Archive for the 'Innovation' Category

CIMSEC-LogoWhile some might claim military innovation is an oxymoron, many fight that sentiment every day to build a flexible and effective military force. Join Jon Paris, Ben Kohlmann, and Matt for a podcast about military innovation, the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, and Professional Military Education. Remember to bother everyone you know until they listen and subscribe to the podcast. We are available on Itunes, Xbox Music, and Stitcher Stream Radio. Enjoy Sea Control 12: Innovation (download).



The inevitable fiscal crunch that is starting our Military down has the Pharisees of the defense industry, think tanks, and senior military leaders all rabble-rabbling about the need for change. Some of that change is strategic- Asia Pacific pivot anyone? Other bits of it reside in the acquisitions department, as we see with the pros and cons of developing “revolutionary” weapons systems to confront “new” threats. The most harrowing changes for military leaders are the all too well known cuts to manpower that will come in some fashion, no matter the logic, or lack thereof, which delineates how those cuts will happen. There is more change in the air than cordite after an end of fiscal year shooting range, but it is important to reflect on some history in order to avoid stepping on the same proverbial rakes that have smacked our national security establishment in the face during previous drawdowns.

Ideas like this one are an especially pervasive form of bad, and seem unable to die even when history proves them inadvisable. We saw the call for unification in President Eisenhower’s attempts to reevaluate our national security establishment in light of the massive technological, strategic, and social changes that occurred after World War Two. It was vital to acknowledge the necessity of change in that period, because much like Eisenhower’s dictum on planning, self-examination is vital even if most of the individual recommendations may turn out to be worthless. Reconsidering defense in light of nuclear weapons, ICBMS, and the bi-polar nature of security dilemmas when facing the Soviet Union was important. Trusting academic tea-leaf readers in their assessments and then proclaiming there would “never be another amphibious landing”, that ground forces would not be used in limited wars, and that tactical airpower was only needed to defend or shoot down strategic airpower looks downright foolhardy when viewed as historical record. What saved us from the march to a monolithic Star Fleet force that all wore the small uniforms and all died like red shirts landing on Klingon? The pluralistic competition of our service structure, which was inefficient and far from perfect, but possessed a flexibility that made it anti-fragile.

Separate services, even separate services that possess redundant capabilities, are a vital part of American national defense. The Army needs the Marine Corps to soak up public attention as a motivation for better performance as badly as the Marine Corps need the Army to keep its constant self worry about irrelevance and drive its performance. Those intangible reasons can be criticized as they are not measurable, but of direct consequence are the different service outlooks which spurn actual innovation.

The Marine Corps decided it would gladly incorporate vulnerable and unwieldy rotary aircraft that Army and Air Force leaders largely ignored during Korea, and in doing so enabled the much better resourced Army to perfect the techniques of vertical envelopment to a higher degree than it ever could in Vietnam. The Navy had to have an Air Force that threatened its budget in order to develop SSBNs, and not pursue the much less effective option of carrier borne strategic bombers. Our most recent wars have shown the truth that a market place of defense ideas is better than a command economy for strategy. While the Marine Corps stubbornly resisted SOCOM membership, the other services gladly perfected the techniques needed to combat global terrorism in the learning laboratories of Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Those were bloody lessons, but proved that some enemies cannot be defeated by large MEUs waiting off shores, although the synergy created between such a force and SOCOM has proven to be vital, and continues to pay national security dividends. Service diversity even ensures we do not forget lessons learned in blood that may seem inefficient during peacetime arguments on Capitol Hill. Even the best planners can shortchange things that are easily forgotten as peace breaks out. Something as boring as oil platform protection is a skill the world’s preeminent Navy forgot, and had to relearn from the worlds 12th largest navy (the U.S. Coast Guard). There is known historical value and definite future value in keeping a diverse and flexible force, but to do so one must resist the urge to unify in the name of declining dollars. Cost savings are easy to evaluate in peacetime dollars, but take on a morbid tone when seen in defeat and death at the opening stages of a conflict.

Cleary such an arrangement has inefficiencies, and wasting taxpayer dollars in the worst economy in years should be viewed as criminal no matter if the DOD is committing the waste or not. Grenada, Desert One, and Vietnam all demonstrated the tragic human cost of pursuing service parochialism over higher interests. Such costs have been mitigated in part by the Goldwater-Nichols act of 1986. Goldwater-Nichols is far from perfect and could use an upgrade to incorporate recent lessons from the Long War. Jointness in our operations, communications, and interoperability is a good thing. Understanding perspective, knowing how the whole of the military functions instead of just one’s own slice, and talk the language of service peers are also good things. Making claims that bureaucratic restructuring to “align” and “combine” are fools errands, they repeat the mistakes that we almost made in trying to tear down an organic system. Our current force has grown through invaluable combat experience, to replace it with a theoretical framework that has never worked is a bad idea of immense magnitude.

There have been examples of “unified” militaries, look at Saddam’s Republican Guard, it clearly combined the best equipment, personnel, and training available to fulfill “civilian” leadership’s strategic wishes. Such a system is horribly fragile, and succumbs to the groupthink that all bureaucracies do. In this age of belt tightening, we should correctly become more efficient, but there are better ways than throwing out everything and starting from scratch. Reexamining our bloated personnel policies, taking a hard look at our compensation and retirement systems that resemble ticking fiscal bombs, and revamping our professional military education are all better places to start than tired and historically bankrupt calls for the “merger of …[U.S.]…ground forces”. The diversity of thought which comes from each service is one of the strongest weapons our joint force possesses, it would wise to avoid dulling such fine tool so we can save dollars only to spend lives unnecessarily in a future conflict.



CDR Salamander joins Matt and Grant for a podcast on writing as a member of the military, anonymity, and some sacred cows military planners hold dear: benefits, high-end systems, equal budgeting, etc… Join us for Episode 8, Sacred Cows and Amphibians (Download).

Articles from Sacred Cows Week:
Quantity over Quality (Michael Madrid)
Holy Bovine, Batman! Sacred Sailors! (Matt McLaughlin)
American Defense Policy: 8 Reality Checks (Martin Skold)
Ain’t Ready for Marines Yet? The Sacred Cow of British Army Organization (Alex Blackford)
SSBN(X): Sacred Cow for a Reason (Grant Greenwell)
Why the United States Should Merge Its Ground Forces (Jeong Lee)
Sacred Cow: Military Pay and Benefits By the Numbers (Richard Mosier)

Sea Control comes out every Monday. Don’t forget to subscribe on Itunes and Xbox Music!



Readers of the NextWar blog will recall that in the past I’ve bemoaned the U.S. Navy’s limited success tapping into web-enabled “social” tools. Specifically, I noted the lack of efforts to use either crowdsourcing tools to generate and develop ideas, or to provide the sort of collaborative tools to which Sailors have grown accustomed in their personal lives.

”Let me zee vhat you are verking on…”

”Let me zee vhat you are verking on…”

In addition to the exceptions I mentioned in the article, such as the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School (NPS)’s MMOWGLIs, commentators kindly pointed out a few more, and I have through professional exposure since stumbled upon others. Further, as many are likely aware, in just the past month some new tools have come online or been revamped. I feel, therefore, a reassessment is warranted. What follows is a brief overview of the social web-enabled tools on offer for U.S. maritime professionals – whether by culling ideas (the Crowdsourcers) or by empowering organizations (the Collaborators). I’m more familiar with some than others, but this is not intended to be an exhaustive review - the best way to fully learn the caps and lims of any of these sites is to play around with them and see how they can aid in your specific mission accomplishment.

From our non-U.S. friends, I’d be interested to hear what’s available in their toolboxes to leverage the concepts and underlying platforms of the web.

The Crowdsourcers

Massively Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet (MMOWGLIs)
NPS partners with various other Navy commands to run these online games, which tap into the combined knowledge and ideas of the invited crowd to respond to scenario prompts. These response ideas are critiqued by other players, steering the decisions in future actions in the game, allowing people to work through (and the game sponsors to collect input on) the second- and third-order consequences of potential solutions. Past MMWOGLIs have focused on topics such as piracy and the electro-magnetic spectrum, and additive manufacturing (aka 3D-printing), of which we have written about much at CIMSEC. The next MMWOGLI (scheduled for September) will focus on “Capacity Capabilities Constraints: Active and Reserve Force Strategies” in November and December. My only real complaint is that I’ve had trouble accessing past MMWOGLIs on a lot of NMCI computers at the Pentagon, so can’t really speak personally to the “gameplay”.

RAD
This new site is the core of the CNO’s recent tasking to find ways to create a more efficient Navy by Reducing Administrative Distractions — or RAD. The site uses the IdeaScale platform and boasts a clean look, crowdsourcing, and gamification: users vote for favorite posts, earn points through a variety of manners – incentivizing input, earn patches for a variety of “accomplishments”. While a leaderboard displays the top point-earners, the Admiral in charge of the effort is looking to tie the virtual rewards with real ones. According to NavyTimes:

“While they are still working out details, [RDML] Shelanski said he hopes to secure funds to reward the generators of the top 10 ideas. He would like to award $1,000 prizes for the top three ideas. The rest of the top 10 would each earn $500.”

Nearly 1500 ideas were submitted and you can see the top 15 listed here. While the 3 phases of the RAD “campaign” are complete, the outgrowth of this project is an effort to effect real change with at least the top ideas, particularly in the areas of training and 3M. It will be interesting to see if the Navy ever tries for a repeat performance in a year or two’s time.

NWDC’s CollabLab

NWDC’s CollabLab: Not to be confused with Bob Lablaw’s Law Blog

NWDC’s CollabLab: Not to be confused with Bob Lablaw’s Law Blog

The proverbial “suggestion box” set up by the U.S. Naval Warfare Development Command (NWDC) asks users to “pose solutions to problems by providing an easy-to-use platform to submit ideas, provide feedback, and vote for the best ideas.” Similar in function to RAD, but more broadly focused. You can participate both by donating your brightest thoughts and critically evaluating those of others. Also uses voting feedback to rate the ideas, although comments are more plentiful than votes.

The site features a handy Domino’s-like status “tracker” of your idea in the review/implementation process (although unlike the pizza it will unfortunately take longer than 20 minutes to see results). You can also see if it has been rejected, and the reason why, or moved over to the SIPR version for processing. It may suffer, though to a lesser degree, the same challenge of giving every idea a fair shake and collating duplicative submissions.

(Full disclosure: I’m a member of NWDC’s CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, or CRIC)

The Collaborators

Although it would mean a loss of some control over functional design, for efficiency’s sake Navy organizations or groups in search of cloud collaborative sites should consider using Milsuite, Intelink, Max.gov, or Navy Lessons Learned rather than spending money to create their own.

Milsuite
logo-milbookThrough Milsuite’s Milbook site, small (or large) DoD teams can use a an access-controlled, slick-looking cloud collaborative site to centralize documents, tasks, and discussions in a specific “group”. Users have a variety of project management tools they can integrate, and search for other users with expertise in a given functional area to bring in to critique ideas. The only real downside is that some functions, especially the permissions/access settings, are not entirely intuitive and the help documents leave a bit to be desired.

Intelink
This site is restricted to federal employees with associated email or CAC/PIV. But like Max.gov, by keeping it broadly open it enables collaboration for projects across federal agencies. Users can on NIPR can create an Intellipedia page and on SIPR create a “team” to do the discussion and file-sharing collaboration. NIPR is expected to increase functionality and tools with Google platform tie-ins, but for now the SIPR version is a bit easier to use for collaboration.

MAX.gov
This site is restricted to federal employees with associated email, allowing for cloud collaboration on projects across federal agencies. I have only poked around it a little but my first impression is that it is functional (posting documents, commenting, discussions), but some what bare-boned.

Defense Connect Online (DCO)
DCO_LOGO_200DCO’s basic purpose is web conferencing. It allows DoD users to create a virtual meeting that can integrate voice (with computer microphone/speakers), chat, and PowerPoint display functions – sharing slides and other files. Those on the go can also access the website via smartphones and a downloadable app, and a SIPR version is available. The site is great for those of us without VTC capabilities who want to add some visual oomph to telecons and keep everyone on the same page. The ability to hang and trade information is also nice – the files can also be kept up for a long time, so anyone who wants them again can just be directed back to the site.

The computer-driven version is pretty easy to use and understand, but I had a little more trouble on a smartphone working the site (There is an updated mobile version that I’ve not yet had the chance to try). I’d also like to see DCO directly integrate phone lines as those hosting meetings typically must set up a separate telecon bridge to allow those who can’t pull up DCO from a phone or computer to also participate. With the reduction in travel spending there has been a marked uptick in the usage of this site – to the point where it has been maxing out its capacity. Lastly, I’m not sure how bandwidth-intensive this would be for anyone underway, but my guess is it wouldn’t handle well.

In mid-October, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) released DCO 2.0. Unfortunately the upgrade means the site no longer recognizes my old account or allows me to register for a ‘new’ one – so there are some kinks to be worked out for sure, but I look forward to seeing what the improvements are.

NWDC’s TacticsLive site
Another collaborative site run by NWDC could be used to pick up some of the slack left by the loss of groups such as the Surface Warfare Development Group for tactical innovations. Unfortunately in my limited poking around on the site on SIPR (http://tacticslive.nwdc.navy.smil.mil.) It doesn’t appear much used. This points to one of the fundamental truths of the collaborative sites: No matter how good in concept or design they are, they can’t help users collaborate unless they have users to begin with (often through command endorsement or enforced use).

Interagency Lessons Learned
I decided to return to the source – several years ago – of my angst with the Navy’s web-enabled tools and find out what’s changed. Navy Lessons Learned, part of Interagency Lessons Learned, has definitely undergone a facelift, and the ability to submit lessons learned has increased. There is also a “Communities of Practice” feature that allows those with the initiative to collate/centralize data (share observations/lessons learned/documents, etc., and comment on them) for communities at any level – from interagency groups to a wardroom. So those are big improvements.

Unfortunately, it’s still a bit clunky, dated looking, and not intuitive to navigate or search. It’s also split between NIPR and SIPR – which on one hand allows users to get more specific, but on the other splits efforts and users – sometimes in confusing fashion, as with the otherwise valuable Port Visits feature.

An “Issue Resolution” crowdsource function is ignored on NIPR, but has some legs on SIPR. Yet the process is opaque and clunky in comparison with the RAD and CollabLab sites. Without reading through the “training material” one has no idea who moderates the submissions or whether they will end up getting a fair look.

However, for its flaws, staffs or other groups looking for the infrastructure to quickly stand up restricted group to share restricted (FOUO or SECRET) files and lessons learned will find this site provides the no-frills functionality to do so, but as with the others it needs someone to convince or enforce everyone in the group to use the site. As with the Port Visits feature, there’s good nuggets in the site, but you have to dig for them.



HashtagTime is a limited resource for leaders. While many leaders are passionate about leader development, they don’t always have time to study for self-development or plan development sessions where participants sit around and discuss an article, book or other topic. Both avenues of development are easily disrupted by competing priorities. Social media and mobile technology platforms are great resources for leaders to interact with others and build relationships that will lead to learning and development. One platform that works well is Twitter. The capabilities of Twitter combined with mobile platforms allow both self-development and leader-led professional discussions to take place in any location, at any time, and not be restrained by time and location. This post is about using Twitter for self-development and leading professional discussions as part of a leader development program.

Twitter 101 (Skip ahead to Leader Development if you are familiar with PLNs, self-development and Twitter)
Twitter is one resource that leaders can use for learning by developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN). A PLN is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner connects and interacts with for the purpose of learning. Learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their professional development and knowledge(Click here for a good blog about PLNs) .The learner does not have to know these people personally or ever meet them in person. This network is relatively easy to set up over Twitter and is a simple and powerful way to both self-develop and develop others. Twitter can be a great source of information if you know how to search for and evaluate the sources. There is a wide variety of information available on Twitter; for example, almost every magazine or professional publication posts on Twitter.

People use the hashtag symbol # before a relevant keyword or phrase in their Tweet to categorize those tweets and help them show up more easily in Twitter Search. The learner simply searches for the topic or, if they know a hashtag associated with the subject, they can use that as the terms for the search (see screenshots below). For example, one of the screen shots below shows a search for “Land Warfare” and the results delivered range from various individuals to “Doctrine Man”, to ”Pakistan Defence”.

Search for Land Warfare on Twitter for iPad

Search for Land Warfare on Twitter for iPad

Search for #Leadership on Twitter for iPad

Search for #Leadership on Twitter for iPad

Search for #Innovation on Twitter for iPad

Search for #Innovation on Twitter for iPad

Once the results are delivered learners can sort through the posts and evaluate the information. Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message shows all the other tweets marked with that keyword. Many of these posts will have links to blogs or articles that contain information the learner is looking for. As the learner finds reliable posts, they can follow the user and build their PLN ( It is also interesting to see who the users you are following, follow as well.) One way to evaluate whether a user on Twitter is credible is by the number of follows and followers they have. Learners can also check out previous tweets by the source, which is another way to evaluate if the source is credible or not. The reporters and other contributors that work for most major news organizations post to Twitter as well and can be a good addition to a PLN.

Leader Development Program
Twitter is a great way to share information to develop others. Leaders connect with their subordinates over Twitter and share relevant content with a hashtag. Twitter can also be used for “Twitter Chats” . Twitter chats are chats that occur using a hashtag. Instead of tweeting one-on-one learners are now engaged in a conversation with many people around a particular topic or piece of content such as an article or blog post. Pictures and other media can be used as well to add more context to discussions. Twitter chats lets a group maximize their time on Twitter and participate in existing conversations when it is convenient for them. Twitter chats can take place over extended periods, and from any location, extending learning and development well beyond the walls of an office, building, or other location commonly used for these sessions. This capability lengthens the period of engagement and can lead to higher quality discussions, which might not be attainable in a normal face-to-face professional development session that is constrained by time and location (a leader development session scheduled from 1-2pm in a conference room). There are also tools available, like Storify for example, that can help learners manage and archive the chats for later reference. Through professional discussion, leaders can get to know their subordinates better and evaluate their level of competence, which can help build trust in an organization.

Leaders develop subordinates by creating experiences. Professional discussion is one of those experiences. It canimprove learning and leader development across an organization. When time is a limited resource, social media is an excellent and simple way to engage subordinates in professional discussion.

Leadership counts!



Deckplate innovation is receiving unprecedented attention these days, as well as its fair share of sniping from the skeptical sidelines. Innovation is indeed nothing new under the sun, and its traditional obstacles are no less prohibitive than they ever have been. What is new is the unprecedented speed at which ideas can promulgate through modern social media. The controlled brainstorming or “ideation” drive has been compared to panning for gold, but the internet has allowed us to increase the size of our pan.

In his recent post about the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum, BJ Armstrong urged us to publish and promote our ideas to those empowered to act on them; to “influence the influencers,” so to speak. Execution is, of course, the graveyard of good ideas; for our ideas to become results they must find the backing of some influential executive or “principal.” The “pitch” to a receptive principal is the most sensitive stage of an embryonic idea’s lifespan. Having made no small number of failed pitches (and a few that didn’t fail), I’ve identified a few common themes to rejection. For those potential innovators getting ready to make the pitch, please consider the following as you prepare:

Know Thyself: Hazards to Credibility

brokeOld ideas. It’s often the case that your idea has been tried before and failed. It’s not necessary that an idea be new for it to be good—many failed innovations suffered from flawed executions, and are worth attacking again with a better plan. The important thing is that you do your homework to understand why the idea failed and what should be done differently before you try to revive it. If you don’t know until mid-pitch that your brilliant idea was tried and failed twenty years ago, then your innovation is dead on arrival.

Lacking solutions. If you’ve identified a problem but haven’t identified a potential solution, then you’ve really just filed a complaint. Unfortunately, the complete solution might be beyond your level of expertise, and it’s for this reason that many potential innovations die at this stage. Don’t let a lack of expertise paralyze you—great innovations rarely resemble their instigators’ original vision. This is a rare situation where effort can actually be more important than the immediate results—what you’re doing here is getting the process started.

Emotion. It’s rare that potential solutions are not accompanied with some degree of frustration at the original problem or the myopic organization that fails to perceive it. Frustration, skepticism, and resentment are all common sentiments among smart people in large bureaucracies—left unchecked, they can fester into bitterness, and nobody wants to listen to another bitter JO. It’s essential that you prevent emotions from bleeding into your pitch, and it can happen to either written or verbal communication. If you suspect that your passions may be too evident, it might be a good idea to run your presentation by a trusted mentor first.

What about enthusiasm? Keep it under control; remain stoical and professional if you want to be taken seriously. Principals are interested in facts. It’s good to communicate conviction, but too much enthusiasm may instead communicate naiveté, which hurts your case and calls your objectivity into question. Scott Adams beautifully dismissed the usefulness of enthusiasm in a recent editorial: “Success caused passion more than passion caused success.”

Know Thine Enemy: Obstacles to Acceptance

good-idea-fairy-3Admitting to the problem. Your principal is familiar with the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He or she has probably endured a career’s worth of ambitious Good Idea Fairies and gimmicks, and understands that failed executions are worse than leaving well enough alone. If a system is in place, then somebody thinks it is working, and sometimes that may be enough for your principal—effective or not, if we perform according to expectations we will be left alone to accomplish our real mission.

Finite resources. Funding is the obvious obstacle, but may not be the most difficult. Your principal has limited time and limited political capital, and must carefully budget both to do their job. You have to prove not only that your problem is indeed worth solving, but that it is more important than the other problems they’re going to have to divert resources away from. You have to prove that solving it is their job—they’re not in the business of taking on other people’s problems.

The pocket veto. This is how bureaucracies insidiously devour innovation. Rather than overtly rejecting your proposal at risk of appearing unconcerned with your problem, some principals may agree to “take it into consideration” or to “forward it along” with no real commitment to execution. Since you’re not really in a position to demand commitment, the only thing you can do is be persistent. No great idea ever caught on without a lot of hard work and follow-through.

You may have to seek the attention of other principals– be careful. It’s easy to stray into insubordination this way, but if you tailor your message carefully, your immediate chain of command may be relieved that you would seek resolution elsewhere (depending on the problem). The best way to avoid conflicts of interest is to communicate your intentions aggressively. Then there is always the option to write and publish, in fact it has never been easier.

You might be wrong.

In all of our fervor over innovation, we sometimes forget that not all new ideas are good. At any given moment there is an infinite quantity of bad ideas floating around, and yours just might be one of them. You might not realize it for years, in fact you may never become convinced, and this is why the bureaucracy isn’t always a bad thing. If the principal refuses to choose your battle, it’s not because they’re an unthinking cog in a stolid machine, it’s because they feel it’s their responsibility to “just say no.” Later on, you might even come around to their point of view.

While persistence is necessary if you ever hope for your idea to catch on, it is also necessary that you be willing to move on at some point if it really is a non-starter. As usual, brutal self-honesty is in order, with an eye to improving for the next attempt. Other battles need fighting, and we need your innovation.

 



h3greendeck

Over the Columbus Day weekend I had the great opportunity to participate in the first national Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum conference. The event was hosted at The Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago and a number of other organizations, like USNI, sponsored events from breakfasts to happy hours. At its heart, however, the conference was independently organized by a group of mid-grade and junior officers to explore the nexus of innovation and entrepreneurship with military affairs and defense industry.

Off the top, the very existence of the event was something to behold. Over a hundred men and women from the junior ranks of the military, civilians from the defense world both inside and outside government, and innovation/silicon valley folks, got together for three days to talk about how to make the military better in the 21st century. They paid their own way. The government is shutdown. Even if it wasn’t, sequestration meant there was no travel money. They filled out a leave chit and pulled out their personal credit cards. These individuals have such a belief in the idea that the military needs new ways of looking at things and doing things, and such an overwhelming desire to be part of that, that they all dropped hundreds of dollars and their long weekend to go to Chicago to meet with one another.

I do have a personal note about attendance that I think should be made: while many junior personnel had the guts to vote with their wallets and their time, only one General officer showed up, and a couple of Colonels. I’m not sure what any of that means, but it is worth noting because ALL ranks, rates, and grades were invited. In fact, there was some pretty significant outreach to the Flag and General Officer community by the organizers.

So, the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum 2013 set out in part to inspire, in part to educate, and in part to execute. The events were livecast with the support of Google, and there is a DEF Youtube Channel. The Tweetwall went up and participants were encouraged to tweet as the event went on to highlight ideas and lessons. You can read back through the tweets from the weekend at #DEF2013 if you are interested.

Over the next week or two I’m hoping that there will be a number of blog posts across the web about what we all experienced at DEF. LT Hipple has already reported back at USNI Blog and there are a few others (here, here, here) to get us started.

I just wanted to share one observation that I took away from the weekend. On Sunday, Sean Maday, a former USAF Captain who now works at Google pointed out in his Keynote that a few short years ago, when he was wearing baby blue with railroad tracks on his collar, a three or four-star wouldn’t even acknowledge his existence, never mind listen to his ideas. Today, just because he put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt instead of a uniform, they travel to Palo Alto to meet him, desperate to know what he thinks. This illustrates one of the great truths that was only hinted at in the excitement of DEF: Innovative junior officers don’t have the power to execute their ideas.

One of the mantras of the weekend was that we must have results. Ben Kohlmann quoted fellow board member Micha Murphy that “execution is the new innovation.” This is a valid observation, but only after the innovator is given the nod, a green deck if you will. Someone in a position of power and influence has to buy into the idea that a) there is a problem and b) this is a good solution. In the world of Silicon Valley they don’t have Flag and General Officers who are part of a massive, centuries old bureaucracy. However, they do have the venture capitalists and money men, and if you can’t get a money man to buy into your grand IT innovation or start-up it’s going to be pretty tough to get anywhere.

It may be that the best way to look at this is to think about military strategy, maybe think a little bit about Sun Tzu and stir in some Liddell Hart with a touch of John Boyd, and look for an indirect approach. In the closing hours of the conference Colonel Michael-Bob Starr (USAF, one of the few senior officers at DEF) tweeted:

So how do you influence the decision makers? While it was not formally talked about, it did come up again and again with comments about communicating your idea. As Howard Lieberman said on Sunday in a breakout: “Publish your idea and get credit for it.”

So, here’s my lesson observed from DEF 2013: It isn’t good enough to have a great idea or to figure out how you would implement it. Neither of those things matter unless you figure out how to influence the influencer, how to get your idea in front of someone who can make a decision and get the green-light. We heard repeatedly this weekend that one of the best ways to get your idea in front of someone is to publish it. The hyperlink, the pdf, or the hard copy of the magazine are a lot more likely to find their way in front of the person with that power than you are just wandering aimlessly around your base with a great innovation in your head.

I think we’ve heard this before: Dare to read, think, write…publish.



hipstermahanThe incredible power of innovation and entrepreneurship often produces an unfortunate exhaust of innovocabulations. Ideate is one of those words, and made quite a show of force at DEF 2013, hosted graciously at the Chicago Booth School of Business. However, as irritating as a not-words may be, ideate serves DEF2013 core spirit as a fitting metaphor. Ideate is merely the word “idea” verbed. Rather than concentrating as many do on creativity and the idea-creation process, DEF2013′s central thrust was the array of actions necessary to turn ideas into realities.

To foster that concentration on acting on ideas, the conference content was split between presentations and break-out problem-solving sessions.

Pleasant Surprise- Presentation Twitter-Wall:

Although the break-out sessions would be the conventional show-case of attendee collaboration, the integration of the twitter-wall to the presentations was a great way to get the audience engaged. While following the flow of “#DEF2013″ commentary on the boards, members of DEF could note particular phrases or points of the speaker, argue amongst themselves, or perhaps just be snarky cough #hipstermahan /cough.

The twitter conversation during presentations was also great track-two way of “meeting” forum attendees as you retweeted poignant observations on presentations, debated points of contention, or collaborated in solutions to problems brought up by speakers and form members alike. In the break sessions, I “met” forum members, though often much of the ice was already broken by conversations we’d already had I’ve long incredibly skeptical of twitter, but I found its use in this context a rather redeeming and collaborative experience!

Oh… and it was nice to get a tweet from Harris Teeter about the Oxford Comma too. As you can tell, some of us may have gotten off topic occasionally. But hey, why buy pizza not worth defending? #pizzafort

Presentations- A Mile Wide and a Mile Deep:

Part of me will never graduate college and will always enjoy a rich lecture. While the twitter was fun, it’s foundation was the excellent presentations being given by our guest speakers. You can find those on YouTube if you missed the live feed. Some of the video is uncut and you have to jump around to find the speeches, but many are well worth it.

Rather than turn this into a book report, I’ll delve into a by-no-means-comprehensive collection of points I thought were worth taking away.

You Don’t Have To Be The Innovator/Doing Your Homework: BJ Armstrong’s The “Gun Doctor” presentation is an instant classic, and has appeared in various forms at several venues. It only gets better with time. That said, a key piece of information from that presentation is that ADM Sims started with an innovation from someone else that he considered worth his effort and attention. The conference closed with a presentation by Phil Nevil of Power2Switch taking a similar angle, how his own ideas failed but he succeeded when he championed the cause of another. In both cases, an important part of championing an idea was doing the research: becoming familiar with both your market and your product. If ADM Sims hadn’t done his research and tests on Percy Scott’s continuous-aim firing, no one would have taken him seriously. Likewise, if people in private industry just “ideate” without doing tests, research, prototyping, and probing their market, they’re not “innovating”, you’re just talking.

Fighting a Loyal Insurgency Inside the System: Stealth, focus, and aggression are not always necessary when innovating, but can be good tools when combatting entrenched interests. Peter Munson’s speech was about how leaf-eaters learn to defend the system for at the detriment of adaption and effectiveness and meat-eaters charge forward at opportunity. In an organization like the DoD, there is a reality to the necessity and purpose for the system and its leaf-eater accolytes. Innovators must carefully pick and choose their battles. This idea was summed up by the delightful peregrine falcon, Dora. Play in the system (like dora moves stealthily through the clouds) and aggressively attack when opportunity arises (poor, stupid duck). If Dora flew around squawking all day and making a mess without that focused action, too many leaf-eaters would be alerted and defend their steaming piles of process.

Building an Army: Human capital is a critical part of innovation, if not the tipping-factor in-and-of itself. Howard R. Lieberman’s presentation hit the hammer hard on the point of building a body of stakeholders and champions to help push your ideas. Don’t start with the question of what the value of your product is, but rather push what value it brings to people. Finding the meaning of your idea for other people is what builds stakeholders, who may be champions for your ideas or loyal foot-soldiers doing the testing and development who will sacrifice their time and resources to see your idea through to the end. Some of those stakeholders may provide top-cover. Many of his stories involved his company president giving him cover for his “special projects” that the board didn’t always agree with. The ground-forces are great for “taking the hill” of an idea, but close-air-support flying high in the chain of command can really change the equation. No man is an island, and no innovation is a one-man mission.

Execution, Execution, Execution: Every presentation was about how action, not creativity, is the germ of real innovation. That said, the second day of private-sector entrepreneur presentations was a wall-to-wall show of how the ability to find market-demand while developing the necessary supply is the center of the innovation universe. The difference between a real-life innovator and the chatting classes is action.

My one real criticism of the conference does lie in this category. I felt like the innovations we discussed were mostly historical or from private industry. We didn’t have a body of speakers who, as members of the military, wrestled with and executed significant innovations. That may be an indictment of our system and whether those people have been able to be truly successful or just that it is easier to success in the business world. Whatever the case may be, there will be plenty of years of DEF to find more live-streaming innovation successes within the life-lines. And yes, before you say it, I know DEF itself is a successful inside-the-lifelines success… but you know what I mean!

Don’t Get Killed in a Good Battle: Dan Moore’s presentation on breakthrough leadership through the lense of Boyd was particularly great because I found myself in a room full of Boydians debating the legacy of Boyd, army tactics, thrust lines, decision-analysis, etc… but while all of this was fascinating, the newest detail to a complete Boyd amateur like me was the disaster of his personal life. “To be or to do,” shouldn’t happen to the detriment of “being” things like a good father, husband, or just healthy individual. If you’re a hard charger and an innovator, the military needs you healthy, not burnt out fighting every battle to the hilt. You’re needed in far more than the one fight you might be in now. Dan Moore’s final point, and one to always keep close is, “don’t get killed in a good battle.”

USNI Is Awesome: Sam LaGrone’s presentation was about some self-evident truths.

There is far more material, and none of the descriptions are by any means comprehensive. While these are good takeaways, the speeches are definitely worth watching on the YouTube channel.

Breakout Groups- Thoughtifying:

What would an Entrepreneurs conference be without some actual innovating? It certainly wouldn’t be as fun. The afternoons at DEF were dedicated to breakout sessions intended to building actionable solutions to real-world problems.

I found my time in the PME “ideation” group to be an education in many already-existing processes of other branches that I wished the navy had, from selection-means-attendance to the USCG’s libertine “selection-ignores-rank”. I hadn’t realized how different the different services PME systems were, and I found it a bit depressing how some may put PME in the side-car when others described the rigor and seriousness of their selection processes.

Nathan Finney led our group, and the vast array of “free the beast” ideas to put education in the driving seat were, very pragmatically, whittled down to a single free and actionable item: use of twitter for class comprehension analysis by teachers. A great example of how the system would work was Michael-Bob Starr’s discovery that the reason he had an odd feeling he’d lost his audience for about 5 seconds was that I had tweeted “never trust a man with two first names,” during his speech. Of course, in the PME version, it wouldn’t be on all the screens and would be more a way for teachers to get input on comprehension, class observations, and the like.

Other great innovations were produced, from the Emotional Vitality Assitant (EVA) to create a hand-held link directly to mental health professionals to the DEF X-prize, rewarding military members for great ideas or great execution of ideas (we hadn’t decided yet). The dream of pushing half the acquisition system into the sea and replacing it with a 100 page paper was quite the utopian ideal, but no knives yet exist that are long enough to penetrate to the heart of the procurement beast.

The People are the Product

The lectures and break-out sessions were great, but the real reward of DEF2013 was meeting the people I’d only known through writing and reputation (or the ones I didn’t know, for that matter). In his closing words for the conference, a closing speaker said it best, “people don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.” No one came to DEF2013 to see a particular innovation or idea, but to spend a weekend chatting about their passions with people of the same level of intensity. Every branch was represented with civilians and veterans alike, but we were all there for the same “why.” They came because they believed in that process of critical thinking and seeking the greater good. We didn’t seek innovation for innovation sake, but we sought mission victories, safety and effectiveness for our fellow warfighters, good stewardship of the resources in which we were entrusted, and the importance of good ideas having their day in the arena. DEF2013 didn’t create an innovation, it bolstered the community that is going to build them together.



Speaking at the Association of the United States Army on the 12th, Admiral James Winnefeld, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the audience that in future ground wars the tempo will be “shorter, faster-paced and much harder” because America’s adversaries will work to create a “fog of war.” Thus, the Admiral suggested that the Army “place more emphasis on the growth industry…of protecting American citizens abroad” in order to adapt to the fluid geostrategic environment.

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VCJCS Admiral James Winnefeld speaking at the Association of the United States Army on September 12th.

Indeed, since the sequestration went into effect in March, many defense experts have been debating what the future may hold for the Army, the Marine Corps and the Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Whatever their respective views may be on the utility of landpower in future wars, all seem to agree on one thing: that in the sequestration era, the ground components must fight leaner and smarter.

For John R. Deni, a research professor at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, the answer seems to lie in the “Army-led military-to-military activities” which may provide stability in politically volatile regions “if only because most military forces around the globe are army-centric.”

Others beg to differ. Generals James Amos and Raymond Odierno and Admiral William McRaven seem to second Admiral Winnefeld’s claim when they argue that today “the need to conduct large-scale aid and consequence management missions, both within the United States and internationally, is certain to grow.” General James Amos, the Marine Corps Commandant, also recently echoes this view when he advocates a lighter but mobile Marine Corps because he believes tomorrow’s conflicts will likely involve “violent extremism, battles for influence, disruptive societal transitions, natural disaster, extremist messages and manipulative politics.”

However, if the United States Armed Forces is truly concerned about raising a cost-efficient and versatile ground force, it can merge the Army, the SOCOM and the Marine Corps into one unified service branch. This idea is not new. As far back as 1994, the late Colonel David Hackworth advocated the merger of the Army and the Marine Corps because their missions seemed to overlap. He went so far as to claim that the Department of Defense (DoD) could save “around $20 billion a year.” Nevertheless, absent in Hackworth’s column was a coherent blueprint for how the DoD could effectively unify its ground components into a cohesive service because Hackworth did not flesh out his strategic vision for what 21st Century wars may look like.

Which raises a very salient question as to what America’s strategic priorities should be. In a perceptive op-ed, Mark Fitzgerald, David Deptula and Gian P. Gentile aver that the United States must choose to go to “war as a last resort and not a policy option of first choice.” To this must be added another imperative. The United States Armed Forces must prioritize homeland defense as its primary mission and rethink the mistaken belief that the United States can somehow secure its interests through “lengthy military occupations of foreign lands.”

Thus, this newly merged service must redirect its focus towards countering cyber warfare and CBRNe (Chemical, Biological, Radiation, Nuclear and explosives) attacks and should work towards bolstering its counterterrorism (CT) capabilities. This is because, due to the convergence of the global community, the United States may be vulnerable to attacks from within by homegrown terrorists and drug cartels—all of which may wreak havoc and may even cripple America’s domestic infrastructures.

Reorientation of its mission focus may also require that the new service reconfigure its size. After all, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey wrote in Foreign Affairs, “Washington should remember that the size of the armed forces is not the most telling metric of their strength.” One solution is to adopt the so-called “Macgregor Transformation Model (MTM)” centered around the combat group concept which may reduce the strength of the new service “yet in the end produce a force that has greater combat capability…[and] more sustainable.” This model may provide the United States with a deployable fire brigade in the event of a national emergency or an international crisis. Already, the bases from which to adopt this viable model exist in the form of Army brigade combat teams (BCTs) and Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs) of various sizes.

Should the United States decide that it needs to project its hard power abroad to guard its interests, it could deploy the Special Operations Forces (SOF) components of the new service in tandem with UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to selectively target and neutralize potential threats. While the SOF and UAV surgical raids should not be viewed as substitutes for deft diplomacy, they can provide cheaper and selective power projection capabilities. Moreover, doing so could minimize the risks inherent in power projection and anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) missions which may potentially mire the United States in messy and protracted conflicts.

Marines from MARSOC honing their rifle marksmanship skills. Photo by MARSOC Public Affairs

Last but not least, this new service could buttress interoperability and capabilities of allied forces around the globe through military-to-military exchanges. Although Deni was referring specifically to the Army-led initiatives when he suggested this, he may be correct that military-to-military engagements may help to promote America’s image abroad as a trusted guarantor of peace. But even more important, such activities may “mean fewer American boots on the ground.” However, implementing what the retired Marine General James Mattis refers to as the “proxy strategy” may be a better means by which the United States could “lead from behind.” Under this arrangement, while “America’s general visibility would decline,” its allies and proxies would police the trouble spots on its behalf.

Contrary to what many in the defense establishment believe, the austerity measures wrought by the sequestration have not been entirely negative. If anything, this perceived “crisis” has provided the much-needed impetus for innovative approaches to national defense. The proposed merger of the ground forces may provide the United States with most cost-effective and versatile service branch to defend the homeland and safeguard its interests abroad.



It is interesting to note that the debate concerning any intervention into Syria is a binary one, where we debate either using hard power to ‘punish’ the Assad Government for use of chemical weapons, or we do nothing. This is interesting because somehow we are unable to publicly consider using soft power in this instance–we are unable to conceive alternate courses of action that circumstance demands from us.

Look at where the world is right now. First, at the UN Security Council Russia and China will block any punitive measures against the Syrian Government. Their reasons for this are varied, but we would be remiss to not acknowledge that Libya and Operation Unified Protector are not ancient history. Their begrudging acquiescence to western intervention was, from their perspective, too much. We shouldn’t now nor should we into the future count on any approval from the UNSC for military interventions in the old Soviet sphere. Syria is not a big enough issue to eschew the auspices of the UNSC, especially in light of the importance placed on UNSC authorization by NATO and the western powers in Libya.

While this may cause some teeth grinding among many, it should not. After all, the US was the cornerstone in designing the UNSC, and Russia and China are well within their rights on the UNSC to do as they do. So, what’s next? Something short of direct application of hard power.

The argument could be made that the transfer of small arms and ammunition to rebel forces in Syria is the ethical thing to do in light of our own forces not being permitted to take any action. However, taking such action does not lead directly enough to a desirable end-state for the current civil war in Syria. It leaves open too many outcomes and flies in the face of lessons learned from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

So, what is a best case for resolution to the Syrian civil war–what should we work towards?

In short, we should work towards: A much more friendly neighbor for Israel in any new Syrian government, Iran losing their proxy, Russia has loosing the lease on their naval base, the Russian strategic communication strategy they’ve employed being turned around and used against them, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s ability to handle situations like Syria being strengthened, and lastly that the United State’s position in global leadership reestablished.

Israel has spent the last two years in the eye of a hurricane. Most of Israel’s neighbors have experienced some degree of revolution and civil war. However, at least in the public’s eye, Israel has remained passive and not gotten involved in the Arab Spring. But, in regards to Syria, Israel has a real opportunity to change the dynamic on their Northern border. In fact, Israel has already begun to do this. Israel has spent much of the last 15 years on the wrong side of the news cycle in the Arab world and in the West. The pictures and videos of Palestinian teenagers throwing rocks at Israeli tanks can’t come across in favor of Israel. The narrative this has fomented has not been to the benefit of Israel, and yet it is not an accurate portrayal either.

Israel must do all it can to connect with the Syrian people by helping their refugees and victims of the civil war. This is vital because it enables another narrative to emerge that can in turn become the foundation upon the next Syrian government being friendly to Israel. In the best case, it would also allow for a new dialog to emerge with the Palestinians and others that to date have not had enough evidence for Israel to be an acceptable neighbor to them.

If Israel can build enough confidence with the Syrian people the likelihood of Iran maintaining their proxy in Syria becomes much more unlikely, and makes serious headway towards containing Iran’s influence to the Gulf. It is at this juncture that the interests of Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council converge, and it behooves both to work together towards their shared strategic goals. What’s more, the relationships established here between Israel and the GCC can be built upon in the future as needs arise.

Russia is attempting to rebuild their naval influence, and it is in the interest of the US and west to counter Russia’s waxing influence on the world stage. The Borei class SSBN, Bulava class SS-N, Neustrashimyy FFG, and missiles like the SS-N-26 and the jointly developed Brahmos missile all put into action the words of the Kremlin. This growing naval clout will depend on a Mediterranean port to extend Russia’s influence outside of the Black Sea. With a very real chance that Russia’s Navy could outnumber all other nation’s navies in the Mediterranean. If Russia seems assertive with their oil and gas reserves towards Europe, what will they do with the strongest Navy and a port in the Eastern Mediterranean?

Russia’s newly waxing influence on the world stage is in the interest of the US and West to counter. Over the Syrian civil war we find a moment to counter Russian moves. Russia has positioned itself through rhetoric as being against Western and US imperialist inclinations. The narrative they draw with their words is backed by the numerous interventions the US and West have been involved in since 2001. They are able to play against the sensitivities many citizens in the West feel for their Governments seemingly constant need to use hard power in dealing with the threat of terrorism.

In addition, Russia has been able to set out a predicted course of action that the governments of the West will take in dealing with Syria. However, in Russia’s most recent remarks they unintentionally highlight their own hypocrisy regarding Syria. The rhetoric from the Kremlin speaks only towards maintaining the status quo in Syria – a civil war that has caused upwards of 100,000 deaths; while also positioning itself to be the mediator (with the US following their lead) in any final peace settlement. The words they speak to the public are backed by their actions in supplying the Syrian Government with weapons.

The United States must take a global leadership role in resolving the Syrian civil war. However, as outlined above this leadership will not encompass hard power being directly applied against the Assad government. In assuming a global leadership position the US needs to build a coalition of nations to deploy humanitarian aid around the Syrian borders and augment the humanitarian efforts already underway there. In seeking to do as such, the US is assured to build a very broad coalition of Nations.

Any deployment of medical and humanitarian teams to include hospital ships would naturally need to have security provided for them. With having refugee camps and a robust security presence in Turkey, Jordan, and Israel the pressure on the Assad government would be great and the ability for any outside sources of support to smuggle in weapons to government forces would be greatly reduced. The presence of coalition forces along the Syrian border would approximate the desired outcome of hard power being directly applied.

In taking real action to support the victims of Assad’s government we are doing more than what the Syrian government’s supporters are willing to do. We highlight the hypocrisy of their words and place them on the defensive, having them to defend why they are willing to allow the disintegration of the ‘Paris of the East’. We bring the World towards examining the motives behind why China and Russia are willing to allow a country that holds chemical weapons to disintegrate into a failed state on Europe’s doorstep. And most importantly we place doubt in the world regarding the future of a world that has Russia with a fascist like Putin at helm.

Russia is content to allow Syria to destroy itself before they go ahead and try to broker peace. They are content with having a failed state far from their borders, but figuratively in the lap of the West. It is time to get ahead of their decision making cycle and help the Syrian people and thereby ensure that Russia does not enjoy undue influence over the Levant at the expense of the US, Europe, Israel, and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Between Europe, the US, Israel, the GCC there are many points where strategic interest converge. In years past, capitalizing on these shared strategic interests was the hallmark of American global leadership. The strategy I’ve laid out here can bring the US back to the role that so many other Nation’s admired in the US. This strategy does not rely on any direct application of hard power against the Syrian government. But, it also does not have the US and the West standing idly by as weapons of mass destruction are employed in a near-failed state.

Through our actions we must move our position on Syria from the very nebulous gray area that other nations exploit to weaken US position. We must, through our actions, demonstrate our willingness to limit suffering and for regional stability. Such actions are good for the US, for Europe, for Israel, and for the GCC, and certainly for the Syrian people. It increases our cooperation with allies and partners, it diplomatically isolates our competitors, and it takes the initiative from those who are willing to watch that part of the World burn.



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