Continuous improvement in the digital age

  • Published
  • By Col. Stephanie Williams
  • 349 AMW

The 21st Century digital age opened the door for each of us to stay connected almost continuously - barring a lost cell signal in the barren desert.  That is an amazing and wonderful development for society.  However, an unintended consequence of the digital age is that expectations changed with regards to how we execute our daily duties; I believe this applies across the full spectrum of society.  My default setting is “always on.”  I suspect that is true for most Airmen, from E1 to 4-star general.  Speaking for myself only, I find it difficult to find time for professional and personal development.

In my opinion, the individual Airman is the Air Force’s most important weapon system.  This is what makes professional and personal development so important.  One of our Air Force core values is “Excellence In All We Do.”  Air Force Instruction 1-1 Air Force Standards defines this core value as developing “a sustained passion for the continuous improvement and innovation that will propel the Air Force into a long-term, upward vector of accomplishment and performance.” 

The Air Force’s new inspection system—AFIS—is a great example of implementation of this core value in an organizational context.  It is, however, important to remember that the people, our Airmen—make or break our organizations.  I need to inventory my priorities. I need to review what I am doing, both as an individual and wingman, to propel my part of the Air Force, on that “upward vector”—all in an era where time is one of our most precious resources.

Regardless of rank or component, all Airmen need to 1) be a good wingman, 2) excel at their assigned Air Force specialty, and 3) prepare oneself and one’s teammates for future increased responsibility.  Certainly, this list is not exhaustive, but it provides a framework for where I need to spend my time as an Airman in today’s digital age.  Just about every day, I have more tasks to accomplish than I have time to do them; I suspect it is the same for almost everyone.  While laptops, cell phones, and tablets help us stay constantly connected and enable us to respond to tasks at a moment’s notice, I am not convinced that I use these devices in an “effective” way all the time.  I am also convinced those same devices sometimes prevent me from taking time for critical and creative thinking, from taking time to reflect, as well as engaging in thoughtful dialogue with others and these are the keys to personal and professional development.

So, the next time I am in line at the food court, maybe I will resist the urge to read email (or look at social media).  Instead, I will choose to reflect on a news article, or strike up a conversation with a fellow Airman, or think about a challenge my organization is having, or organize my thoughts on my “to do” list for the remainder of the day.  Through these simple, yet impactful actions, I can grow both personally and professionally.  I challenge each of us to do the same.