Archive for the 'Innovation' Category

FRAMEWORKS_17OK, with the core topic of this post, “Russians” may be a bit of clickbait, but they actually are a large underlying flavor to this stew history is cooking up.

This is the stew of the realists and their allies the antitransformationalists – something we should have a hearty appetite for after a few decades of the toasted rice-cakes fed to us by the Cult of Transformation.

The last year has seen a welcome shift in the center of gravity for navalists in the national security arena in a direction that will help our navy rebalance towards the end of the Terrible 20s that will be defined by budget stress and an excess number of sub-optimal platforms warping our perception of per-unit power projection. It took a few decades for us to get here, so let’s look at how we got here.

Dizzy in the head following our victory in the Cold War, a large cadre of people came in to positions of influence that really thought that not only was the world new, that war itself was new. They thought they had found a new world via an ahistorical, blinkered perspective of technological progression limited to their professional lifetime. Not unlike the nuclear weapons fetishdom of Eisenhower’s “New Look” – they thought they had a gift of being at the right time in a technological leap where their brilliance will be able to facilitate a transformation that decades and centuries of prior leaders could not make happen.

Aggressively following the post-Goldwater-Nichols diktat of Jointness, they picked up the McNamara Era mindset that, like GM made Pontiac, Chevrolet, and Oldsmobile versions of the same car by changing the grill and a few other items – all the services should be able to make do with the same kit.

Using carefully crafted green eyeshade practices that would make Quartermaster Bloomfield proud, they were convinced that the warfighter needed to make compromises to make the metrics fit in DC, regardless of the actual combat utility of the item in question. A penny-silly and pound-foolish track record only brought in more “oversight” and regulations – further compounding a system with each passing year decoupled from operational experience.

Few breaks were in place to counter an almost pentecostal fervor toward what was becoming a personality based procurement process. Any opposing ideas, cautioning, or points-of-order were seen as naïve at best, disloyal at worst. As dissent was silenced and blind endorsement rewarded, humility – and a refined evolution of systems gave way to an ego driven revolutionary movement.

Initial warning signs were seen as early as the Bush-41 administration, but the transformationalist party culminated at the opening of this decade when the grim truth of what we bought with this new movement began to displace water and make shadows on the ramp (if they made it that far).

What did we get? I’ll leave the other services alone, but what we got was A-12, ACS, titanium fire mains, warships without the ability to engage other warships, an entire class of sub-optimal hulls we still do not know what to do with, a Joint Strike Fighter that no one is happy with, technology demonstrators made of balsa wood, EFV, and flight decks full of light fighters circling CVN in some strange mobi-strip VFA-centipede refueling each other.

Yes, that does need to be reviewed almost monthly if for no other reason than as a warning to future generations.

So, what have Neptune’s copybook headings brought us that should give us cheer? Let’s go to the title of the post.

Range: Jerry Hendrix’s paper from CNAS last month, Retreat from Range: The Rise and Fall of Carrier Aviation continues to get traction. The first phase of this argument started when Jerry and I were barely LTs with the coming death of the A-6 and towards the end of that decade, the light attack mafia’s destruction of the VF bloodline. That argument was lost. The results are clear.

The end of the Cold War – followed by the decision to cancel the replacement aircraft for the A-6 Intruder, the A-12 Avenger II – began a precipitous retreat from range and the deep strike mission that had long characterized the carrier air wing. The rapid successive retirements of the A-6 Intruder, F-14 Tomcat, and S-3 Viking that followed, and the decision to replace these aircraft with variants of the F/A-18 Hornet – originally designed as a replacement for the short-ranged fighters and light attack aircraft – shrank the average range of the carrier air wing from over 800 nm in 1996 to less than 500 nm by 2006. This occurred just when competitor nations, led by China, began to field A2/AD systems with ranges of 1,000 nm or more.

Just in time for the design of the replacement for the F/A-18 that will patch over not just the range issue, but the shortcomings of the F-35C and the significant capability gaps that will exist in whatever carrier based drone fleet we develop. The heavy fighter should be back.

Reach: Now that potential challengers on the high seas are leaving brown and green water, another screaming voice can no longer be ignored. We really do not have a way to reach out and touch anyone. Those few ships that can carry a ASCM are stuck with an old but useful Harpoon, a weapon modern AAW defenses have made much less effective. Other nations have one to two generations better ASCM than we do. We are making progress towards something better, but for now – there isn’t much to distribute in our distributed lethality. The transformationalists were so busy looking in to the far future, they forgot that the now and near future may have to go to war at sea.

The joint DARPA/ US Navy LRASM program was initiated in 2009 to deliver a new generation of anti-ship weapons, offering longer ranges and better odds against improving air defense systems

Faster please.

Risk: Rest assured, the transformationalist have been chastened but not humbled in the last few years. Ignoring their track record, may of them have moved on to one of the last areas where PPT seems to trump physics, technology, and ROE – unmanned systems. Even there, smart voices are saying smart things that should help us be able to get something useful for the fleet. Not something ethereal that never makes it like the A-12, but perhaps something usable like the VIRGINIA Class SSN.

One of the better points in this regard was made recently by Bryan McGrath;

The Unmanned Carrier-Launched Aerial Strike and Surveillance program proposes one jet to do both jobs, but ongoing argument between the Navy and Congress has delayed its request for proposals: Some lawmakers want Naval Air Systems Command to focus on strike capabilities, but the Navy wants to maintain an emphasis on a long-range surveillance platform.

“The problem is, if you try to stuff both missions into one airframe, you end up sacrificing one,” former destroyer skipper retired Cmdr. Bryan McGrath told Navy Times. “We need both strike and surveillance, and we probably need them in two separate aircraft.”

More of that thinking will get shadows on the ramp sooner.

Russians: Ah, yes. Russia. As Dr. Dmirty Gorenberg pointed out this summer on Midrats, from a naval perspective, the Russians will have a lot of work to do in modernizing their fleet. Though we have their most high profile ship off Syria, the Slava Class Cruiser MOSKVA, she is just what is left of the former Red Banner Fleet of the Soviets. Russia is working now on her smaller ships and submarines, and then we’ll see what she can do later in modernizing larger ships. As she showed in the Caspian, her ships have quite a bit of punch relative to their size and have a good bit of kit.

With her navy again at sea – and this time putting ordnance down range – and her submarines once more haunting the shores of other nations, this is a great opportunity to bring out the realists cudgel against the ever-present Beltway transformationalists who are happy to spends billions of dollars for programs that never deploy, while Sailors and Marines are ordered to go in to harm’s way without the tools they need.

There is a lot to be positive about in the change of the conversation looking forward to the next year. This should help steer the development of unmanned systems, the replacement for the F/A-18, DDG-51, and the LCS albatross in a direction that will give us products we can be proud of. Programs that reach for a solid hand-hold before progressing forward, as opposed to making a leap of faith that results in to a fall in to the abyss.

Please join us at 5 pm EST on 15 November 2015 for Midrats Episode 306: Author Claude Berube on his next book: Syren’s Song

This Sunday for the full hour our guest will be author Claude Berube to discuss his second Connor Stark novel, Syren’s Song. From the Amazon page,

Syren’s Song is the second novel featuring Connor Stark, and it promises to be just as engaging as The Aden Effect. This geopolitical thriller begins when the Sri Lankan navy is unexpectedly attacked by a resurgent and separatist Tamil Tiger organization. The government issues a letter of marque to former U.S. Navy officer Connor Stark, now the head of the private security company Highland Maritime Defense. Stark and his eclectic compatriots accept the challenge only to learn that the Sea Tigers who crippled the Sri Lankan navy are no ordinary terrorists.”

We will also discuss the craft of writing, how emerging real world events can influence the writing of fiction, and as we usually do with Claude, perhaps some other interestiing topics that crop up in the course of our conversation.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or you can also catch the show later on our iTunes page here (though the episode number might be different because …?)

The Navy’s knowledge of its own human terrain is like using a map of the world from the 14th Century. The Navy can do better.


Current Map of Navy Talent (or a Genoese map from the 14th Century)

Before we get too far into the weeds on one possible way to improve our talent management in the Navy, we are doing a survey to better understand the detailing process. Its for all officers and can be reached here.

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Wouldn’t you want $2.7 trillion more without a lot of effort?

A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute was headlined with the following:

Labor markets around the world haven’t kept pace with rapid shifts in the global economy, and their inefficiencies have taken a heavy toll.

This study on connecting talent with opportunity in the digital age found that online platforms could boost global GDP by 2.7 trillion dollars. The Navy (and DoD) can benefit from similar thinking.

I’m tired of this touchy-feely stuff – the military is for warfighting

Over the last fifty years, our manpower strategy was built on the assumption that the correct operation of superior platforms would ensure victory in a 20th century, system-centric conflict. However, the proliferation of disruptive technologies and the growing budgets of assertive near-peer competitors challenge this industrial-era model in an age of fiscal austerity. Meanwhile, demographic shifts complicate the latest cyclic officer retention challenge, especially among highly trained individuals such as cyber operators, special warfare personnel and aviators. And ultimately, millennial sailors display generational personality traits with diverging views on work from prior generations, including a tendency to switch careers. The consequences of the “war for talent” could have far reaching implications in the military’s ability to win the wars of the future. Talent management IS about warfighting.

Yeah, but we’ve been down this road before

Talent management is not a new topic, but during the last twelve months the stars and suits have aligned to begin to provide much needed reform on the military’s personnel management systems. Our leaders all appear to feel the budgetary pressure to do more with less in an increasingly complex security environment. The Secretary of Defense ordered a sweeping review of civilian and military systems this summer. Secretary Mabus’ Task Force Innovation (TFI) is undertaking broad reforms focused on developing a data-intensive approach to personnel assignments and career management. Last year, the CNO tasked his Strategic Studies Group to focus on “Talent Management in the 21st Century” rather than developing operational concepts. The Chief of Naval Personnel (CNP), VADM Moran, sounded the initial horn and is championing a basket of reforms to bring the Navy’s personnel system into the 21st century.

So what should we do?

We currently understand the richness and capabilities of our people about as well as the early explorers understood the world beyond the horizon. To meet emerging security challenges in a fiscally austere environment, the Navy must map its human capital to better understand and best utilize the unique talents of its individual Sailors.

A talent management system must know enough about its users to put the right person in the right job at the right time. However, the Navy’s own systems don’t provided the necessary data needed to truly understand and maximize the capacity of its personnel. Nor can IT alone deliver the force needed to maintain our competitive advantage in the mid-21st century. Innovative HR policies that give commands and officers increased influence in the assignment process are needed, along with the necessary digital systems to enable them.

Coming soon to a detailer near you?

We, the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), think a data-enabled, internal labor market approach to officer detailing might enhance unit effectiveness, improve human capital allocation, and engender greater trust within the service. We are working together with Navy Personnel Command on this project to examine the impact a market-based approach will have on detailing officers. The prototype will work with members of the Information Dominance Corps (IDC). The IDC provides a heterogeneous community with a robust requirement to field a wide bench of experts. The ability to match individual talents with billet requirements provides a large potential impact in this community, so it’s a great place to start.

Some considerations for a data-enabled, market-based approach

The efficacy of this market-based approach rests upon advances in cultivating, managing, and accessing large amounts of information. Current software technology allows us to quickly assimilate all the relevant personnel data about our Sailors into an easily configurable user interface. The resulting talent profiles would gather data from a variety of sources. These might include past education, language skills, demographics, and evaluations. Officers would then input additional information onto a LinkedInTM style profile to capture granular data that the Navy currently doesn’t have about its people.

Additionally, unit commanders could put forth detailed billet requirements onto a digital information exchange. As officers approach their rotation date and commanders approach the time to fill a billet, they would have the opportunity to communicate during a designated window of time. When the window closes, Sailors and commanders would then have to submit their preferences, and a detailer acting as a HR agent will facilitate the appropriate placement of each billet.

We don’t claim to have all the answers; this is an iterative learning process. We are spending time with detailers, COs, and members of the IDC to better understand their needs and requirements. We are also conducting this survey for officers. We hope our prototype system will add granularity to officer talents and billet requirements, increase transparency in the detailing process and offer the potential for a more accurate talent-to-billet pairing than industrial-era fill processes, and increase officer agency in the detailing process.

Ultimately, we are testing the hypothesis that injecting more agency, flexibility and transparency into the detailing process will improve it. We’ll measure results through interviews, fit/fill metrics, and job satisfaction surveys. Regardless of outcome, the lessons we learn will help the Navy continue to shape the force it needs to meet future threats.


Please join us at 5pm (Eastern) on 11 Oct 15 for Midrats Episode 301: Confessions of a Major Program Manager, w/ CAPT Mark Vandroff, USN:

One man’s chore is another man’s hobby. Another man’s dread, is the other’s fantasy. Such, in a fashion, is Program Management in the Navy.

To be a good one, step one is to be self-aware. From his latest article in USNI’s Proceedings, Confessions of a Major Program Manager, Captain Mark Vandroff, USN just lays it out; “Face it: Everyone hates MPMs. For the budget-conscious officials in the Pentagon, our products are never cheap enough. For technologists both inside and outside the Department of Defense who want military progress to be state of the art, our products are never fielded fast enough. For the fleet users and their advocates, products could always be more capable, usable, or maintainable. Industry gets upset when we treat the taxpayers’ money like it is worth saving rather than help Wall Street with its next earnings report. Our uniformed brothers and sisters, support scientists, contractors, and comptrollers all loathe us—and if

you aren’t in one of those groups, you probably quit reading already.”

Coming back to Midrats, we will have the author on for the full hour to discuss the dark art of the program manager, what it takes to be one, and why at the end of the day someone would – really – come to love it all.

Join us live if you can (or pick the show up later) by clicking here. Or you can find the show later on out iTunes page here.

bulb_inspiredLet the defense innovators among us take a moment for introspection and self-awareness. We are charged with institutionalizing and structuring ideas like “innovation” and “disruption” which are themselves often ad hoc and unpredictable; we gather in working groups, task forces, and cells to legitimize new ideas. So as we foster creativity and rapid implementation, let us ask: How long can the innovators really keep innovating before they fall into a rut?

Who among us really know when to walk away?

What are the ways that we find and develop the next generation of disruptive thinkers, and then step out of their way?

How can we prevent the game-changers from being assimilated into more traditional hierarchies and ways of thinking?

When the disruptive become the establishment, can they continue to self-disrupt and reinvent, in the face of practices that made them successful?

Do these tendencies towards complacency extrapolate to entire organizations, agencies, and corporate cultures?

Do innovative organizations have a shelf life?

If so, does that mean they should also have an expiration date?

Can we work within a structure and create something meaningful, with our full commitment and intention, while knowing from the very beginning that it cannot and should not last forever, at least if we really want to continue to innovate?

cartoonAs a parent, I worry about the world my kids are growing up in. While this is common to every generation, something about the nonstop, 24-hours-a-day, multi-dimensional, fast-paced, saved-forever-on-the-internet environment today is unnerving. I’m not talking about Elvis shaking his hips, Madonna singing about virgins (or not), or bra burning. I am talking about the nonstop barrage of the online world, the increased dependence on electronics and social media, identity theft, privacy, and the fact that any mistakes my kids make along the way will be saved…forever.

Well, to combat these fears (no pun intended), over the winter, my husband and I started talking about all of the things we want our kids to learn that can’t be taught at school. How to navigate off of a map and terrain, for example. How public transportation works and how to use it wisely. How to be found if you’re lost or concealed if you don’t want to be found. How to survive the Zombie apocalypse. How to function without—heaven forbid—American Girl dolls or a water source. How to push yourself physically and how to push through your fears. How to lead and work well with others. How to have the confidence to stare down a problem and tackle it. While some of these items can be taught in the ins and outs of a daily suburban life, others are not easily woven into the schedule of school, soccer, work, dog walking, piano lessons, and Scouts. And given the challenges facing our country today, these lessons are certainly needed. So how to teach them?

We realized that we learned much of this at USNA, as junior Marines, and throughout our USMC careers. So after some thought, we decided to give our oldest child a Marine Corps Leadership 101 week. TBS-for-kids, perhaps, minus the warfighting aspect and heavy on the critical thinking
and leadership.

To make it memorable, we surveyed neighbors and friends and found a pool of kids and their parents happy to participate. Camp Haynie was born. Armed with eight girls and boys, some local contacts, maps, a rough plan, flexibility, and a strong sense of humor, we tried to teach the kids as much as we could in one week.

Day One was Urban Survival Day: among many events, we did Basic First Aid, map reading (something lost on kids who depend entirely on digital maps and GPS), held a ridiculously intense team competition, and oversaw a city-wide hunt using public transportation and their brains alone. No electronics. With an elaborate point system, brain power, and some fitness thrown in, Day One was a hit.

Days Two and Four were Woodland Survival I and II. We taught Orienteering, fed them MREs (huge hit), learned about water, fire, and shelter needs, threw in some leadership challenges, and they learned to camouflage. We finished with a scenario requiring them to apply First Aid principles, cobble together a recovery plan, and trek some distance through the woods as a group. Again, no electronics. The kids ate the scenario up—they loved it.

Day Three was a Ropes/Challenge Course. Think of a version of the Fire Team Reaction Course for 10-year-olds, complete with detailed scenarios, physical challenges, and the need for personalities to come out and work together. This was phenomenal, and I want to go back. This was also the day that the group fully gelled together, which Course administrators pointed out.

Day Five was a bonus day (keeping it secret for future camps).

So what did we learn? We learned that getting kids outside and letting them get dirty was—no surprise—a huge hit. We learned that they love MREs, no shock there either. But after watching families pour dollars and dollars into crazy camps that teach Minecraft, gymnastics, horseback riding, underwater basket-weaving, and so many odd subjects that I’ve lost count, we were unprepared for the kids’ reactions to our camp: they were crazy about it. They loved it. Each one of them told us that it was the best part of his or her summer, many sent thank-you notes after the fact, and we still get hugs and comments today from them all. The feedback was and still is overwhelming.

It took us time to figure out exactly what the kids liked most, besides the getting-dirty, MRE-eating nature of it all, but it turned out that the biggest hits were the challenges that we gave the group, instructing them to “just work together and figure it out.” The scenarios, the brainpower requirements, the physical obstacles, these were all favorites: they relished the chance to face a complex, multi-dimensional problem, wrap their brains around it, and work together to find an answer. While Boy Scouts (and to a lesser extent, Girl Scouts) do this in varied ways, this was 1) in a co-ed environment, and 2) incorporated aspects of survival not readily employed by the Scouts, in a very hands-on way. They had free rein to use their brains and make mistakes in challenging and foreign environments, something less available to many kids today. It was simple, basic, and involved high amounts of trust and confidence-building. They learned to trust themselves, trust each other, and—above all—to think critically in unfamiliar situations.

Best of all: we started the week with four boys and four girls, all at an age where boys and girls are very aware of social differences and the pressures from friends and society to act in certain ways. These eight were no different; they quickly tried to separate themselves into two separate groups. But by Tuesday afternoon, we had one large group of eight kids who worked together, laughed together, and were learning new things about each other. They each saw that similarities, intelligence, and strength are found in surprising places, a lesson that will pay off as they mature. Whether conscious of this lesson or not, it is a hopeful development.
Given the complexity of the challenges our country and our military will face in the future and the questions that exist about the next generation’s ability to handle it all, we need kids who learn to think critically and who are able to work together on a deeper level. This was just one week, but it was a step nonetheless, and the response gave us both hope for the future. Now, we have to decide where to take it next.

The laws and norms surrounding the movement of economic goods across geopolitical boundaries are well-defined. By contrast, the ability to create and manipulate information has become ubiquitous and robust legal frameworks governing how state actors, individuals, and institutions interact with the information ecosystem do not yet exist. This creates risk and opportunity for state and non-state actors looking to devise new information manipulation tactics and make claims on this evolving space. Information control has always been a key component of strategy; however the current speed of evolution provides an advantage to potential disruptors, who do not have sunk costs in existing expensive processes and techniques. Whereas during the medieval period, a limited number of literate clergy had the ability to control the information space (which was explicitly linked to the capacity to wage war), today both state and non-state actors, no matter how marginal, have the ability to contribute to the information battlespace. Even a single, well-placed YouTube video, such as the beheading videos released by ISIL can influence military response.

Information is a non-rivalrous commodity, which should fundamentally change military investment profiles. In FY10, the United States spent $160B for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared to CIA estimates of Al Qaeda’s 2010 operating budget of $30M. Despite 5,000 times more investment by the US, Al Qaeda continued to expand its influence throughout the region with involvement in Yemen, Russia, Syria, and by facilitating the eventual destabilization of Iraq. In the information age, spending and traditional military definitions of success no longer correlate with stable end states. It is more difficult to characterize 21st century conflicts in terms of definitive winners and losers than traditional industrial conflicts. It follows that post-industrial, digital-age conflicts will be characterized by informational pluralism, and that single source-point information control is no longer viable for military organizations.

The Department of the Navy’s (DON’s) information construct is currently divided along two objectives. One objective is to disseminate propaganda about the DON’s agenda and operations to a small circle of military-industrial and congressional elites who can afford 4-digit subscriptions to defense publications. The approach is not only fundamentally undemocratic, but also flawed in its assumption that “authoritative information” flowing out of the Navy information channels actually holds value in the information economy. The Navy information organization relies on humans to do the searching, processing, and dissemination of information, while most private-sector organizations, rely on advanced algorithms to fulfill these functions. Relying on humans results in slower processing speeds, increased error rates, and the bias that occurs from having associative, rather than random access, memory. Humans are subject to confirmation bias and will continually reinforce existing hypotheses with new information, rather than allowing the data itself to guide conclusions. In a world where decisions are made based on multiple sources, curated by digital systems, human-centric, centralized information systems are decreasingly relevant.

The second objective is to manipulate the information space as it is perceived by our adversaries, via network operations and psychological operations, for example. However, the efficacy of this construct is challenged by adversaries, many of whom recognize that they can achieve strategic objectives at minimal cost by creating a multiplicity of equally viable perceptions within the information space. While the US Navy continues to rely on an outdated approach to information, countries such as Russia and China understand how to apply pressure to their adversaries by insidiously manipulating information through a broad range of channels. This is evident in Russia’s substantial investments not only in internal propaganda machines such as RussiaTV, but more disturbingly Washington D.C. think tanks and London banking. Similarly, China’s ability to map connections and place pressure on individuals through data gathered in the OPM breach clearly indicates how information is valued in the Chinese defense paradigm.

The primary goal of the current battlespace information agenda is to have real-time ‘perfect’ information that is consistent from the tactical to the strategic level—the battlefield equivalent of the Waze app for traffic or Uber for transportation services. These capabilities are being developed using today’s information paradigms and technology, although they are unlikely to be operational for several years. However, with minimal investment, unsophisticated actors have the ability to disrupt this approach by making it impossible to distinguish real from fabricated threats. This is comparable to populating the Uber app with fake cars, eliminating users’ ability to distinguish between real and avatar drivers and therefore efficiently travel between points. The Russians demonstrated this approach in 2014 when they flooded social media channels with false reports of a chemical spill in Centerville, Louisiana. Optimizing the battlefield information ecosystem for real-time, perfect information piped through singular channels creates tremendous vulnerabilities when the potential for information oversaturation by an adversary is high.

Often times, DON assessments of novel approaches to the legal uses of information and weaponization (notably the use of disinformation) devolve into rights-based arguments focused narrowly on injunctive norms and “ethical” applications of information within defined legal realms such as intellectual property and privacy. While important, these conversations amongst military and political leadership often contribute little in terms of practical solutions and tend to overlook evolving challenges within the information space. The DON has been efficient in developing sweeping statements about the “importance of information” that never get adopted locally, while our adversaries continue to experiment with novel approaches in the information space. The military is the catastrophic backstop for the United States, and as adversaries invest aggressively and disruptively to control this evolving space, the DON will undoubtedly have a role to play in informing future frameworks and tactics.

In order to influence the information space, the DON must make investments in global cultural understanding. Cultural proficiency within the information space is not only paramount to generating information that produces the desired effects, but also critical to the DON’s ability to effectively mine the data of our adversaries. Effective use of information requires first-hand knowledge and cannot be outsourced to the intelligence community or communicated through powerpoint briefs. It requires understanding consumption habits, means of ingestion, and technical and semantic characteristics of information in a particular context. Close collaboration and immersion is necessary to understand subtle cultural constructs and the DON must grow this expertise or develop partnerships to provide the depth and breadth of cultural understanding across the DON needed to function in the information age.

Secondly, perhaps the greatest threat the DON faces is having its information ecosystem saturated with disinformation, or false positives. This mandates the use of advanced algorithms to parse the information ecosystem efficiently. Complex models and algorithms are often more art than science and heavily influenced by their creators. This capability must be developed organically, allowed to grow, and continually adapted by experts and integrators. This is a way of thinking that has become a core capability in an information world that resides in a small subset of synthesizers. It is non-transferable, cannot be trained, and cannot be outsourced. The DON must invest in finding and cultivating this unique set of talents. The US Navy must acknowledge its role and invest accordingly or it will find itself increasingly unable to compete on the information battlefield.

Coming from the private sector I was struck by the conspicuous lack of female voices participating in SECNAV’s Taskforce Innovation (TFI). Women currently constitute less than 10% of The Hatch innovation crowdsourcing community and innovation organizations like the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) have been overwhelmingly male. The women involved in TFI have provided a disproportionately large contribution in terms of content, commitment, and ability to catalyze larger networks, highlighting the need to cultivate more women innovators. The value of women innovators has been demonstrated in the private sector, where according to a Kauffman Foundation report women technology entrepreneurs achieve a 35 percent better return on investment than male counterparts.

Both in the private sector and the military women have worked to be recognized for their skillsets alone, often by attempting to remove gender from the equation. The Department of the Navy (DON) diversity agenda has largely focused on eliminating differences in perception and opportunity between the genders, such as opening all operation billets and gender-neutral uniforms. The DON may have moved beyond the active intent to exclude or discriminate, but cultural norms still prevent women from fully contributing to activities that take them off the prescribed path.

Scarce numbers increase visibility and scrutiny, and humans are less likely to try things when there is a potential of being threatened. As Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant pointed out in a Jan 2015 New York Times op-ed, when male executives speak up, they receive 10% higher competence ratings; when female executives do the same, their ratings from their peers are 14% lower. In male dominated fields men and women are held to a different standard when it comes to proving initial competence. Men are assumed competent at the core functions until proven otherwise, whereas women are forced to spend time proving core competence prior to being allowed to push boundaries. One private sector manifestation of this is the fact that women are often excluded from positions on technology boards because they lack STEM backgrounds, however a significant proportion of the male board members of technology companies also lack STEM backgrounds, but are assumed to be competent.

Innovation requires the ability to question norms, synthesize different views, and collaborate to develop unique and powerful solutions. Diversity is the DNA of innovation, but the current DON focus on diversity is simply about bringing women to the table, not providing the environment to ensure they are included in the conversation. Inclusion is about ensuring diverse voices are heard, recognized, and rewarded. Below are three suggestions for more fully incorporating women innovators throughout the DON.

Create space:

An often cited Hewlett-Packard internal report found men apply for jobs when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women will not apply until they meet 100% of them. The fact that women make up less than 1% of writers at the Naval Institute Blog is likely an artifact of this fact. Women are less likely to present ideas in progress in a male dominated environment. Encouraging women to innovate requires creating safe space to develop ideas and experiment. Additionally, creating a sense of community where women can talk openly and take risks without being judged prematurely is critical. Women specific initiatives, such as discussion groups and women in writing week, can create the sense of community and the critical mass necessary to push women innovators into taking risk.

Research also shows that when women come to the table the ideas are more likely to be more developed comprehensive solutions. Innovation programs need to ensure they are not primed to give more consideration to ideas that are brought to the table first.

Support the First Followers:

Derek Shivers gave a TED talk on how the first followers are critical to starting a movement and transforming a lone nut into a leader. In a hierarchical organization followers are generally those that have less authority and influence than their superiors. They may try and get along to preserve career or simply because it is the path of least resistance. Leadership in the innovation space is being the lone nut, a place women are often uncomfortable in that role due to the reasons discussed in this blog post. Good followers are the key to driving innovation. They empower people, remove obstacles, and catalyze implementation. They support good leaders and are willing to actively oppose bad leadership. Valuing, actively encouraging, and rewarding first followers are critical to the success of any innovation agenda and give those outside of the cultural majority a place to engage, refine ideas, and if desired step into leadership positions.

Maximize Strengths:

As an organization the DON spends a significant amount of the manpower effort getting the workforce to a minimum acceptable standard. This was critical in an industrial era military when force structures were optimized for homogeneity and interchangeability. However, research suggests that the most successful individuals capitalize on their innate dominant talents and develop those strengths by adding skills and knowledge. Rethinking who and how people come together to collaborate and solve problems is critical to avoiding group-think, a condition which has created past national security failures. Innovation requires intentionally cultivating views that are outside the cultural norms.

In order to be an innovative organization, the DON needs to embrace the fact that individuals have different strengths and weaknesses and that a model based on interchangeability is not tenable in today’s world. There are biological distinctions between the genders, it is a fact, and not something organizational conversation should shy away from. Scientific breakthroughs occur in teams with more women because of increased creativity and fresh approaches and according to research published in Science increasing the collective social sensitivity by adding women increased the collective intelligence of teams. Creating a culture that values individuals and emphasizes organizational constructs that maximize cognitive diversity will allow the DON to maximize the innovative potential of its workforce irrespective of gender.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Department of the Navy.

As part of Women in Writing Week, we recognize one of the first female role models in the Navy: Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. Here she is on The David Letterman Show, at age 80:

JohnBoyd_PilotColonel John Boyd (USAF) developed a decision cycle concept called the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) Loop. He applied the concept at the strategic level in military operations, but it can also be applied to our current and future warfighting efforts, what we design, build, budget for, and use in pursuit of our national objectives – today and in the future. If we consider Col. Boyd’s concept in relation to those warfighting efforts, then today we must begrudgingly admit that our adversary’s decision cycle operates more quickly than our own OODA Loop. Technology, particularly use of information technology systems (including the internet), has moved so quickly the past few decades that our enemies can design, steal or borrow new ideas for weapons or equipment, share information and quickly move out well in advance of our ability to counter those ideas. Yet we remain mired in the same processes used to design, build, budget and produce those items our military needs, more or less unchanged, since the 1960s.

Today to provide the warfighter a new weapon, ship, or airplane, we begin inside a bureaucratic process that requires an analysis of the gaps, alternatives, various capability documents, review upon review by a number of well-meaning organizations, etc… That is just to come to an agreement on what must go out to industry for their ideas, proposals and estimates. Items must be competed – sometimes even when it is already known what company can build to the need quickest and at the best price. And then there’s the funding question.

Creating a finished budget literally takes two years or more. Once the decision is made that we need to buy item X at price Y, it has to be put into the Department’s Budget. It takes almost a year for a service to build a budget, allow senior leaders the opportunity to review, debate and determine priority, and ultimately, decide if an item should be funded or not. Then begins the process of defending the service’s priorities starting inside the Pentagon and ending on Capitol Hill a year (or so) later. If approved inside the National Defense Authorization, and Defense Appropriation Acts (it is worth noting that today, a non-decisional Continuing Resolution is the norm), then we can finally spend money on a contract for a new warfighting capability. In summary, if we decide we need to produce a new, non-complex weapon, it takes a minimum of three or four years to actually deliver that weapon to the field.

We have begun to change – small but necessary steps, are being made. There is an Urgent Operational Needs process that allows the warfighter to quickly request a new capability, if the request meets certain policy criteria. A group of senior decision makers meets every two weeks to ensure urgent warfighter needs are being met as quickly as possible. They work together to push through the bureaucracy, even working outside the Department of Defense – with the Department of State and leadership on Capitol Hill. There have been successes. However, at the same time we make these small but important steps towards flexibility, we continue to struggle with new policy constraints or modifications to current requirements in existing systems.

If we are to remain the preeminent military force in the world we must continue to change. We must build a process that results in capability fielded quickly, vice capability fielded much slower – with minimal risk. Rather than have a series of consecutive leadership reviews on proposals (and the capability and/or funding required), each of which takes many months and can only move forward to the next step sequentially after each leader approves, we need to have single meetings of the right leaders to take in information, ask questions and make decisions – in a timely manner. We need the ability to spend money on new efforts today – not two years from now after we’ve built a budget, reviewed and defended it against any one of hundreds of reviewers who might disagree. We need flexibility to change programs as they move forward – when they hit a snag we must be able to quickly modify our plans, or if required – terminate our efforts and re-allocate the monies towards other needs. Naysayers will say a new process with speed in mind will lead to waste. The reality is that without a new process with speed in mind, we will fall further behind our growing number of challengers.

Do not misunderstand this to be a criticism of those that run or are involved in these current processes. Everyday there are tens of thousands of great Americans that work towards building the best and most capable Navy of the future. They toil under policies and laws currently in place and they do outstanding work. But we have to change the way we are doing the Navy’s business if we hope to continue to be the best. We have to tighten our own OODA Loop to decide and act far more quickly so that the enemy can’t get inside it, cannot work around it – or use our own process against us. Bottom line – we must change.

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