Archive for the 'Innovation' Category

Please join us on Sunday, 16 November 2014 at 5pm (EST, US) for Midrats Episode 254: John A. Nagl: 13 Years into the War:

13 years into the long war, what have we learned, relearned, mastered, forgotten, and retained for future use? What have we learned about ourselves, the nature of our latest enemy, and the role of our nation? What have those who have served learned about their nation, their world, and themselves?

Iraq, Afghanistan, the Islamic State, and the ever changing global national security ecosystem, where are we now, and where are we going?

Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be returning guest John Nagl, LTC US Army (Ret.) D.Phl, using his most recent book Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice as the starting point for our discussion.

Dr. Nagl is the Ninth Headmaster of The Haverford School. Prior to assuming responsibility for the School in July 2013, he was the inaugural Minerva Research Professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was previously the President of the Center for a New American Security. He graduated from the United States Military Academy Class in 1988 and served as an armor officer for 20 years. Dr. Nagl taught at West Point and Georgetown University, and served as a Military Assistant to two Deputy Secretaries of Defense. He earned his Master of the Military Arts and Sciences Degree from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and his doctorate from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

Dr. Nagl is the author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam and was on the team that produced the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also pick the show up later at out iTunes page here, where you can also find the archive of all our previous shows.



This post was originally published on Defense Entrepreneurs Forum’s Whiteboard blog.

On Sunday, 26 October, the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum hosted an innovation competition sponsored by the United States Naval Institute. $5,000 in prizes were awarded after the eight contestants made their pitches. We will feature the one-pagers from the competition over the next few days.

Contestant: Graham Plaster, The Intelligence Community LLC

Problems

Individuals
o Rising unemployment among veterans
o Long wait times for government positions
o Salary cuts
o Shifting regional focus from Middle East to small wars, Africa, Asia, Russia, etc.
o An educational pipeline mismatched to the government job market
o Need for a wider on ramp and off ramp between public and private career options

Business
o Contracts are being steered to small businesses who lack the depth of expertise and the infrastructure to meet government requirements
o Companies are trying to scale up to meet government demands while slimming down on brick and mortar costs (through 1099 independent contractor hires)

Government
o Failing to meet quotas for hiring small businesses
o Eager to harness a fee-for-service model to manage costs and eliminate overhead
o Need cross pollination of public and private work experience for the future of publicprivate partnerships to keep pace with innovation

Solutions

o The tool will be similar to other freelance marketplaces currently available such as oDesk- Elance, Guru, Freelancer, Fiverr, and others. However, this marketplace will be tailored to the US national security sector which has many special legal and professional requirements.

o The marketplace will help both small and large businesses scale to manage indirect labor costs, meet contractual government requirements, and also, broadly, give the government the ability to tap a global market of talent for emergent needs. The government is always looking for a “bench” of talent without having to carry the huge overhead of unused experts.

o This also gives unemployed veterans including wounded warriors a way to serve as consultant from home, as part time support for important work.

Why Us

The Intelligence Community LLC (“TIC”) is a US veteran owned business that moderates a worldwide network of over 47,000 national security professionals growing at over 1200 new members every month. TIC is also a member of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Innovation Gateway and will be collaborating with companies to discover ways to assist DIA with crowdsourced analysis. There has already been strong interest from government agencies on leveraging this emerging community of expertise.



This post was originally published on Defense Entrepreneurs Forum’s Whiteboard blog.

On Sunday, 26 October, the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum hosted an innovation competition sponsored by the United States Naval Institute. $5,000 in prizes were awarded after the eight contestants made their pitches. We will feature the one-pagers from the competition over the next few days.

Contestant: Ben Bines, HBS Student, Former F/A-18 pilot

Thesis: Creating a catalyst for military members that drives them to engage in proper wealth management strategies early in their careers will result in increased career satisfaction and hence higher retention and recruiting rates.

Our military has a problem; members are not comfortable creating and executing personalized investment plans that can help them create long term wealth.

Often our members rely on too little information to make potentially life-altering decisions. If the government can find a way to unlock this wasted potential, the results could be significant for its members. The question we need to ask ourselves is why isn’t this happening without intervention?

We submit that the answer can be traced to three facts:

  1. The financial services industry is incentivized to be confusing, resulting in less sophisticated users not investing, over/underinvesting and/or investing without a holistic plan.
  2. The financial industry’s professional advice fee structures (typically 1% of assets being managed) are too costly for most peoples’ financial needs and are set up to cut out lower net worth families, thereby exacerbating point 1.
  3. The government has only attempted to engage this issue from the retirement account (TSP) perspective, not the holistic strategy perspective.

The idea that a person can create value through very long term investing in a broad market based portfolio that reflect an individual’s personal situation and risk tolerance is well known, however, this fact does not seem to equate to this strategy being well implemented. Why?

We believe the disconnect results from two factors.

  1. People tend to give up because of the perceived execution complexities.
  2. People take a segmented view on their portfolios and accept the simplicity of cookie cutter investment strategies (target date retirement funds) that result in under or over exposed positions. The misunderstood exposure results from these strategies’ attempts to control costs by relying on bucketing dissimilar individuals based solely on retirement time horizon.

The fact is the investment world is simply too complex for the average person to feel confident that the decisions they are making are based on a complete understanding of the financial tools they are employing. The financial costs of misallocating short, medium and long term funds based on miscalculated or misunderstood short, medium, and long term cash flow requirements results in forced selling and emotional investing, which destroy enormous amounts of wealth accumulation potential.

So how can we help create the cost effective catalyst that gets people over the execution hump and provides individualized portfolio strategies without asking our members to become trained financial professionals?

We believe the answer lies in merging education and execution services via virtual meeting technology with trusted, proven financial institutional partnerships. We will create a process which will allow us to walk individuals through the setup and initial execution stages of their investment plan using a fiduciary relationship standard that gets them going down the correct wealth management path. We’ll couple that with robust financial planning software that allows them to easily track goals, sets reminder, and provides easily understood instructions when it’s time to make adjustments. By getting our people confidently through the uncomfortable stages where many give up, we’ll add enormous potential value to our members’ and the military.



This post was originally published on Defense Entrepreneurs Forum’s Whiteboard blog.

On Sunday, 26 October, the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum hosted an innovation competition sponsored by the United States Naval Institute. $5,000 in prizes were awarded after the eight contestants made their pitches. We will feature the one-pagers from the competition over the next 8 days.

Contestant: James la Porta, Assistant Editor, Blue Force Tracker

The problem: “America doesn’t know its military and the United States military doesn’t know America”
-Adm. Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

The American people have a fundamental misunderstanding of the military, and an unrealistic perception of the threats facing our nation because the voices of veterans, and others with real-world “boots on the ground” experience are underrepresented in the media. The mission of Blue Force Tracker is to fix that.

The solution: In the military there is a tool called “blue force tracking,” which depicts with icons on a satellite image of the battlespace where every U.S. military unit is positioned. We want to give the American people something similar. Our intent is to help close the growing civilian-military divide by giving our audience an unbiased, unfiltered and realistic account of what the military does and the world in which it operates.

The mission of Blue Force Tracker is to report on and analyze issues related to U.S. national security, foreign affairs and veterans issues from a team of journalists with backgrounds in the military, intelligence services or diplomatic corps, as well as those who have unique first-hand knowledge of foreign regions where U.S. national interests are at stake. We aim to reach our audience with an innovative smartphone app and website, which matches the news consumption patterns of our target demographic—veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and active duty military personnel.

Most of this target demographic is part of the millennial generation, who prefer accessing their news through mobile devices and web-based platforms. Media consumption is moving increasingly toward mobile platforms, and we want to capitalize on this trend. But we also aim to counter the parallel trend of decayed journalism standards.

Just because readers access their news on mobile devices doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a need, and an audience, for quality journalism. So, while we have put a lot of work into designing an innovative, userfriendly portal through which our audience can access our product, we also realize that quality content is the No. 1 way to grow an invested and loyal audience. To do that we leverage the unique, real-world experiences of our writers to educate Americans about the threats facing our country and provide a realistic account of the challenges facing the military—both abroad and in the transition back to civilian life.

Additionally, as our armed forces transition out of more than a decade of sustained combat operations, we need to hear from veterans and their families about their needs. The transition to civilian life is often a difficult one, and we need to hear that story from the people who are living it. Finally, Blue Force Tracker is a push back against the decline in the standards of worldwide journalism. We believe in well-written, profound, original content that educates the reader and has a societal benefit. We believe that quality journalism is just as important to the survival of a democracy as the armies guarding its borders.

But all these lofty goals cannot be accomplished unless we place our stories, and the unique opinions and analysis of our writers into the palms of the people who matter. So our overall challenge is developing content that breaks the mold while constantly evolving and experimenting with ways to deliver that content in a way that best matches the lifestyles and habits of our audience.



This post was originally published on Defense Entrepreneurs Forum’s Whiteboard blog.

On Sunday, 26 October, the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum hosted an innovation competition sponsored by the United States Naval Institute. $5,000 in prizes were awarded after the eight contestants made their pitches. We will feature the one-pagers from the competition over the next 8 days.

Contestant: Josh Steinman, US Naval Officer

Software is increasingly becoming the defining mechanism by which the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps achieve tactical, operational, and strategic decision dominance. Previously the Department of Defense had achieved this ability through industry.

As software takes on increasingly prominent roles in the Department of Defense, we will need to establish closer relations with the industry that builds it, much like the Department of Defense built long-standing ties to the industrial base during the pre-War, inter-War, and post-War periods of the early 20th century. These close links will ensure that the DOD retains the ability to rapidly integrate cutting edge digital technologies into our operations, as well as influence their development at all stages.

One high-impact, low cost way to advance this goal is to establish a small joint detachment of hand-picked DOD personnel to operate primarily in Silicon Valley that would act as an intellectual “long-range reconnaissance squad”.

This entity would consist of approximately 10 personnel nominated by a small group of senior officers and civilians (plus 1 support and 1 General or Flag Officer), stationed in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Their mission would be to help integrate the defense and software industries by achieving the following tasks:

a. Ensure continuity of action before, during, and after senior officer and civilian visits with entities in the non-Defense technology sector. Achieve this by acting as travel agent for senior officials before they depart (coordinating visits with local technology companies), local guide upon arrival, note-taker and action officer while engaged on the ground, and execution agent upon the senior’s departure.

b. Identify early-stage ventures with potential DOD applicability and connect them with appropriate resources to utilize their technology for DOD purposes. Interface with DOD and service-centric early-stage and midstage venture capital firms, and liaison with entities such as DARPA, IARPA, US Army REF, CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, and OSD RTTO.

c. Educate students, entrepreneurs, academics, and venture capitalists on DOD challenges and process with an eye towards changing attitudes towards the DOD. This would include conducting “presence missions” at regular events like SXSW, TECHCRUNCH DISRUPT, and even Burning Man.

My proposed first step is to send an exploratory detachment of 3-5 officers out to Silicon Valley for a one-month site survey mission that would result in a full proposal white-paper, to be submitted to the Joint Chiefs of Staff within 90 days of their return. Costs for such a survey are on the order of $6,000 per person, for one month.



brain1We like to benchmark successful civilian enterprises, and we like to emphasize that the best training is a technical training. Are those things in conflict?

The STEM bias towards officer education is long documented, defended, and argued – but on balance the pro-STEM argument holds the high ground in our Navy. Good people can argue both sides, but it is clear that the Mahanian ideal of the intellectual training of an officer has been out of favor for a very long time.

Is this technical bias simply a habit born or archaic assumptions towards intellectual development as out of touch with the needs of the 21st Century as Mad Men is toward gender roles in the workplace? Are the greatest challenges in our wardrooms, staffs, and intellectual debates 85% technical in nature? Are the challenges our nation and our military are facing that threaten our national security best addressed by people who made it through thermodynamics and mumble DiffyQ in their sleep?

Why would some of the most successful technical civilian organizations value a liberal arts education? Those with an extreme pro-STEM bias (CNO, I’m blogg’n to you) should take some times to digest what Elizabeth Segran over at FastCompany recently wrote on the topic,

So how exactly do the humanities translate into positive results for tech companies? Steve Yi, CEO of web advertising platform MediaAlpha, says that the liberal arts train students to thrive in subjectivity and ambiguity, a necessary skill in the tech world where few things are black and white. “In the dynamic environment of the technology sector, there is not typically one right answer when you make decisions,” he says. “There are just different shades of how correct you might be,” he says.

Yi says his interdisciplinary degree in East Asian Studies at Harvard taught him to see every issue from multiple perspectives: in college, he studied Asian literature in one class, then Asian politics or economics in the next. “It’s awfully similar to viewing our organization and our marketplace from different points of view, quickly shifting gears from sales to technology to marketing,” he says. “I need to synthesize these perspectives to decide where we need to go as a company.”

Danielle Sheer, a vice president at Carbonite, a cloud backup service, feels similarly. She studied existential philosophy at George Washington University, which sets her apart from her technically trained colleagues. She tells me that her academic background gives her an edge at a company where employees are trained to assume there is always a correct solution. “I don’t believe there is one answer for anything,” she tells me. “That makes me a very unusual member of the team. I always consider a plethora of different options and outcomes in every situation.”

Look again at what the critical thinking skills a well rounded education gave Yi and Sheer, and ask yourself – are these skills we value and need?

If so, why do we actively discourage them?



Yes, we are time shifting for this coming episode of Midrats to 6:30pm on Sunday, 26 October for a 90 minute adventure in national security and spin-off topics as we offer up Episode 251: DEF2014 wrapup and the budding question of veteran entitlement:

A special time and format this week with two different topics and guests.

Moving for just this week to a 6:30pm Eastern start time, our guest for the first 30-minutes will be Lieutenant Ben Kohlmann, USN – Founder of Disruptive Thinkers, F/A-18 pilot, member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, and Co-Founder Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. He will be on to give us an overview of DEF2014 that ends this weekend.

For the following hour our, guest will be Major Carl “Skin” Forsling, USMC. He will be on to discuss some of the broader issues he raises in his article earlier this month, Unpacking The Veteran Entitlement Spectrum, and perhaps some more as well.

Skin is a Marine MV-22B pilot and former CH-46E pilot. He has deployed with and been an instructor in both platforms. He has also served as a military advisor to an Afghan Border Police battalion. He is currently Executive Officer at Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron 204, training Osprey pilots and aircrew for the Marine Corps and Air Force. He earned his batchelor’s degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and his master’s from Boston University. His writing has appeared in the Marine Corps Gazette, USNI Proceedings, Small Wars Journal, and Approach, among others (available at carlforsling.tumblr.com). Follow him on Twitter @carlforsling.

Join us live at 6:30pm or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also pick the show up later from iTunes here.



Please join us Sunday, 19 October 2014 at 5pm (EDT) as we once again explore the U.S. Navy and national security on live “radio” on Midrats Hits 250:

Believe it or not, this week is our 250th Episode of Midrats.

In celebration, we’re clearing the intellectual table, going to open the mic and see where it takes us.

From Kobane, to Coastal Defense, to Ebola and everything in between and sideways that’s been in the national security news as of late, plus whatever else breaks above the ambient noise – we’ll be covering it.

As with all Midrats Free For Alls, we are also opening the phone lines for our regular listeners who want to throw a topic our way.

Come join us Sunday as we try to figure out how we got to 250.

Join us live (and join in) or pick the show up later to by clicking here. Don’t forget that Midrats is back on iTunes, too, for later listening – which you can reach here.



Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 8.33.32 PMOn March 7, 2014, a self-directed study was emailed to Vice Admiral Bill Moran, the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Personnel. Titled “Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon: A Navy Officer Retention Study”, the paper provided Vice Admiral Moran with a canary in the coal mine, describing a looming retention downturn using historical data and, perhaps most importantly, timely and relevant information based on primary source interviews with hundreds of U.S. Navy Sailors.

Within days, the paper leaked from the Navy’s Personnel Command and made its way throughout the Navy. The message resonated with Sailors at the deck plates — officer and enlisted alike — and caught the attention of senior leaders throughout the U.S. Government. To their immense credit, Vice Admiral Moran and other senior Navy leaders have responded to decreasing retention indicators with personnel changes designed to improve morale and a Sailor’s ‘quality of service’. These changes provide commanding officers with greater flexibility to prescribe uniform wear, increase sea pay for Sailors on extended deployments, and reduce general military training requirements on commands, just to name a few.

Larger initiatives are in the works although they have not been publicly announced. Some initiatives, like expansion of the Career Intermission Pilot Program, require Congressional approval. There is also a desire to better understand the current retention downturn before acting. This is understandable. The Navy is a large, diverse, and dispersed organization and more information is required to ensure the next round of changes provide the greatest return on investment. However, the time to act is now.

So, how do you determine the right course of action to provide the greatest return on investment?

Senior decision makers are asking important questions. First, is there really a retention problem? Is it possible we are retaining the right quality of Sailor, just in fewer numbers? Are previously cited retention factors — an improving economy, significant operational tempo, perceived reductions in quality of life, among others — truly impacting our Sailor’s “stay/go” decisions? If so, in what ways?

The desire to further expound on the tenets of the paper — in a thoughtful and deliberate way intended to benefit senior leaders — led to the creation of an independent 2014 Navy Retention Study Team in March 2014. The team is comprised of a volunteer group of high-performing active duty Sailors and select civilians who have dedicated their off-duty time to create a first of its kind retention survey — created by Sailors for Sailors. All of our members are upwardly mobile, highly-placed individuals who want to measurably contribute to the continued success of the U.S. Navy. The success of this initiative is due largely to their sense of ownership for the Navy and their correspondingly impressive efforts.

This report details the results of this year’s survey, including a broad analysis of factors which are assessed to affect retention and additional recommendations to avoid the shoal waters of a multi-year retention shortfall for several communities. Further, it is important to provide relatively unfettered access to the survey data (as appendices in this report) with more raw data to be made available throughout Fall 2014.

While our analysis of the data is presented for your use, I suggest you don’t take our word for it — read and assess the data for yourself.  Then read widely, think deeply, write passionately, and act decisively to help retain our most talented Sailors in uniform.

We must continue to cultivate a strong sense of ownership within the U.S. Navy. Reassuringly, many Sailors have stepped forward with innovative ideas to improve processes and policies, whether as a Yeoman, a Lieutenant in the F/A-18 community, or as a pre-major command surface warfare officer. In the end, no matter your rank or position, it’s about asking ourselves what type of Navy we want to dedicate some portion of our lives to … and what type of Navy we want to leave for those that join 5, 10, 15 years into the future and beyond. It’s easy to lay problems at the feet of our senior leaders, however it’s incumbent upon all of us to take part in solving this issue.

At the end of the day, the Navy cannot directly hire uniformed personnel into positions of responsibility, nor can it surge leadership, trust, and confidence.  Instead, we must explore changes to legal statutes and internal policies in order to retain our very best, brightest, and most talented — the continued success of the U.S. Navy depends on nothing less.

The 2014 Navy Retention Study report may be downloaded at: www.dodretention.org/results  beginning Sept 1, 2014.



In the August issue of Proceedings, Commander Darcie Cunningham, USCG complains about the personality traits brought to the naval service by millennials and gives advice on how to better assimilate them into the ranks [For other responses to the article see here and here]. I find the article incredibly condescending and patronizing with a hint of fear of impending irrelevance in a world that the Commander does not want to see change. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of remaining stagnant. The world is continuously changing. Our great nation is continuously changing. Our long tradition of citizen soldiers demands that we change with it.

I currently serve on a multi-generational crew with a hearty presence from generation X (those born between the early 1960s to 1980). They have stood a solid watch and I firmly respect how their service strengthened American seapower, but they are less dynamic than the current generation. They cling to inefficient means of communication and are more concerned with “work ethic” than the quality of product produced. This generation has me questioning how they can adapt in today’s rapidly changing world.

I don't understand these millennials with their self propelled ships. They just don't appreciate tradition.

I don’t understand these millennials with their self propelled ships. They just don’t appreciate tradition.

Here are some of their behaviors I have noticed:

• While the younger generation is more concerned with quality product, the older generation views a correlation with performance and hours worked. Given the same quality of results, they see laziness and a lack of dedication instead of efficiency.

• Along the same lines as correlating product with hours worked, they also would much rather see a more experienced individual be promoted over one vastly more skilled and qualified. They view accelerated advancement as an affront to their culture of advancement through keeping their head down and staying out of trouble. To them it is much better to be cautious and safe than tenacious and bold.

• They do not understand the need for the younger generation to know the basis behind requirements. The younger generations sees power through knowledge and asks why in hopes of finding a way to improve the status quo. The older generation is more apt to simply accept the way things have always been and can devolve to a frustrated “because I said so,” when asked for an explanation from subordinates.

Whether the older generation likes it or not, millennials are currently leaders within our organization. We are serving with discipline and dedication equal to those who have come before us, but we are doing it our own way. We will continue to preserve the liberties this country enjoys. So how does the structured military culture adapt to our new generation?

First, we must educate them on the benefits of promoting based on merit and not time in grade. The current antiquated system lets more competent individuals await their turn while they watch the less skilled continued to advance once it is their time to promote. If this merit-based promotion idea does not sit well with some members of the older generation, perhaps it is a subtle concern that they needed a time-based system to make it as far as they did. Job satisfaction should be the motivator for retention, not scare tactics of a poor economy and poor unemployment rate.

They need to be “course-corrected” that a desire to understand the basis for requirements and wanting to improve how we do things are NOT insubordination or disrespect. If this does not happen, our best will continue to be driven out and the military will remain a carbon copy of what it looks like now. Once we stop adapting we will most surely become irrelevant. The only way we can improve is if we ask if there is a better way and have an open and honest discussion about it. Progress has always been seen as a threat to the present. It takes courage to move forward as an organization.

I am very appreciative the older generation of senior leaders made sure the United States continues to rule the seas. They did an amazing job and they all deserve our thanks and respect. Their way of doing business worked, but previous performance does not guarantee future success. There are sure to be aspects of the current way of doing business and we should figure out what those are, but blindly maintaining the status quo is a sure way to fail.



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