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NEWS | Jan. 5, 2023

Simon Sinek: Discovering Navy-ness and the shipyard of the future

By Adrienne Burns, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs

“It’s been a joy. I’ll start there.”

Sitting center stage at the Admiral Theatre in Bremerton, Washington, Simon Sinek, world-renowned author and inspirational speaker, began his fireside chat. Front and center were rows of Sailors assigned to the boats and ships docked at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility. Filling in the packed house behind them were employees from nearly every code and shop at PSNS & IMF. This fireside chat was the culminating event of Sinek’s Dec. 12-13 visit to the shipyard.

In addition to the in-person event, Sinek’s talk was being live-streamed for the thousands of PSNS & IMF employees and Sailors who couldn’t fit into the theatre. Rob Gorman, director of Process Improvement and Change Management, Code 100PI, Lean Office, moderated the chat onstage with Sinek and guided the conversation through topics from the shipyard mission to employee burnout.

Sitting in their oversized chairs, under a spotlight, the two men casually chatted about the importance of the work done to maintain the Navy’s vessels and how vital it is to the long-term success and posture of the U.S. military. Whether the topic was our military's shipbuilding competition with China or his impromptu conversations with the shipyard's Apprentice Program students, it all mattered equally to Sinek. It all offered insight.

Prior to his fireside chat with the workforce, Sinek spent a lot of time touring, talking and asking questions. He got the chance to experience Navy life when he spent a few days sailing on USS Nimitz (CVN 68), as well as the chance to observe shipyard work and speak with PSNS & IMF employees in the days leading up to his event at the Admiral Theatre. This time spent learning the range of work—and the range of workers—that make the shipyard run offered Sinek a variety of perspectives to glean from. The opportunity to speak with everyone from apprentices and junior Sailors to department heads and the shipyard commander gave him the chance to ask the same questions to everyone and find the common thread in their answers. What Sinek said he was hoping to find was some of what makes the Navy and its people unique.

“I’m fascinated by the cultures of people—especially subcultures,” Sinek said. “We had a lot of meetings with all ranks and all jobs so that I could uncover ‘Navy-ness.’”

Understanding Navy-ness played a significant part in helping Sinek uncover some of the qualities of the people who join or work with the Navy. With these insights, the goal was to figure out how to tap into the strengths of this subculture and use them to help the organization thrive in what Sinek calls “the infinite game.”

It’s a concept some folks at the shipyard may already be familiar with. PSNS & IMF’s Command University offers the Lead 3 Advanced Leadership Training Seminar, which incorporates many of the central themes from Simon’s book "The Infinite Game." The crux of the book—and the leadership course—is the idea that in much of what we do as an organization, there is no endpoint. The game we play has rotating players, no fixed rules, and no winners or losers. To maintain an advantage in an infinite game, there are a number of practices leaders must engage in to build and sustain the mindset to succeed.

“Lead 3 was designed to install leadership competencies that meet corporate objectives while bringing 3rd level managers into effective leadership.” said Janeen Bianco-Splann, leadership training specialist, Command University. “The need for strength in disrupting the status-quo, challenging the normalcy of ‘just the way it is,’ and turning up the heat enough to create the necessary disequilibrium to bring about change, is required to meet the mission.”

Bianco-Splann, who reached out to Sinek’s team to organize his visit, said Sinek’s ideas are particularly valuable in the shipyard environment where deadlines are often the main focus. Spending more time on innovation and improvement will be vital to the future success of our mission and the U.S. military in the infinite game.

The role of PSNS & IMF in the global competition for power was specifically highlighted in Sinek’s chat at the Admiral Theatre. From his perspective, the ability to repair vessels will be a key factor in maintaining an advantage on the world stage.

“My belief is that the new Cold war, Cold War 2.0, is not just about physical might—though, of course, that’s always a part of it,” Sinek said. “Now it’s about speed—and speed of two things: Speed at which you can deploy new ideas and speed at which you can fix old stuff.”

Looking to the audience gathered in the theatre, Sinek said, “I believe it’s not the Marine Corps and the Army that are the tip of the spear in this new Cold War 2.0, it’s this. You are the front line. And I don’t think people recognize or realize the importance, in this new world order, of what you do.”

“Simon’s messaging underscores the urgency of the existential threat faced by the United States in a global escalation of arms, particularly from the Chinese and Russian governments, along with the continued threats faced by North Korean and Iranian regimes,” Bianco-Splann said.

It’s a threat that is going to require a new approach as the shipyard moves into the future. “My hope is that existing structures that define our status-quo will be questioned, reshaped, and repurposed to effectively address systemic issues," she said.

Understanding the infinite game and combining that with an understanding of Navy-ness, can lead the Navy and its organizations to maintaining an edge and sustaining greatness, Sinek believes. Sinek said a major takeaway was the idea that, whether you wear a uniform or work with the Navy, “Navy culture comes from going to sea…and this is an intense level of independence.”

He explained how a ship needs a little bit of everyone, who knows a little bit of everything, in order to work. Deployments to sea are so complex, however, that they also require everyone leaning on everyone else for help and resources. This dichotomy of dependence and independence is one of the things Sinek believes makes the Navy a unique military subculture.

“You have to be fiercely dependent, so that you can be fiercely independent,” he said.

These and other insights during his chat covered the nuances of the shipyard mission, a new perspective and new ideas specific to PSNS & IMF and the Sailors we serve and work alongside.

Bianco-Splann said she hopes this visit is a catalyst for “creating a leadership development platform from which people are not only technically proficient, but provided the ‘human skills’ necessary to empower a workforce that sees their future as contributing to a greater cause—a workforce that is inspired to support each other and encouraged to innovate, participate, and contribute to the greater good.”

To view the full fireside chat at the Admiral Theatre, visit