I work in a field that is relatively new to the Navy. Truth is when you are part of a team that has been in formal existence for almost 240 years, there are many things that are “relatively” new. The mission area in which I am immersed is Defensive Cyberspace Operations. It’s not a mission that is unique to the Navy, but the Navy does have a unique responsibility in executing this mission. As with all missions, the key to its accomplishment is a team of professionals committed to both developing expertise and applying their knowledge to it. There are defensive cyberspace operators both being groomed and grooming themselves around the world. They are applying and will continue to apply their expertise in many different ways. Some are in the private sector, some are working in the government, others are turning what they know into offensive and/or exploitive efforts, and still, others are focused on educating future experts to further develop the profession. It really is an exciting time for all of us working in this space.

Though many have been advocating for more purposeful investment in this area for years, recent events are finally giving us reason to do so. Sometimes we have to wait for bad things to happen before we shift our priorities. And sometimes we have the vision and fortitude to prevent us from finding ourselves in a reactive posture. I have long admired the quote attributed to Albert Szent-Gorgy (Nobel Prize Winner for discovering Vitamin C) about discovery…

“Discovery is seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.”

For many years a small portion of our Navy has been thinking what no one else has thought regarding the security of our infrastructure and weapon systems. They were dismissed. They asked for a means of developing specialized expertise; they asked for increased emphasis to be placed on system/network security as we procure new systems; they asked for the development of a culture of compliance and cyber discipline across the team. Though many asked, some did more than admire the problems by addressing the opportunities. These individuals veered off the course of promotability in the eyes of many to grow their own expertise; they made a growing audience more aware of our vulnerabilities; they held their teams to a higher standard with respect to compliance and cyber discipline. Many people now look at this informal cadre of professionals and assess the progress they have made as being accidental. Though the bureaucracy that we are does make it look like the progress of this small and growing group has been accidental, it continues to be anything but. What appears accidental, was done very much on purpose. As this tribe grows, an increasing number of leaders are more visibly committed to turning the culture, capability, and expertise development efforts of these relatively few into the mainstream. What I mean is they continue to see exactly what they have been seeing for years, but are now thinking what these pioneers have been thinking all along. As a result, we see deliberate efforts to turn these perceived accidents into purposeful action aligned to a strategy. Though it has been somewhat frustrating to watch the slow evolution, looking back at the wake makes for a great view. Don’t get me wrong, most of the change even today is done by a relatively small number of people swimming upstream, but the currents are visibly shifting.

All too often we allow things to happen by accident. Sometimes those perceived accidents deliver an outcome that is worthy of repeating. We evolve to a point where we want to create these one-time accidents into sustainable outcomes. The truth is that nothing happens by accident and these pioneering individuals didn’t become who they are and achieve what they have achieved by accident. It’s great to see us create these accidents on purpose.

  • What accidents are you seeing happen around you?
  • How purposeful are you in delivering the outcomes you are creating?
  • What perceived accidents might you consider helping to happen on purpose?