Nearly 1,000 people tuned in to listen to John Higbee's "MASTERING CHAOS...The Acquirer as Operator" webcast June 6 as he evangelized on how the Defense acquisition community can succeed by embracing chaos and becoming "chaosmeisters."
As a Navy veteran, a former SES at the Department of Homeland Security and a faculty member of DAU’s Defense Systems Management College, Higbee has spent years navigating Defense acquisition environments, a place, he said, “where tumult and chaos abound.”
During the webcast, Higbee noted that a number of obstacles contribute to acquisition turbulence, particularly geopolitical churn, dysfunction between Federal branches, leadership changes, and technology transitions. However, he specifically addressed the impact that retirements, succession and the loss of institutional knowledge have on modern capabilities.
“We are losing experience on the one hand, and having significant cultural change as the new folks take over,” he said.
To tackle these issues, Higbee recommended looking at other organizations that are able to thrive in similar circumstances.
“Warfighters, for example, work in turbulent environments and consistently achieve mission success—they have to succeed in spite of these impediments,” he said. And like the Warfighter, acquisition professionals are in the same position to “leverage the opportunities offered by a turbulent environment, rather than being daunted by them.”
In order to mirror this success in uncertain acquisition environments, Higbee noted that acquisition professionals must start thinking less like a “process administrator” and more like an “outcome operator”?
Higbee further offered an interrelated trio of best practices, each with easy-to-follow guidelines to prevent chaos.
Master Individual Specialties
There are seven individual specialties that Higbee believes an operational acquirer needs to master to achieve mission success:
Be an Effective Team Member
Individual skills can only take you so far. If you aren’t able to execute the mission on your own, Higbee recommended that you “call ‘I don’t have it’ in time for someone else to catch it.” He also shared a few other ways to be an effective team player:
Use Situational Awareness
Nothing happens in a vacuum, including Defense acquisitions. Even the best team needs to rely on their environmental skills to identify roadblocks and leverage opportunities. Higbee suggested the following approaches to hone them:
As Higbee’s presentation came to a close, he expressed his optimism that acquisitions professionals listening could transform themselves into chaosmeisters by following the prescriptive steps he had outlined.
“We can use these tenets to do things that have never been done before,” he said. “It can help us make the most of the room we’ve been given.”
But he also left the audience with an important reminder that the ultimate goal is just not operational success in the defense acquisitions environment.
“It’s the Warfighter,” he said, “who succeeds and comes back home having discharged his duty to his country.”
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