Bill Lescher has served his country in various capacities since he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. Now, as a retired four-star Navy Admiral, Admiral Lescher enjoys sharing proven Navy learning and encouraging interested young people to learn more about what it means to join the service.

Experimentation, Innovation and the Tools of the Test Pilot

Admiral Lescher has written and spoken broadly of the imperative to increase the velocity of experimentation from the tactical edge to the laboratory in order to generate Warfighting advantage at speed. When experimentation takes place in contexts with the potential for harsh downside consequences as well as upside learning and innovation, we commonly see a slowing of experimentation velocity and appetite. In countering this risk-averse mindset, the Navy’s flight-test community has developed significant expertise in the practice of embracing risk and uncertainty in order to drive learning and innovation. Key principles include:

Make embedded assumptions and tradeoffs explicit, forcing open consideration in place of unexamined or unchallenged consensus. Assertively challenge and understand every assumption.

Incrementally expand the envelope of the change or learning being explored in order to develop multiple, short-term, cycles of learning. Control both the pace of change and the number of parameters simultaneously being changed. Modify initial plans based on this ongoing learning.

Always leave yourself an out — anticipate “worst case” scenarios and develop appropriate operating margins, or appropriate recovery options when these margins are unknown or are being probed.

Verbalize what you see and assertively engage on deviations from your expectations. In particular, when first perceived, immediately and aggressively arrest trends toward extremis (deviation from the plan in a substantially negative way), using the options and branch plans updated from previous learning cycles.

Attack change with stability in key parameters: leadership, scheduling and routine, and equipment and crew preparation.

Accelerate learning with event debriefs as thorough, or more thorough, than pre-event briefs.

Above all, consciously and continuously make informed risk decisions. Do not let events or schedules gain momentum on their own.

These principles collectively serve to increase margins and options – the tools of the test pilot in boldly experimenting to learn and innovate.


Bill Lescher Portfolio