Welcome to Incirlik

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jeffrey Urbanski
  • 39th Communications Squadron first sergeant
"Welcome to Incirlik."

I am so sick and tired of hearing those words; this crusty Shirt is ready to spit nails. The words are not said in earnest and they are not said with warmth; they are said at the end of every question I have asked 'why' to since my arrival here at Incirlik.

"Why is this like that? Why is that like this? Why do we do things this way?"

"Welcome to Incirlik ..." is the chuckling reply, a knowing gurgle that grates my nerves as it parenthetically tells me, "I know it's broke Shirt, but it just can't be fixed."

Ask yourself why this is. Most will say "short tour" and that people here are passing problems to the next class rotating in, but I refuse to believe that is the case. Air Force professionals know better than that, and we are all professionals. Some will say apathy; it's just too easy to ride the wave. Still others will say this base has a Legacy Committee, aka "Good Ol' Boys Club," full of folks who have just plain been here too long. I disagree with all of these arguments. It is "groupthink," plain and simple, and groupthink results in defective decision making. Incidentally, the man who coined the term "groupthink" called it, "a perennial failing of mankind."

The solution to our equation boils down to two very simple, very changeable constants, and every single one of us falls into one of these two categories of people. You are either a process improver or you are a process owner. And a symbiotic relationship, as well as responsibility for the solution, is shared between you.

Process improvers: Anyone who uses or observes any series of actions directed to an end. That is absolutely all of us. The problem with process improvers is some of us see a problem, but refuse to innovate. It may be that we have been taught not to identify problems without offering solutions, which is true and accurate 99.9 percent of the time. But let's be honest: I don't know about the auto industry, but I can recognize that asking for bailouts means they have broken processes. I don't know how to fix it, but somewhere in Detroit's industry of nearly 240,000 people, somebody probably does. If one of them had decided to innovate instead of propagate, and become a process improver, maybe our taxes would be getting spent on underfunded programs instead of private sector bailouts. There are times when you can recognize a broken process without knowing exactly how to fix it, as long as you know who, and how, to approach in order to provide the stimulus for change. It may be that past experiences with the second group are holding you back, which is why this relationship is so symbiotic.

Process owners: Anyone who controls any series of actions directed to an end. The problem with process owners is some of us refuse to see problems with the processes we are responsible for. To do so would admit fault, culpability or error, and no one likes to do that. Compounding that is our natural resistance to change. We've all heard, "The only constant in the Air Force is change." If you're not used to it yet, get there. We generally fear change, but individuals who adapt to and learn from change are consistently successful, even in the most tumultuous times. I ask and encourage leaders at all levels to not only welcome suggestions, but demand them. Avoid your natural resistances. Dispel groupthink. Entertain even the seemingly most inane ideas and glean from them.

There is no process so waterproof that it couldn't use a little unfreezing, change and refreezing. If these two groups of people work together, process improvers and process owners, there is nothing that can't be accomplished.

Innovate. Don't propagate.

Wouldn't it be nice to say "Welcome to Incirlik," and actually mean it?