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NPS Alumnus, Retired Vice Admiral Talks Innovation During SGL

NPS alumnus and retired Navy Vice Adm. Michael C. Vitale, left, receives the NPS Distinguished Alumni Award from NPS President retired Vice Adm. Ronald A. Route during a Secretary of the Navy Guest Lecture at King Auditorium, Aug. 11.

Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) alumnus and retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Michael C. Vitale shared a career of lessons learned in innovation with NPS students during a Secretary of the Navy Guest Lecture (SGL) at King Auditorium, Aug. 11. During the SGL, Vitale received the NPS Distinguished Alumni Award from President retired Vice Adm. Ronald A. Route.

“It’s been 26 years since I’ve been here. I see a lot of things have stayed the same and a lot have also changed. We used to have seven or eight peacocks; we now have Canadian geese, very innovative,” said Vitale with a smile.

Vitale became interested innovation while serving as the commander of Navy Installations Command.

“I was trying to get my organization motivated. I knew where I wanted the organization to go. I had the vision. I had the ideas. I thought I had motivated the organization, but after two years, I realized I had not.

“All of you officers are going to be leaders, and at some point in time you will take command. In order to command, you have to build a successful team. In order to build a successful team, you have to have good tools in your toolbox. Today, I would like to add innovation to your toolbox,” continued Vitale.

Advocating a particular brand of innovation that recognizes the need for hard work and testing, Vitale calls it, “Innovating with intent.” Innovating with intent requires innovators to focus on five distinct steps: visualize/imagine, ideate, test/experiment, lead the change, and educate.

“First you have to visualize. Once you have an idea, you have to test it, collect data, and analyze it. That’s hard,” said Vitale. “Your idea has to be tethered to a problem. That’s why I say innovation with intent.”

But according to Vitale, no matter how innovative you may be, your ideas will not gain traction unless you are able to sell them to the people that matter.

“If you have a great idea but you can’t sell it, it’s not worth anything. How do you get your boss, peers or subordinates on board to follow the idea that you have shown will probably work,” asked Vitale.

Vitale shared several possible answers to the above question and recommended that potential innovators read Chip and Dan Heath’s, “Switch,” which promises to help readers to change behavior.

Finally, Vitale challenged the assembled students, faculty and staff to educate themselves, and to become innovation subject matter experts.

“You have to become the expert in innovation. You have to constantly study. This is not something you are going to do tomorrow. When you get back into your commands you are going to try and figure out a better way… don’t be afraid of failing.

“At your current level, you are not going to command the culture in your organization. The commanding officer or executive officer may not be into innovation, your challenge is to change that mindset,” said Vitale.

“SGLs can broaden horizons by presenting ideas not typically covered by NPS coursework or other military requirements,” said Chair of the NPS President’s Student Council, Lt. Colleen McDonald. “The goal is to have students get involved, nominate future speakers of their choosing, and become an active part of the SGL program.”

Throughout Vitale’s 35 years of military service he has held various leadership positions aboard the USS Reeves (CG 24), USS Comte De Grasse (DDG 974), USS Bainbridge (CGN 25), USS Yorktown (CG 48) and Carrier Group 4. He also was the Commanding Officer of USS John S. McCain (DDG 52), Destroyer Squadron 24, and the Commander of Navy Installations Command.

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