Archive for the 'Innovation' Tag
December 20th marked our first month as Naval Innovation Advisory Council fellows, stationed in Silicon Valley. Imagine an aviator and a SWO standing at the doorstep of Silicon Valley; it has been an experience akin to Alice’s entry into wonderland. As we’ve been exposed to several corporate cultures centered on innovation, one theme continues to prevail: TRUST.
Trust requires vulnerability and leads to profound mutual respect. With trust comes openness, and with openness comes true innovation. Without trust, the best ideas remain close to people’s chests. With openness, people are more apt to engage in difficult conversations, an essential component of great collaboration. If you’ve ever experienced great collaboration you will know that it becomes much easier to frame problems and in turn, find solutions. It all starts with a solid foundation of trust among all of the organization’s members.
We are intrigued by the way top executives frequently hold open dialogue with all members of their company even (especially) about sensitive matters effecting company strategy. They trust their employees to keep the sensitive information close and the employees trust their executives to take their feedback seriously.
The Department of the Navy will only achieve organizational honesty and institutional integrity if we trust each other… And this is difficult.
How do we overcome our negative reactions to internal threat, embarrassment, perceived loss of power, and new perspectives from E-1 to O-10?
Are my Navy teammates comfortable showing me their vulnerabilities? If not, why?
How can trust be restored?
There is hope to answer these questions and enhance the level of trust in our organization. Building and restoring trust becomes easier when we focus on mutual purpose and respect. Destructive disagreement can be overcome by respect built on our common pledge to support and defended The Constitution of the United States of America.
As 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Without revolution and revolutionaries it is hard to significantly change large, hidebound institutions. It takes crisis, preferably one of the existential variety, to overcome the vested interest, power, influence nodes, and just plain habits that have been in place so long they have become part of the landscape everyone works around. With time, they grow as they collect accretions in a self-justifying cycle of mutual reinforcement.
In Wednesday’s post, RADM Bruner, USN frames his discussion around Col. Boyd’s OODA Loop concept. No reason to dive in there, the Cult of Boyd is well established and I have nothing to add to the canon, but it is what is inside the frame that I find of interest.
Inside that frame, Bruner brought his ship alongside that well established enemy of all that is good and holy, our self-defeating bureaucracy;
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.
The reason it still exists is that changing it has not been a priority of civilian and uniformed leadership in the Pentagon and leadership of both parties on The Hill.
Why? Well to ask that question is to answer it. There are other priorities. For the last few decades we have rewarded and promoted those who are more interested in flash-in-the-pan concepts such as the Cult of Transformationalism, trying to garner political favors through focusing on socio-political agendas unrelated and antithetical to a well-run military, or giving speeches in support of failed programs that read more like defense industry spokesmen vice customers of the defense industry.
Where has the effort gone to bringing the edifice and infrastructure of our defense establishment in to the 21st Century? We are spending all our capital on paint, wallpaper, WiFi, and scented candles while the heat is supplied by a coal-fired furnace and the “facilities” are chamber pots and outhouses.
… 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.
Each year, those accretions grow. They only grow because they are allowed to. Why are they allowed to? Leadership and priorities.
We must build a process that results in capability fielded quickly … We need the ability to spend money on new efforts today … We need flexibility to change programs …
Those are all great aspirations, and everyone who has to do their best inside the existing systems would love to do that, but they can’t. Why? It is because of the system they are forced to use. Who is forcing them to use it? The leadership of the Executive and Legislative Branches of government.
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.
We have identified the “what” and outlined the “so what.” That leaves the “what next.”
Hate to say it, but we (those O-9 and below) must stoically wait.
During the English Civil War, in order to win, Parliament had to throw away all the English knew about how to man, train, and equip and army. From equipment to personnel policy, they stripped away everything that was not related to merit and performance on the field – they created the New Model Army.
That New Model Army could not have been created anywhere but during crisis and a break from the ruling establishment’s habits and privileges concerning the military. Sadly, absent some exceptional Executive Branch assignments, radical uniformed promotions from same, and the right leaders in the Legislative Branch of our government, the ossified accretions that are our system will not change.
Maybe we will get lucky and will change while at peace. With luck and the right people, maybe.
Change will have to start at the top. The first block will be something to replace Goldwater-Nichols. When that moves, more can follow – so watch that space. When that moves, the momentum will exist for other large-pixel reforms such as acquisition reform.
With all the vested business and political interest, it will be a rough and bloody battle that will leave in its wake a detritus of expended personnel and political capital, and more than one or two careers on the butcher bill. Worth the price; but the time is not ripe for that battle – there are no leaders, no plan, and as of yet, no massing of force to tilt against the Iron Triangle.
Until then? All we can do is what Bruner recommends, with little hammers tapping away at places we can access to make,
… small and necessary steps …
The big battles must wait.
Think, plan, prepare, ponder; and watch the horizon for sails.
Serious students of the US national security enterprise are likely familiar with Dr. Amy Zegart’s Flawed by Design. In her 2000 work, she examines the creation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, concluding that from the start, these organizations never received the appropriate authorities to effectively lead, to ensure our nation’s security and fight our nation’s wars. Her insights proved prescient in light of the 9/11 attacks and military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Since the National Security Act created the DoD, JCS, CIA and the Department of the Air Force in 1947, there have been repeated attempts to build using this broken design. Each subsequent reform effort, particularly the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reform Act of 1986, added to the size and complexity of the Pentagon. Layers upon layers of oversight got added to fix and re-fix the fundamentally flawed concept. The total cost to maintain this leviathan of tens of thousands of staff is enormous and takes scarce resources away from actual warfighting needs. Significant overhead costs are not the only negative impact from this flawed design, as many DoD-wide efforts are simply not effective.
In a recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute, Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus provided examples of the DoD’s “4th Estate” dysfunctionality. He particularly focused on the growth and operating costs of the Defense Finance and Accounting Services and the Defense Logistics Agency but similar criticisms could be made against most defense organizations.
These organizations were created to efficiently provide common support functions for the military services but, over time, that concept seems to have been lost, as the size and roles of the defense establishment expanded. Today, the military services often have to change their practices to support the defense agencies, instead of the reverse.
Similar to Mr. Mabus’s criticism of the 4th Estate, Senator John McCain has been a vocal critic recently of the Defense Acquisition System and has even called for revisiting the sacred cow of Goldwater-Nichols. Sweeping changes to these two broken processes are long overdue.
While the shared interests of Secretary Mabus and Senator McCain are somewhat unusual, some may view them simply as inside-the-beltway political banter. However, DoD’s outdated organizational structure has also hampered military operations over the past decade.
My experience highlights the broad impacts from centralized oversight. Having served in both the Navy and Marine Corps for over a decade apiece, I understand naval integration is difficult to achieve; even after 200 years, it is still a work in progress. To think that four services can fully integrate to support the shared-lie of “jointness,” to confront and solve fast-evolving crises today, is an expensive fool’s errand.
General Stanley McChrystal asserts in his new book Team of Teams, that the “Limiting Factor” in our war against al Qaida was our own management of operations. He experienced first-hand the cumbersome layers of bureaucracy, siloed information sharing and over-centralized decision making, even within his own Special Operations community. My own experience at the MNC-I HQ in 2005 supports his assertions and has made me question the value of joint organizations and processes as well.
Many are familiar with the US Army’s seizure of the Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) in the initial run-up to Baghdad in 2003. There was a second, lesser known, battle for BIAP in 2005 – which pitted Marines against the Air Force.
Briefly, the Marines operated in the areas west and south of Baghdad and routinely conducted counter-fire missions through a section of the air space on the same side of BIAP. The Air Force staff at the Combined Air Operations Center wanted to expand the air space control measures above BIAP for safety of flight concerns. This change would prohibit Marines from quickly responding to attacks on ground forces—shooting back, in other words–in the area.
Despite Joint doctrine clearly favoring the ground commander, a joint staff running operations, and even having a neutral Army three star as the Corps Commander, the Air Force refused to support the ground commander’s operational needs. Eventually, a few mid-level officers and Staff NCOs worked out a solution, albeit one held together with duct tape and 550 cord, that resolved the coordination issue.
This event occurred nearly 20 years after the passage of Goldwater-Nichols and following significant investments in joint commands, joint doctrine, joint programs and the brainwashing of an entire generation of military officers on the virtues of jointness. Interservice coordination seemed no better than it was in previous military operations. Problems in Iraq were resolved by military professionals working towards common goals, as I’m sure was the practice in every war before the flawed legislation.
For the past 60 years, DoD and Congress have slowly worked towards unification of the military services. In the industrial age, centralization and the emphasis on process efficiency were widely accepted management practices. However, the complex, interconnected future, characterized by ubiquitous data and technological changes occurring rapidly, will require smaller, decentralized and agile organizations to succeed – just the opposite of our current organization design.
Not only is the idea of creating enormous Defense-wide systems, programs and organizations a bad one, it is a dangerous management approach in the information age. The recent OPM data breaches provide crystal-clear evidence of how catastrophic risk increases when we put our all of our eggs in a single basket. We cannot wall-off our stovepipes in single places and rest assured that no one can get in to our information.
Preparing for future conflict, particularly against modern professional militaries, requires more than simply investing in expensive weapon systems. It requires us to have candid conversations about what’s not working in DoD – far beyond just the broken acquisition process – and recognize the fundamental design flaws of the Department.
Over the next few years, we have a great opportunity to leverage the work started by Secretary Mabus and Senator McCain. With former naval officers Undersecretary Bob Work and General Dunford holding key positions in the 4th Estate, as well as a new Commandant and CNO both recognized for innovating thinking, and several naval officers on the Hill, we may actually be able to make some meaningful changes in the defense organization which will ensure success in the future. Making significant changes to the entrenched DoD bureaucracy are a longshot indeed, but history has shown that naval officers working together are capable of great things.
In the August issue of Proceedings, Commander Darcie Cunningham, USCG complains about the personality traits brought to the naval service by millennials and gives advice on how to better assimilate them into the ranks [For other responses to the article see here and here]. I find the article incredibly condescending and patronizing with a hint of fear of impending irrelevance in a world that the Commander does not want to see change. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of remaining stagnant. The world is continuously changing. Our great nation is continuously changing. Our long tradition of citizen soldiers demands that we change with it.
I currently serve on a multi-generational crew with a hearty presence from generation X (those born between the early 1960s to 1980). They have stood a solid watch and I firmly respect how their service strengthened American seapower, but they are less dynamic than the current generation. They cling to inefficient means of communication and are more concerned with “work ethic” than the quality of product produced. This generation has me questioning how they can adapt in today’s rapidly changing world.
Here are some of their behaviors I have noticed:
• While the younger generation is more concerned with quality product, the older generation views a correlation with performance and hours worked. Given the same quality of results, they see laziness and a lack of dedication instead of efficiency.
• Along the same lines as correlating product with hours worked, they also would much rather see a more experienced individual be promoted over one vastly more skilled and qualified. They view accelerated advancement as an affront to their culture of advancement through keeping their head down and staying out of trouble. To them it is much better to be cautious and safe than tenacious and bold.
• They do not understand the need for the younger generation to know the basis behind requirements. The younger generations sees power through knowledge and asks why in hopes of finding a way to improve the status quo. The older generation is more apt to simply accept the way things have always been and can devolve to a frustrated “because I said so,” when asked for an explanation from subordinates.
Whether the older generation likes it or not, millennials are currently leaders within our organization. We are serving with discipline and dedication equal to those who have come before us, but we are doing it our own way. We will continue to preserve the liberties this country enjoys. So how does the structured military culture adapt to our new generation?
First, we must educate them on the benefits of promoting based on merit and not time in grade. The current antiquated system lets more competent individuals await their turn while they watch the less skilled continued to advance once it is their time to promote. If this merit-based promotion idea does not sit well with some members of the older generation, perhaps it is a subtle concern that they needed a time-based system to make it as far as they did. Job satisfaction should be the motivator for retention, not scare tactics of a poor economy and poor unemployment rate.
They need to be “course-corrected” that a desire to understand the basis for requirements and wanting to improve how we do things are NOT insubordination or disrespect. If this does not happen, our best will continue to be driven out and the military will remain a carbon copy of what it looks like now. Once we stop adapting we will most surely become irrelevant. The only way we can improve is if we ask if there is a better way and have an open and honest discussion about it. Progress has always been seen as a threat to the present. It takes courage to move forward as an organization.
I am very appreciative the older generation of senior leaders made sure the United States continues to rule the seas. They did an amazing job and they all deserve our thanks and respect. Their way of doing business worked, but previous performance does not guarantee future success. There are sure to be aspects of the current way of doing business and we should figure out what those are, but blindly maintaining the status quo is a sure way to fail.
Sea Control interviews Erik Prince, former CEO of Blackwater. He describes the challenges of African logistics and how his new public venture, Frontier Services Group, will tackle them. We also discuss the future of private military contractors and the lessons learned from Blackwater.
In trying to come to a better understanding of what the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell should be, I came across at old (from 1988! ) essay written by Stephen Rosen titled New Ways of War: Understanding Military Innovation (h/t Adam Elkus for the lead on it). Rosen’s essay details the full evolution of innovation, what innovation is as a process, and how ‘disruptive thinking’ is only the first step and is not innovation in and of itself. Innovation doesn’t truly take hold until the intellectual, technical, and political aspects of the new idea has matured. While the tempo of technological change can be breathtaking, institutional changes in the service still have a tempo that iterates at a generational pace. For Rosen, innovation is not complete until an innovation has been fully developed into doctrine and operational paradigm. In other words, only once the disruption from new ways of thinking has dissipated can the innovation process be considered complete.
The organizational struggle that leads to innovation often involves the creation of a new path to senior ranks so that a new officer learning and practicing the new way of war will not be hunted aside into a dead-end speciality that does not qualify him for flag rank.
Rosen frames military innovation in terms of there actually being three struggles: intellectual, political, and technological. He observes this in three case studies. However, in my remarks here, I shall only stick with one of the examples: development of carrier warfare by the USN.
Rosen pays special attention to how Rear Admiral Moffett performed his duties as the first Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. Rosen accounts how at first, aviators objected to the notion of a battleship sailor being chosen to lead the newly minted BuAer. However, they would come to find that it was Moffett’s ability to wage the political struggle, and his ability to articulate the role of the carrier in warfare – in a manner that met the evolving nature of the intellectual struggle – that warranted his selection. As Rosen states
The intellectual redefinition of naval warfare from combat among battleships to the development of mobile air bases at sea would have been futile if the political struggle for power within the officer corps in the Navy had not been fought and won by Moffett and his allies.
Technology alone doesn’t cause innovation, nor does it usher in a new way of war, neither does a good idea make it very far if the champion of that idea can’t help foster institutional change. Rosen cites the efforts of Moffet and so many others as having taken 24 years from the general board first considering naval aviation in 1919 to fruition with the publication of PAC-10 in 1943. A truly generational effort, that saw not just the technology of naval aviation develop, but the aviation career field take its initial shape, and the political structure of the officer corps evolve and the wider community adjust accordingly.
Rosen had to chose for his case studies large and significant shifts that do not often occur in militaries. Where the Navy finds itself today doesn’t nearly parallel the example of the development of naval aviation. However, this is not to say that there are no lessons to be gleaned from it, especially in regards to the intellectual and political struggles within the Navy.
People, ideas, hardware… In that order! — Col. John Boyd, USAF (ret)
Boyd was more right than he realized. Not only is that the order of importance for military leaders, it’s also the order what is the hardest to improve, and once improved that is the order which has the greatest impact. As well, it is the evolution of all three aspects that are required for innovation in the military.
The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum held their first locally organized event this past Saturday, called DEF[x] Annapolis (think TEDx vs TED). Organized by midshipmen at the Naval Academy, the goal was to bring together a group of people from around the region interested in furthering the discussion of innovation and disruption within the military.
This was the second DEF event, the inaugural conference having been held this past October in Chicago. Their format tries to emulate some of the lessons of TED, such as restricting speakers to a 20-30 minute window (including Q&A time) and bringing in people with a variety of experiences and perspectives. I was not at DEF in Chicago, so this was my first exposure to the DEF group.
There were a few major themes running throughout the speakers’ talks: how private industry can help the military innovate, that the military is resistant to change and innovation, and how military service can prepare you (or not) to be an entrepreneur. Most of the speakers were currently serving, or had at some point served, in the military and were in various stages of starting their own venture. They shared great lessons from their experiences both as military officers and as entrepreneurs. I’m not going to go into detail about what they said, because that’s not the focus of this post, and because (once the videos are online I’ll update this post with a link) you can hear them in their own words.
What struck me as largely absent from the conversation, and I’m not the only one who noticed this, was discussion about how to foster innovation from within the military – not just from the outside in via startups. Being a software developer and someone who appreciates the value of an outside disruptor to force change in an industry, I wasn’t terribly bothered by this absence. I noticed a lack of this type of discussion simply due to the nature of the event. BJ Armstrong rightfully raised the question though, both on Twitter and out loud during a session.
How about solving a problem inside the lifelines? Why do we all have to do "startups" on the outside? #DEF2014
— B Armstrong (@WWATMD) March 1, 2014
It’s a valid concern, and it got me thinking: why is there such a conspicuous lack of discussion, and (from where I’m sitting) a general lack of interest, about spurring innovation from the inside? Does it have to do with the type of person to whom this kind of thinking and iterating appeals? Is it a symptom of a culture of “shut up, do as you’re told, and don’t make waves” that persists inside the military? Perhaps it’s a combination of those factors?
I’m a lowly BM3, and a reservist at that, so my exposure to this type of thinking is far more limited than the members who are pushing this discussion further into the sunlight. My sense is that while the problem is probably a combination of the above factors, the scales tip further in the direction of a change-resistant culture. Perhaps more specifically, it’s the perception of the military at large being innovation-averse. The DEF[x] speakers are a perfect example: they saw something they felt was fundamentally wrong within the military, and they set out to correct it – by setting up their own company, not by working inside the system to push for change. Some of them may have been driven primarily by business opportunity, which is perfectly acceptable, but the sense I get is that most of them were genuinely interested in solving a problem for the betterment of the service.
My takeaway from DEF[x] was not that the answer to fixing the military’s problems lies in startups. What I took was that the biggest problem for innovation lies not with a lack of smart people with good ideas, but a lack of opportunity for those people to execute on those ideas. Innovation is alive and well in the minds of those who see a better way forward, but we need to encourage them to voice those thoughts and experiment. CRIC is a great idea, but it needs to go from one small group to a service-wide program that reaches down to the smallest unit level. Give the smart, creative thinkers the tools they need to improve the service they love, starting with a willingness to listen.
CAPT Rodgers, former CO of the USS PONCE Afloat Forward Staging Base, discusses how his ad-hoc crew of Sailors and civilian mariners plucked a 40 year old ship from decommissioning’s doorstep and turned it into the most in-demand platform in the Arabian Gulf.
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All images from CAPT Rodgers’ unclassified post-deployment presentation on USS PONCE.