People should be ready to think ‘outside the box’

Lt. Col. Mark Burns
332nd Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron

Is flexibility the “key” to airpower? Does thinking “outside-the-box” really solve problems?
I have heard these two phrases quite often since my entry into the Air Force.
As much as I have tried to practice these clever ideals of flexibility and outside-the-box thinking in my Air Force career, I have become increasingly concerned with the misunderstanding that often surrounds them.
Too often, “flexibility” means compensating for poor planning and even worse, initial execution.
At times “outside-the-box” thinking is demanded when the solution is not readily apparent at the inception of a problem.
At Balad, Iraq, we are undertaking an immense task: starting a new base of operations. If we misunderstand the meaning of these two phrases, which we hear so often, we just might make the job a little bit harder.
Flexibility comes from knowing the basics of your job well and from the confidence gleaned from having practiced the basics again and again until they become second nature. It does not come from trying to accomplish new and different things every time you train. You will never see every possible variation of a problem.
If you take the time during the planning phase to prepare a solid base for execution, any left turns thrown your way can be overcome.
You gain flexibility by nailing down as many variables as possible with good planning. Good execution allows you to stay ahead of the new wrinkles you will be forced to adapt to. Frequently, practicing the basics can give you the confidence to plow ahead and fix unforeseen problems.
The same is true for thinking outside-the-box. There are not many solutions to problems that we can think up that have not been thought of and tried before. We just weren’t aware of the history of the “new” solution when we thought it up.
Wherever you are, be flexible for rapid changes, but use the time to prepare well a solid foundation for those who will follow you. You will never solve all of the problems, but you can help those who come behind you stay on the right track to finish what you have started.