Innovation and Learning: Using Podcasts as an Educational Tool

CCLKOW is a weekly conversation on military affairs jointly hosted by the Center for Company-Level Leaders (CCL) at the US Military Academy at West Point and the Kings of War (KOW), a blog of the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not reflect those of the US Army or the Department of Defense. Read the post and join the discussion on Twitter #CCLKOW

Next week, team CCL is planning on launching a brand new “product” for the company-level leader. Since November, CCL has been working with Captain David Weart (@dweart19) on a plan to roll out a line of podcasts that address concerns related to company-level leadership. We’ve recorded seven episodes and have a lineup of episodes programed for the future that will use the experiences of actual former company commanders to share their experiences that allowed them to be successful in leadership positions.

A core team of four company grade Army officers, one Engineer officer, one Field Artillery officer, one Military Intelligence officer, and one logistics officer are at the heart of the projects. Holding the roles of team leader/host, co-host, marketing manager, and lead editor, we’re taking learning to a new level of innovation that is nascent to the Army. Among the topics we’ve covered so far, we’ve discussed officer evaluation support forms, command supply discipline programs, leadership development programs at the company level, and more.

I’d like to share a number of reflections and learning points from the experience so far. First, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of discussing our failures. While it is true that we learn from experience and learn from failing, I’ve found that one of CCL’s core values of “speaking with a positive voice” is a much more powerful learning tool that discussing our failures. Ironically, my first draft of this weeks #CCLKOW was about dealing with loss as a response to the 9 Soldiers that lost their lives this week at Fort Hood, but took a “180” when I found that the piece was becoming far too negative for me. Next, we took an operational approach to recording our episodes. David routinely came up with the subjects after bouncing ideas off of other members of the core team and he sought out “experts” on the topics. After the topic and guests were covered, he considered the discussion points and conducted rehearsals. In this sense, we conducted our pre-checks and rehearsals prior to going “hot” on the episode. After the episode was recorded, the guests and the core team all reviewed the episode and provided our feedback, or “AAR” comments, and the final edits were made to the episode. Taking an operations-based approach to the episodes ensured that each episode was a quality product. Finally, we took our time figuring out what this product should be. It took us nearly seven months, but we’re finally in the launch phase of this project. For some military innovators, seven months may seem like a short “flash-to-bang,” but there were many meetings, prototypes, and much experimentation behind this project.

While podcasting isn’t anything new, the idea of using podcasts as a learning tool for company-level leaders isn’t something we see as being widely practiced. The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) is one of few collectives of leaders across all military branches that are passionate about using innovative-based approaches to growing as professionals. Using the principles of design thinking covered in a previous #CCLKOW article, we took the challenge proposed in that learning session and are looking to benefit company-level leaders with this product.

We have a few discussion questions this week and are going to reach out to our DEF friends for conversation pieces as well. So here it goes:

  1. What are some examples of innovation that you’ve seen in your organizations that have enhanced the performance of your unit?
  2. How do you reward innovation in your formation?
  3. What would be a podcast topic/theme that you think would benefit the company level leader?
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