ICON Talks: The road to innovation starts here

  • Published
  • By Air Force Tech Sgt. Darnell T. Cannady
  • 480th ISRW/PA

From 3D printing to advanced visualization, no idea was too small or too big for collaboration during the Innovate, Collaborate, Organize and Network Talks held April 11 to 13, 2018, at the 692nd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group.

ICON Talks provide a venue where Airmen can pitch their innovative ideas, not only to the 480th ISR Wing leadership but also to key innovators from other units assigned to the Air Combat Command, like the 432nd Wing.


“ICON is the place for Airmen to give us their ideas on how we should tackle our problems, see things differently or create something entirely new,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Jason Brown, 480th ISRW commander. “This ICON is going to really help our Airmen entrepreneurs apply intent and structure to their initiatives with I-Corps training.”


Any Airman can lead capability development, organizational problem solving or policy/process change, Brown said.


The ICON Talks give Airmen the opportunity to voice their ideas to groups other than just their working sections, said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Monica Hall, 392nd Intelligence Squadron and event coordinator for the ICON Talks. “It allows for collaboration across the wing to work on ideas while providing insight, knowledge and better networking avenues. It puts the right people in the right room at the right time.”

Collaboration was on stage during the summit. When an idea was briefed, you could see a sea of hands go up. Each person wanted to learn more about how the idea was implemented at a unit, offer advice to help grow the idea and share resources to be incorporated into projects.

An example of this could be seen during a briefing about 3-D printing.

When U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Nelson Gosnell, Virginia Air National Guard, was trying to locate and purchase online the parts he needed to hold cables in place, he could not find was looking for. Sites had descriptions, but no photos of products, leaving him unsure and unable to verify sizes. While he was online researching, he came across a 3-D printer and had an idea.

Gosnell knew right away he could make a specific model that would fit onto the cable.

“I saw (the printer) and knew I wanted to create a virtual back shop where, if you came in with a need, we could help you solve your problem,” he said.     

With both an idea and a sample in hand, Gosnell presented it to the ICON Talks audience. The cost of his solution was $13.68 versus $235.17 off the shelf price, and he could save all his prototypes for future printing and even reuse leftover materials to make filaments for cables.

Gosnell’s said the most beneficial part of his briefing was the feedback he received from the audience. They told him how to find Airmen with 3D printing skillsets, training websites that offer 3D printing certifications and even explained that after creating the initial model, it could be contracted out for manufacturing.

“I knew once the third hand went up that I was on the right track,” Gosnell said. “What I’m taking away from all of this is how to demonstrate the value of an idea. This is an excellent platform and collaboration opportunity that is leading to new ideas and networking opportunities.”

Col. Jason Brown, 480th ISRW commander, applauded Gosnell for his effort to “built a new capability through creative exploration.”

Another innovation briefed during these ICON Talks was advanced visualization. Tech. Sgt. William Ley, 548th ISR Group, briefed his vision of automation taking the place of human analysts. He highlighted several programs analysts can use to increase the fidelity of exploitation and make better products for warfighters.


“It’s mostly a theory about what will happen when programs that are years away from being operational do in fact become operational,” said Ley. “It wasn’t until I actually started researching what programs (people in the) Intelligence Community are currently working on and talking with the different agencies about it that I realized they could be used in the Distributed Common Ground System to great effectiveness.”


Questions and comments immediately filled the room following Ley’s briefing, as Airmen wanted to know how they can implement his findings into training.


“I think my idea might inspire thinking about the future of imagery analysis and getting people excited about what programs are being worked on,” added Ley.

Inspiring innovators is what ICON Talks are all about.

“One Airman may have an idea that might change the Air Force, that then changes the Department Of Defense and then change the world,” said Lt. Gen. VeraLinn “Dash” Jamieson, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Headquarters U.S. Air Force. “I don’t care if you succeed or fail, I just want you to try.”

Jamieson attended a previous ICON Talk, and that led to the creation of Air Force Spark Tank, a competition that calls for Airmen to pitch their innovative ideas to senior leaders. A culmination of those ideas are showcased at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium.

Read about ICON Talks at:  http://www.25af.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1166060/480th-isrw-hosts-inaugural-icon-talks/