16 bloggers and a day on the USS Nimitz

Charlene Li · June 16, 2009 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/8e0

The Navy invited 16 bloggers to spend 24 hours with them

 (I previously wrote an intro and link post about the bloggers who went on the USS Nimitz.)

When the Navy issued the invitation for 16 bloggers to spend a day on the USS Nimitz, I thought there had to be string attached, or that the Navy wanted to use us bloggers as propaganda spreaders. But hey, I'm used to people pitching me and trusted myself to be able to figure out the real story behind the Navy "story".

But surprisingly, there were no pre-conditions, no restrictions on access other than to safeguard our well-being. The schedule was packed with organized tours to different parts of the trip, but we were free to approach anyone and ask them anything.

In fact, the only thing they would *not* let us see was the nuclear reactor -- but then again, nobody gets to see them (there are two of them onboard). They also would not let us video the operations room because of the sensitive strategic information on the displays. But that was about it. 

After our public affairs dropped us off in our staterooms, we were encouraged to head back to the officer wardrooms or mess halls to talk with people during midrash (midnight rations) when the final shift came off duty. Most of us took up the opportunity, and then spread out around the ship, from the top of conning tower to the fan tail. I personally got completely lost and engaged several sailors in fun conversations on the way back to my room. This is what I am still amazed by, that the Navy gave us so much access.

Would you let 16 bloggers come into your organization and have access to pretty much anything and anybody? If not, why not - after all, what do you have to hide?

This was the biggest take-away for me, the tremendous openness of the Navy. Open to us asking any question, engaging us in debates, and at the same time, steadfast in their belief of their mission, goals, and responsibilities. With that openness also came exceptional transparency, such as fighter pilots sharing their joy of flying, but also their naked, raw fear about night landings on a carrier deck.

In my conversations with organizations about social media, openness and transparency is often what companies engaging in social media most fear -- it isn't about the technologies that enable openness, but the relationships that force companies to face their biggest insecurities and flaws. 

So as an exercise, think about how *your* organization would deal with and fare under the scrutiny of a 24 hour visit by outsiders. Would you script each and every interaction with talking points? Would you limit access only to departments and people who showed the best side of you, and then escort the visitors to the reception area?

Or would you trust that each and every person understands their role in the organization? Do you trust that they can and will speak with honesty but also respect "that which cannot be spoken", the secrets that if exposed, would be detrimental to the organization?

It says a lot about an organization when its leaders and executives can step back and be secure in the knowledge that their people will do the right thing, up and down the hierarchical chain. The photo at the top of this post is of a poster that hangs in the library, right next to rows of computers where sailors can email and post on Facebook and Twitter. It's a reminder to keep "OPSEC", or operational security. Sailors are reminded to not disclose information that would compromise operations, as such as their location and mission.

And yes, the Navy has a social media policy, that governs the use of Web 2.0 tools -- basically, that anything goes as long as it does not "compromise data confidentiality and integrity". And the Army just this week lifted a ban on social media sites. The military realizes the opportunity for their service members to "facilitate the dissemination of strategic, unclassified information." Yet in many organizations, executives are pondering whether to ban access to Facebook and Twitter, rather than how these technologies can foster collaboration between employees and also bring customers and partners closer to the company.

To close out, here is a video interview with Commander Charlie Brown on why the Navy invited bloggers to visit the Nimitz, and how they will measure the success of the trip. Highlights are included below.


Why is the Navy inviting all these bloggers on the ship?

We wish we could bring every tax payer out to see what the Navy does, but we can't. So we try to bring out folks who have the ability to share the experience with a wider audience. And for us, this group of bloggers...that was a perfect group to do that.

How are you going to measure the success of the embark?

Our goal was to bring folks out who don't necessarily have a familiarity with what naval aviation does. It's your Navy, it's your aircraft carriers, so we want to show you what we're doing with those. So by having you folks coming and joining us, I think it's already a success.

Are you a little bit nervous about what we are going to write?

Only a few of you! You're going to have open access. You'll be able to talk to whomever you like, and see whatever you want to see, and I think you'll get a lot out of it.

(Image source: farm3.static.flickr)

(For more from Charlene, visit her blog)

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Charlene Li

Helping leaders thrive with disruption as a Principal Analyst at Altimeter, a Prophet Company

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