25 years. Prevailing in an environment with this pace and complexity demands agility and urgency. And it also demands a maximum performance from our most important asset, our sailors. In support of this, we will be a dominant Naval force composed of outstanding leaders and teams armed with the best equipment that learns and adapts faster than our rivals. Every person in every unit in the Navy will maximize their potential and be ready for decisive combat operations.

Gene Kim (01:52:41):

To win our leaders must enable our teams to think more clearly, learn more rapidly, and make better decisions more quickly and more accurately than our adversaries. And the Navy Leadership Development Framework describes how to achieve this imperative.

Gene Kim (01:52:55):

So the next page is why leader development 3.0, and it describes the three lanes on the path lane. So lane one is competence, develop operational war fighting competence we must become experts at the jobs as we grow, an incompetent leader is a recipe for disaster.

Gene Kim (01:53:09):

Lane two is character. We must continually strengthen our ability to behave consistently with our core values of honor, courage and commitment. This keeps us worthy to lead our sailors.

Gene Kim (01:53:18):

And then as promised here is lane three, developing intellectual and personal connections. Intellectual connections improve competence by sharing mental models, comparing notes, improving our ability to anticipate our teammate's next move. Isn't that interesting? Personal connections strengthen our character and resilience by building relationships. We share what we experience and seek to understand what's going on in other's lives. Not only in mind, but in body and spirit as well.

Gene Kim (01:53:42):

And later in the document, page seven, the three methods to progress down the path. Schools offering formal education certification. On-the-job training and qualification in our work places, and self-guided learning through reading and other forms of self study.

Gene Kim (01:53:55):

It's all in here. My favorite part of the document is page 16 and 17, where it paints what you're expected to learn over the 30 years if you are an enlisted leader or an officer leader, broken down to how one progresses every one to three years. It's really great. There will be a link to it in the show notes.

Gene Kim (01:54:17):

So I hope you learned as much from this interview as I did. Coming up next will be part two of this interview. I will ask Admiral Richardson about the Leader Development Process, especially at the most junior levels. I'll ask him about lowering the cost of change and how he thinks about it from a leadership perspective. And I get to ask him about one of the largest functional organizations of all in the U.S. Navy, that is the U.S. Naval Reactors Division, and his thoughts on what do you do when things go wrong in a complex system? How do you balance keeping people accountable and enabling The right types of learning? See you then.

PART 4 OF 4 ENDS [01:55:01]


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