Starting an Anonymous Blog: Risk aversion and the art of trying not to look like a vagina (1 of 2)

Straight from Wikipedia: Risk is the potential that a chosen action or activity (including the choice of inaction) will lead to a loss (an undesirable outcome).  The notion implies that a choice having an influence on the outcome exists (or existed). Potential losses themselves may also be called “risks”.

Now before you get all pissy about me using Wikipedia as a reference, know that I merely wanted to define what I was talking about, and the Wikipedia definition was quite suitable.

Further definitions – Let’s examine a scenario in which I give you one of two choices:

  1. I give you $50.
  2. I flip a coin.  Heads – I give you $100.  Tails – you get nothing.

Statistically speaking, both choices are equal when viewed over an infinite number of trials. A risk neutral person would be agreeable to either scenario. A risk averse person would choose the 1st option, even if it was for less than $50. A risk inclined person would choose the 2nd option, even if the 1st was for more than $50. This is just a simple explanation of terms I plan on using. This simply exemplifies the character types defined from a scenario with a known probability and quantity of outcome.

Most people are risk inclined, up until what is risked is of such great value to the person that they become risk averse. The lottery is a perfect example of this.  It offers terrible odds, and even the payout isn’t comparable.  One version of the Lottery offers a chance of winning the jackpot at 1 in 175 million with each ticket costing $1.  The actual payout for the jackpot averages less than 175 million.  Therefore, anyone playing the Lottery, whether they understand the statistics or not, is risk inclined.  Consider what would happen if the lottery tickets cost $1000 and the jackpot had the same odds but paid out 175 billion.  Most everyone that previously purchased $1 lottery tickets would stop buying them because $1000 is of great value to them.  Somewhere between $1 and $1000 per ticket people changed from risk inclined to risk averse.  If we have a risk averse culture (which I believe to be true), we can infer that the majority of decisions we make or the outcomes that may come are of great value to us.

Whenever we make decisions, we intrinsically go through an evaluation process:

  1. What is the decision to be made?
  2. What things affect the outcome?
  3. What is the probability that those things will happen?
  4. What are the potential outcomes?

There are many things that shape the decisions made in the VP Navy. Most are able to be quantified in some fashion, like the probability that the airplane will experience a catastrophic wing failure. But some of the biggest forces that shape our decision making are very difficult to quantify, like “What will the Skipper think if I do “X” and then “Y” happens?” Unfortunately, the many uncertainties we face often either paralyze us into inaction or make us act only to avoid negative outcomes, rather than acting to cause positive outcomes.

Let’s consider a detachment to San Diego:  The Commodore has expressed interest in hearing about how his squadron supported a Carrier exercise.  The Skipper understands full well that no matter how well the crews perform onstation, anything that reaches the Commodore will be perceived as nothing more than grandstanding embellishments, because no one ever reports doing poorly.  Therefore, the Skipper concludes, perhaps unknowingly, that the only way to look good, is to not look bad.  Remember that he’s competing against only 3 others for continual advancement.

So the Skipper has to decide how to not look bad.  What things affect that outcome?  The easiest performance metrics to quantify are mission completion rates, hours flown, and whether the onstation times were met.  Its not surprising then, given that they are easy to measure, that we judge our performance almost solely based on them.  This, by the way, contributes to an ever decreasing lack of emphasis on tactical performance.  Another thing that affects whether or not the Skipper doesn’t look bad is liberty incidents, and must be avoided at all cost.  No matter how good the onstation performance is, a liberty incident negates any positive outcome.

We know that the odds of taking off on time and completing a mission is somewhere between 50 and 95%.  That’s just an experienced guess, but I think everyone’s guess would be somewhere between those two numbers.  But given that there are only 5-10 flights, its not unfeasible for the Skipper (or det OIC)  to eye a number closer to 100%.  What are the odds that there will be a liberty incident?  Well, experience teaches us that its certainly higher on detachment than at home, but probably on the order of 5% or so.

A risk averse person would, believing the outcome to be very important, take measures to improve the outcome, regardless of the probability of the outcome being negative.  This behavior leads to backup preflights, ops readies, and midnight curfews.  This of course lowers morale, and generally makes people pissed off (If you’ve done a backup preflight at 2:00 a.m. you know what I’m talking about).  Is this necessarily a bad thing?  Some would argue that its but one small sacrifice to defend freedom.  I would argue that measures like those are the actions of leaders that are paralyzed with fear about looking bad, and are unnecessary.  There are more examples of risk averse behavior (like this anonymous blog).  This behavior serves to undermine our real performance, lower morale, and in general make us feel like a bunch of douches.

So what exactly has driven our community into this cowardly abyss? For your convenience, I’ve created a list (feel free to comment on more and I’ll edit them in and credit your fake name):

  • Promotion system
  • Evaluation system
  • Information availability
  • Media exposure
  • Too few openings at high levels
  • Little opportunity for success outside the “golden path”

To be concluded…



The Navy’s Promotion System: A Global Force for Mediocrity

Have you ever wondered how we end up with such mediocre leaders and aviators as Department Heads and Commanding Officers?  I bet you have.  Most of us have.  We think back to various Department Heads and XO/COs we’ve worked for and can pick out a few great ones, a few awful ones, and a whole lot who could best be described as “adequate.”  There are a lot of factors that lead to this giant sea of mediocrity, but the most significant is the importance of “sustained superior performance” in our FITREP and career progression system.

First of all, it’s important to note that the ratio of highly-capable, capable, and incapable (if you’ll bear with me as we use those terms for three tiers of officers) is consistent with the “bell curve” we all remember from our grade school days.  Many large groups fall out that way – a few high performers on the top, a few weak ones on the bottom, and the rest getting by in the middle.  In theory, that concept is applied to a P-3 officer career path.  In the first tour, an officer is measured against a large pool of peers.  The expectation is that the weakest will be weeded out with poor FITREPS and “career-ender” shore tours.  The best will go to VP-30 – the proven path first shore tour (another topic that I discussed in a previous post).  The middle group will be spread out amongst other training commands and shore billets.  I’m not suggesting that this is the best way to do things, or that this is how all Commanding Officers think with regards to FITREP rankings, but the perception certainly exists that this is how things function.  The idea, then, is that the best people will be in the best position for success when the time comes for DH screening.  Only the best people become Department Heads, and only the best of those become Commanding Officers, or so the system suggests.  Too bad it doesn’t work.

The biggest issue is the ranking system.  Think about how many times you’ve heard about “sustained superior performance.”  I’ve lost count of the number of Command or DH screen board recap briefs I’ve seen.  It’s always the same shit.  The percentages may move a little bit, but the concepts are the same.  A high EP out of the first tour gives you really good odds for DH.  A VP-30 tour makes it a veritable lock.  A Carrier tour after that gives you the best odds at command.  Throw in some jokes about the “bureau” and the hilarious stories from the “tank” (like the time where the guy had a regression in his record and a few seconds after the record went up on the screens there were 20 laser pointer dots on the area of issue, or like that time when the one guy forgot to vote yes for a really strong record where the recorder said “this guy was a 30 guy and boat guy so let’s all “hit 100” so we can go to lunch”, and everyone waited for the last guy to “hit 100” until finally someone yelled “who didn’t vote?” and then you saw the final vote quickly go up and everyone laughed and laughed and WOULD YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP AND GET ON WITH IT! …..)

Sorry about that.  I get carried away with those “bureau jokes” that exactly two people in the audience can relate to, but that are made at each and every one of those briefs.  Again, I apologize.

So, getting back to the rankings, we are talking about how so many mediocre people can make it so far in a community that places so much emphasis on “sustained superior performance.”  Let’s start with the Junior Officers.  Let’s say you are up for your final competitive FITREP as a Lieutenant.  You will be ranked against a pool of all the other LTs in the squadron.  You would think that the best LT in the squadron will be ranked #1.  But what if the best LT is not up for his final competitive FITREP?  Straight seniority does not necessarily mean someone contributes more, or is more valuable.  So timing is clearly a key component, and one that the people being ranked do not control.  If you happened to check in to the command with a weak group of people, you can leave with a high FITREP number by just being decent in your job.  There may be five other LTs who are much better than you, but if they still have another FITREP before checkout, you’ll be ranked above them (as long as you are at least in that “capable” middle group we talked about – if you are in the incapable bottom group, this may not apply).  The command doesn’t want to screw you by ranking someone who is much more junior above you.  You may not be terrible, but you’re also not great.  But from now on, on paper, you look great.  Was your performance really “superior?”  Of course not.

What if you are being ranked against some other LTs on their final FITREP cycle, but they want to go to a non-standard shore tour?  Again, you might be a decent, but not great, performer being measured against much better performers, but you can come out on top if the others plan on leaving the Navy, want to do a unique shore tour in D.C., want an NROTC job, etc.  Some Skippers may say that future jobs aren’t factored in on rankings, but I’ve been in the Department Head meetings and on the email discussions where this comes up.  The rationale is to avoid “wasting” a good FITREP number on someone who won’t be competing for DH or Command.  Because of this, at the Department Head board, there will always be a lot of #1s and #2s who really should have been #3s, #4s, and #5s (or even lower).  On paper they performed well, but in reality they were beneficiaries of good timing or good luck.

This idea applies at the DH level just as much as it does amongst the JOs.  Again, I saw this numerous times on a DH tour.  Two LCDRs are ranked against one another, one who completed a CVN tour and another who performed very well at a VPU disassociated sea tour, and the ranking is all but set in stone even before either has had a chance to demonstrate their “superior performance.”  The rumor that the folks at Millington try not to pair up two “strong” records (and, thus, have them compete for a single #1 ranking) has been out there so long it is all but gospel now.  Well, where does the sustained superior performance come in then?  As long as you’ve been in the right jobs (which you may have been in because the better people didn’t want to go) and have high FITREP rankings (which you may have because the better people were choosing to leave the Navy or go off the proper career path, or because there were no better people in the small group that was leaving the command in your time frame) you won’t have to really be “superior” – the deck will be stacked in your favor.

So, the result of all of this is that a lot of average people are made to look above average.  And once you’re christened with that label, if you stick to the career plan, it’s a tough one to shake.  I’m wondering about the downside to ranking people strictly on their performance in their job for the period of evaluation.  What if past and future jobs are not considered?  What if rankings are across all peers, and not just the few who are checking out at the same time?  Wouldn’t we get a truer sense of “sustained superior performance?”  Why should it matter that the best guy is getting out of the Navy?  How is that “screwing” the ones who are staying in?  If they wanted to be ranked ahead of the guy getting out, then they should have done a better job than him.  If we keep doing things this way, we will continue to have what we have now, which is a lot of mediocre people in high places.

Is the promotion system the only thing keeping us from excellence in the higher ranks?  Not at all.  It’s but one part of a couple of interacting forces.  I think the promotion system has cultivated risk-averse behavior in every thing we do – from daily FOD walkdowns to liberty policies to mission performance.  The only way to prove that you are a sustained superior performer is to get a #1 ranking.  Ask yourself how do many get that ranking?

I’m working on a risk aversion article that is pretty extensive.  Hopefully it sums why our pussies are so big.  In the meantime, here’s some more credible reading on mediocrity in business.  I found many parallels to what we do.


Just one more thing about productivity

I was re-reading the productivity post and something hit me as a wasteful spending of labor – FOD walkdown. Specifically, why do the officers feel obligated or are required to attend?

Exactly what does the navy value in its officers? How do those values compare to successful civilian business managers? I did a cursory search for “best manager traits” and several common descriptors emerged. Creative, intuitive, knowledgeable, credible, versatile, committed, leadership, team player, efficient… You get the idea.

I’m kinda pissed that those qualities aren’t outwardly desired by the Navy, as evidenced by our performance evaluation system ( – its a good read). In regards to productivity, however, nothing pisses me off more than FOD walkdown.

Why are officer’s encouraged (or in some cases, required) to attend FOD walkdown? Why would you willingly task your managers (the ones that are supposed to have all those qualities listed above) with 30 minutes of mind numbing walking and picking up debris? Here are a couple of common arguments:

  • When the officer’s are doing FOD walkdown, it inspires the junior enlisted because they see us doing what they do.
  • If junior enlisted see that you can take the time out of your day to pick up FOD, they’ll know that its important.

I think those are the most commonly accepted arguments. But I would counter that our presence there is largely transparent. When the skipper’s out there picking up FOD, no one is thinking “oh man the skipper’s out here, it must be important to pick up FOD.” I believe that people say, “oh look the skipper’s here so that I can’t complain about FOD walkdown because someone will just say, ‘hey the skipper does it too.‘”

So anyways, I think the reason we really have to be at FOD walkdown is that if we’re demanding a large group of people do something menial, it’s much easier on our consciences if we do it also. Junior enlisted also clean the shitters but we don’t see officer’s stepping in to help scrub. Call me a prick but those are the ropes for the junior enlisted. That’s their unfortunate station in life based upon the decisions they made and the opportunities they’ve been afforded.

Yes – everyone can spare 30 minutes during their day for FOD walkdown. But that 30 minutes can be better spent elsewhere. We’re supposed to be leaders right? We should spend that 30 minutes engaging our sailors. Making them laugh. Inspiring them the right way – not picking up rocks alongside them. They know it sucks. You know it sucks. FOD walkdown sucks.

So recently this blog’s been getting a lot of hits. I don’t quite know what sparked the renewed interest, but its getting around. I’m hoping that this will popularize some necessary changes and that those changes will come to fruition through sheer volume of people “on the same page.”

Before we reach VP Nirvana, however, I’d really appreciate any feedback – preferable both constructive and humorous, but any conversation generated would be good. I think.


And now, a discussion on productivity.

In my time in the P-3 community, I’ve never heard the word “productivity” uttered at work.  We don’t talk about it because we don’t think about it.  It’s irrelevant, unimportant.

Let me ask you a question and think not only of your response, but also of what your P-3 peers would say.  If there are two people of comparable rank and timing in a squadron, and both turn in the same quality and quantity of work, who is viewed as more valuable?  They are the same, of course.  But what if one of them completes the work by lunchtime and the other is still toiling away when the Ops-O is getting ready to leave?  Who gets the better FITREP ranking?

This isn’t a ground-breaking concept by any stretch of the imagination.  No doubt, many in the community have noticed the unhealthy consideration given to time at work as opposed to results of work.  This idea came up in an earlier post about the absurd hours requirements for qual flights.  In that situation, there’s no benefit for completing qual tasks in a shorter amount of time.  What I want to discuss here relates to P-3 ground jobs.

It doesn’t take an expert to see that our community does not value productivity.  In fact, I would say that productivity is usually punished.  If you don’t think that’s really the case, then you have to at least admit that the perception of that punishment exists.  In this situation, the perception is just as bad as reality.

Let’s say I work in NATOPS for my squadron.  I’m working alongside at least one direct peer and likely competitor for FITREP ranking.  What incentive do I have to be productive?  The perception is that the guy who is in the office when the Department Head arrives in the morning and is still there when he or she leaves at night will, by default, be viewed as a hard (and therefore a good) worker.  How many times have you heard someone praise someone else by saying he “works his ass off”?  What if he works his ass off because he’s stupid and has to work extra-hard to make up for it?

The “Harvard Business Review” blog site recently posted some articles by Robert Pozen, a professor and productivity expert.  When I read some of his posts I was struck by two things.  One – a lot of it seemed like common sense.  Two – we (the P-3 community) go against virtually everything he recommends.  But hey, what does he know?  He may be an alleged “expert,” but we’ve been doing things this way for over 40 years.

But let’s suppose for a minute that there might be something we can learn from Pozen.  One of main principles is that “it’s not the time you spend but the results you produce.”  Again, this does not go against common logic.  So, why do we have that concept backwards in P-3 squadrons?  Here are some issues:

 1.  We don’t know how to measure results. 

In a perfect world, a Department Head, XO, or Skipper would easily be able to compare the results of everyone’s work.  Person A produced a better product than person B, etc.  Person A wins.  If person A and person B produced the same product, but person B did it in half the time, then person B would be rewarded as more efficient and productive (and would likely be tasked with more work to fill up that extra time).  Too bad we don’t live in a perfect world.  Instead, Person A works in NATOPS and person B in maintenance.  The people making the decisions on who to reward have to try and compare productivity and results in two completely different areas.  FNET’s inspection went really well, but so did the AMI.  Who did their job better?  (Here’s where the Department Heads duke it out.)  “Well, my guy worked his ass off,” one DH insists.  “He even came in on weekends.”  There it is … we have a winner!

 2.  We’re stuck with the old shift-work concept.

Shift work is really effective for factories, coal mines, and lots of other workplaces.  How else would the Starbucks baristas know when to show up?  So, shift work is fine, but it’s not really conducive to intellectual creativity.  Do you think employees at Google are told that they’ll be expected to check in with their boss at 0730 and out with him no earlier than 1630 everyday?  That’s absurd!  They can hoverboard in or out of the office throughout the day whenever they want!  The environment fosters creative freedom, and that creative freedom brings innovation and improvement.  Google even encourages their engineers to take 20% of their work time to focus on projects of personal interest.  Can you imagine telling your boss in your P-3 squadron that you’ll be taking one day a week to work on your own projects and ideas?  Is it possible that someone could use that time and freedom to reinvent outdated tactics or figure out a better way to plan a flight schedule?  It doesn’t matter.  It will never happen.  It will never happen because…

 3.  We are a “lowest common denominator” community.

The 20% time idea is silly to us because the assumption will automatically be that the free time will just be wasted at the beach, or the bar, or in bed sleeping in.  It’s much more important that we’re in the squadron “spaces” – visible, and setting a good example.  Someone once told me of how they floated the idea of working from home.  The logic seemed sound.  He was doing computer work.  He was forced to fight for an NMCI machine at work while he had an actual functioning computer collecting dust at home.  But alas, it was a stupid idea because you aren’t really working unless you’re observed working.  Of course, he was also reminded that there were other squadron mates of lower ranks who HAD to be there from 0730 to 1630, so he couldn’t very well have them see him leaving early!  Again – lowest common denominator community.  This isn’t a “big boy” or “big girl” club.  This is a glorified kindergarten class (and I’m sorry, but Arnold is not walking through that door with a pet ferret).  Yes.  A Kindergarten Cop reference.  I’m wicked hungover and that’s the best I could do.

The machine has been running this way for a long time and the company culture is ingrained in all the gears and cogs.  We don’t want productivity; we just want the illusion of it (via somebody sitting in a chair at a computer).  Then we will have a perception that the guy who sits in the chair at the computer the longest is doing the most for the command, even if it’s not the case.  Then we’re faced with the choice between working at our best and most efficient but not being rewarded for it, and playing the game the way it’s always been played, because we ashamedly understand that’s the only way to be appreciated and rewarded.  So we work on our spreadsheets and our trackers and the other tasks that we can complete in half the time as the person who tasked us, hoping that he’ll say of us, “Well, he is working his ass off.”


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VP-30 sucks. And here’s why:

Someone was recently quoted as saying, “VP-30 is the center of the universe for the P-3 Navy.”  Well if the center of my universe is a giant ball of suck, how do I leave?  To answer that question, I went to famed theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku.  I didn’t get a response – probably because he was busy riding around in that fucking sweet DeLorean.

So what makes VP-30 suck so huge?  First lets look at the facts about VP-30.

Fact #1: It recruits individuals with the most recognized talent (note that is not the same as actual talent).

Fact #2: Its primary function is to teach fleet replacement students (3Ps, Navs, SS2s, you know… nuggets).  Its secondary function is to teach CAT 3 students (your returning department heads).

Fact #3: Within VP-30 lies the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Weapons School (hereafter referred to MPRWS or Weapons School) and the P-8 Fleet Introduction Team (FIT).

Fact #4: A shore tour at VP-30 is the number 1 predictor of follow-on success as a department head and command screening.  As such, BUPERS will never put an ex-VP-30 person against another one in fitrep cycles.

Fact #5: It is the largest squadron in the navy (over 90 LTs).

And now here are my opinions on the facts:

1.  The recruitment process is bogus.  Its a fucking boys’ club.  Are you the skipper’s boy?  Yes? Then you’re going to 30.  Are there a lot of you former squadron mates in 30?  Do they like you?  You’re golden.  How often is the phrase “I can’t believe these are the people they send to 30” uttered?  A lot.  All the time.

2.  Do you really need the best and brightest at VP-30?  Absolutely not (at least not the way 30 is run currently).  The best NFO in a fleet squadron is the one who is kickass at ASW, knows how to do a COOP SLAM-ER, doesn’t bitch about flying pointless hours, and tries hard to train upgraders.  So what do we do with that guy or girl?  Send them to 30 to teach NAVs how to take fixes, kick green, and to ultimately make them look slightly less retarded than they otherwise would when they show up to a squadron.  The best NAVs in the squadron, on the other hand, are the WORST NFOs in the squadron, because they sit NAV the most (even after they’re qualified).  We should send those people to 30, and send the best and brightest to the WTU – where they could actually make squadrons better.

And do you know what happens during an NFO’s time at 30?  They forget all the shit that made them good at being a TACCO.  Just in time to get senior enough to teach CAT 3’s inadequately.  I have news for the fleet JO’s: Many of the O-4’s are not that good in the plane!

3.  So we got this weapons school now, and the P-8 FIT, one of which is supposed to usher in a new frontier of Maritime Patrol Aviation, and the other to provide us with a constant source of expertise and tactical excellence.  So why the fuck are they bothered with teaching NAVs and Copilots?  Divorce them from VP-30, and let them do their jobs.

4.  The detailers actually make it so that it is most likely that the ex 30 dude gets the #1 DH fitrep so that they can screen for command.  So what happens when you get another DH that is equally as competent, well liked, but did a WTU tour?  The skipper gives the #1 fitrep to the 30 guy because 1) it’d be a waste to give it to the WTU because he’s not going to screen anyways, and 2) because the rankings are always subject to change based on where you were, and where you’re going.

5.  So what does 30 actually do with all of those instructors?  What is the finished product that gets sent to the fleet?  How much learning actually takes place at 30?  Any competent student at 30 doesn’t have to study AT ALL to pass.  Meanwhile – the WTU doesn’t have enough people to do anything except teach ARP and grade quals, and they’re the ones that are supposed to make the fleet better.  Why don’t we trim down at 30 and bolster the WTU?  I know its been done like this forever, but it doesn’t fucking work right.  30 instructors do good things, but their overall effect is minimal.  The WTU’s overall effect is ALSO minimal, but its because they don’t have the right people, and they don’t have the right number of people.

So VP-30 sucks, and that’s pretty much why.  Oh and it also breeds a culture of douchebag primadonnas that forgot what its like to be in a squadron.

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BRAVO whoever made this

Some of you have probably seen this already – Hitler finds out the detailer lied to him.

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My god what is wrong with us?

Sorry for the break – I’ve been a bit disillusioned and just haven’t been inspired to write anything down… So here’s what I’m currently pissed off about:

Flying weekends
Flying for the hours
Backup Preflights
Backup to the backup preflights

Why is it that one of the prime motivators of our operations departments is to fill some arbitrary number of flight hours? Why is that measured in months? Is it really as simple as, “If we don’t make the hours, next time we won’t have as many hours!” It can’t be like that. If it is, what jackass is in charge of this thing? I’d like to talk to him, and tell him that we fly P-3s. Not many of them. And they’re less than reliable.

So these pussies in charge are unable to grasp that flying weekends to make those hours comes at the cost of our peoples’ morale and motivation. Rather than fix our fucked up system, we crush our people to appease the superiors. I have an easy solution – give us a range of hours to fly, and have that range span 3 months – let us manage it over a longer period of time. This would account for an unlucky streak with maintenance, lack of planes, planes breaking on the road, etc…

If we insist on flying weekends, let us take the plane to a different field, shutdown, get lunch, then come home. People would sign up for that shit.

… backup preflights. Why can we not tell people that we fly P-3s, and they’re prone to breaking. Last I checked, we don’t contribute that much anyways – is the world going to end if we cancel a mission? If we show up late? fucking christ.

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