Project Mercury: Accelerating meetings through innovation

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  • By Master Sgt. Matthew Salmond, 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Red AMU APG section chief

Most military members can recall the time retired four-star Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis coined the phrase, “PowerPoint makes us stupid.”

Yet, the Department of the Air Force writing guide, The Tongue and Quill, mandates the use of PowerPoint presentations for our meetings.

The Air Force Handbook 33-337, spells out exactly how an effective meeting should be structured as well as how presentations should be tailored. Chapter 10, Air Force Speaking on page 118, details exactly how to prepare the presentation slides for a meeting.

I’ll spare you the trouble of reading this for yourself, but the section includes rules such as avoiding red-green and blue-red color combinations to the type and size of the font, you are authorized to use. This process can be exhausting and extremely time-consuming.

My team at Project Mercury, an innovation partnership through Air University, Maxwell AFB, Ala., and the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business to drive innovative advancement has scoured the Internet to understand industry best practices and to find options already available to Air Force members.

Before I deliver the results, I would like to provide some context about this project and our team.

Project Mercury provides education and experimentation on how to employ innovative practices. It then takes what students learn and places it into the environment they work and live in. The program accomplishes this through a blend of rigorous academics and diverse team projects, ensuring students can deliver an array of creative and disruptive ideas.

Project Mercury’s idea is to build an innovative culture within the Air and Space Forces. My team is comprised of five leaders from different Air Force career fields and collectively we have 68-years of combined military experience.

Project Mercury has given us the challenge of empowering Airmen based on the Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr.’s Action Orders to Accelerate Change across the Air Force.

During our time in the Innovatrium, an innovation consulting firm tied to the Ross School of Business, we generated hundreds of ideas, conducted field interviews and defined what commanders need to feel to be empowered and collected tons of data.

To develop the right course of action, we evaluated research from academia and discovered a plethora of sources detailing how presentation slideshows create wasted time and take the ability to think freely away from those in attendance.

After these discoveries, we turned to the civilian industry, looking for best practices and technology options.

One company that caught our attention was Amazon, during the company’s founder Jeff Bezos’ tenure as its CEO, he banned presentation slideshows from his meetings.

Instead, Bezos would hand out a “pre-read” document with information pertinent to the meeting. Attendees would silently read this printout, discuss the topics then create solutions and action plans. This process resulted in time saved for his employees and made meetings more valuable by giving others the ability to think for themselves.

This is just one example of many where removing meeting slideshows proved valuable.

The industry has also taught us that through advancements in technology, we can extract large amounts of data from hundreds of sources and display that information in a single, easy-to-read and secure application.

These dashboards are what “Team 2 Cohort 7” at Project Mercury see as the Air Force’s meeting of the future!

The Air Force currently has contracts with industry partners, in fact, the Air Force already utilizes these live data platforms. Examples of these include, Advana, Vault, and Envision, which are currently used sporadically throughout the Air Force and Department of Defense.

Instead of spending countless man-hours sourcing data from multiple applications and plugging that information into an Excel spreadsheet or PowerPoint presentation, we offer the idea of letting these systems do the dirty work for us.

By changing the way we conduct meetings through avenues already contracted by the Air Force, we can save members unquantifiable hours spent sorting, filtering, verifying, copying and pasting data for their next meeting. We believe this is one way to empower Airmen now and into the future!  

I would like to thank my Project Mercury team members: Lt. Col. John Boswell, Tech Sgt. Aaron Finney, Tech Sgt. Kimberly Mastrocola and Staff Sgt. Charley Smith, for their selflessness and relentless dedication to improving the Air Force and our meetings over the past 12 weeks. Lastly, I would like thank our coaching team, Lt. Col. John Kerrigan, Master Sgt. Nadia Fisher and Master Sgt. John Le, for their insights, wisdom and guidance throughout the entirety of this course.

The mission of Project Mercury is to instill innovation culture, competency and community within the Air and Space Forces in order to outpace all peer competitors. For more information about Project Mercury or to apply for future cohorts, visit