Archive for the 'Innovation' Tag
This is a call for direction, to give focus to the avalanche of innovation asked for, by, and delivered to our Navy. I started this essay a dozen times. Every time a new anecdote or angle occurred to me, I would set out again to describe something on the tip of my tongue and it always fizzled out. I have come at it swinging; I have sidled up to it sideways.The truth is, every officer that I know has seen the same systemic inadequacies and has had many brilliant ideas to move the Navy forward. I am woefully underqualified to present the catch-all solution for the Navy’s problems; I lack the experience and expertise. So when I examine the heap of possibilities I wish to engage, I have trouble finding a place to start.
It is a mountain of Everest proportions and geared-up officers at the bottom are still puzzling the path that will move them forward. The bureaucracy has become so large, so complicated, so obscured that every start seems to simply tire and thin the herd. With this many people all looking in the same direction, seeing the same issues, it is incredible that we seem to still be at base camp. Then, I start this essay over again and realize, I too am stuck at base camp with just an essay, not even an actual proposal or policy! Progress proves to be as difficult to define as to execute.
The Problem is the Problems
A foundational issue with trying to see a way forward is that we have a system akin to pre-WWI Europe, one of secret alliances and tensions in which to change one small thing could bring an unending avalanche of consequences. Every time a brave officer comes forward with a solution and attacks the mountain, they dislodge a myriad of other issues which force them back to the safety of the ranks. Even those who have climbed their way to positions of authority, look back on the path they took and can hardly recognize it, with policy and technology changes obscuring and isolating them from bringing others along. The Navy is at the foot of an impossibly high pile of interrelated and cascading issues with no clear path to the top and all of our training and motivation seems to mean nothing when we are not sure how to stabilize the stack to make passage possible.
There is a beacon of hope to guide our efforts, however. Those with the depth of knowledge and experience to see the full set of obstacles are of highest value. Yet with so many people energetic to climb the mountain, it seems that those with the perspective to guide them may be tired from the climb, entrenched in the system which they navigated or bound by the intricacies of bureaucracy. Those of us just beginning our ascent cannot follow their paths, and they aren’t calling down the mountain. The entire way we have been trying to innovate is flawed because we are pulling pieces out from the already unstable bottom, without any guidance from those with a much broader, more mature vantage point.
The Conditions are Right
Anyone who has begun a precarious climb knows that without the right equipment, angle, and direction you are just asking for the ground to crumble beneath you. This is, at best, comical, as you struggle without making any progress and, at worst, dangerous. We, as aspiring innovators, are not navigating the treacherous path of change as well as we should. Yet there are many of us, trained up and passionately ready, to build a navigable trail so that we can tame the mountain.
We must begin. We have tools. We have ideas. We have experts. We have the time. All we are waiting for is the right people to give us the go ahead, and to guide us from their elevated positions. We need those fearless enough to reach great heights to call again upon that fortitude and communicate with us.
The greatest barriers to innovation are feelings of being overwhelmed, thinking in isolated terms, and failure to launch. The time is right, with motivated innovators ready to start who understand the complexity of the issues and are eager for support and guidance. It is time to begin.
The Solution is Perspective
This last piece of the puzzle is one that our enthusiasm and creativity cannot overcome. We know the value of climbing the mountain; we know the programs, incentives and awards meant to entice us to attack the mountain. We know the bemoaned complaints and the fiery desire for improvement that pushes from behind us. Neither of these are new phenomena and yet relatively little progress is attempted. Every time one problem is fixed, it tugs at the thousand other things to which it is tied and the system rejects the amendment or absorbs it with little appreciation for the intent of the improvement.
Junior leaders simply can’t see a way to conquer it all with our limited experience and perspective. We need senior leaders to take a risk and trust that given a problem, we can provide creative solutions. Then we need them to use that position to properly define the problem, so that we are not solving it from our too-close vantage point, but with proper respect for the breadth and depth of the systems we may impact. There is a broad call out for improvements and passionate leaders giving us broad directions. This is simply not working – the paths they took no longer exist, and the workable way ahead is difficult to distinguish. The mountain is ever more treacherous, precariously balanced and threatening.
Solutions seem easy to come by, and there are many smart, innovative people seeking them with reckless abandon. Yet these are simple solutions to simple problems. No problem in the Navy exists in a truly simple form, or in a vacuum. An entire generation is waiting for their moment, but is unable to see the tangled infrastructure supported by that rock they seek to demolish. We are waiting for the opportunity to marry our education and enthusiasm. Many of the best and brightest spend a lot of time working on wonderful, well thought out solutions. Those who have worked hard and attained the rank and authority to enact change are constantly looking for creative solutions, or those who can help them craft them. With so many people putting forth so much time and effort, there is no shortage of solutions.
Without a clearly defined problem, we can’t know if brilliant solutions are hitting the mark. No amount of innovation or hard work can overcome a poorly defined problem. We need to not only be more enthusiastic in our creative problem solving efforts, but deliberate in defining our problem defining. The accuracy of the definition of the parameters of a problem will directly correlate to the effectiveness of the solution, and when there is no clearly defined problem at all, the solutions are bound to cause more harm than good. The Navy has some of the most innovative minds at all levels of leadership. Junior officers are ready to craft solutions, anxiously anticipating and even creating problems. The youngest members of the wardroom may see many of the problems, but without the scope and clear direction that could be provided by senior leaders, we are bound to waste precious time and effort building paths in the wrong direction. Senior leaders need only shine light down the mountain and give us permission to build.
We have a need, as a Navy, to be better stewards of our own system. We have a responsibility to tackle the mountain of outdated policies and known shortcomings. We need well-defined targets, measured perspective, and large-scale cooperation to manage the secondary and tertiary effects of change. We need not run up the gravel bottom only to backslide, tired and frustrated. There are great leaders along the path; there are many more ready to band together for the trek to the top. Define a problem clearly, give us permission to upset norms, and we will eagerly bring ideas to make the mountain more manageable.
I am concerned that the Navy will soon be mandated to innovate. Even worse, that the process will be bureaucratized. In a memo dated 31 Jul 2015, Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) Ash Carter directed the Defense Business Board (DBB) to “provide recommendations on how the Department can establish ‘virtual consultancies’ that engage our internal talent.” Six months later, the DBB approved a recommendation to designate an entity within the Office of the Secretary of Defense to champion innovation efforts and to serve as a forcing function for cultural change within the organization. While I agree with the spirit of the recommendation, I believe the Navy can – and will – be more successful by innovating through internal channels.
That being said, I still believe the number one barrier to innovation is organizational culture, in which individual leaders do not invite – or support – their subordinates to challenge the status quo. It’s easy to understand why. To invite change into an organization requires courage and effort. Courage to listen, disrupt, and possibly fail. Effort to mentor, follow-through, and champion. It also takes precious time away from the daily routine and more “pressing” matters.
The Secretary of Defense has certainly reinvigorated the innovative spirit within DoD, and many efforts are afoot to facilitate innovation initiatives. Examples include: CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), SECDEF’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), ATHENA, and Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) just to name a few. Innovative efforts, however, are not just restricted to the upper echelons. Enlisted members, Junior Officers (JOs), and DoD civilian are getting involved too – in big ways. Under their own initiative, they are self-organizing, collaborating, and making things happen across the Fleet. DoN should take note.
Good ideas have no rank
For example, Surface Warfare detailing (PERS-41) championed three JO innovation cells to undertake a broad series of initiatives to lead the Navy in recruiting and retaining top talent. In March 2016, a DC symposium – organized by JOs, for JOs – will tackle the challenge of how to better evaluate our officers. Later that month, a team of operators and domain experts will gather in Hawaii to develop human-centered solutions to the challenges of Integrated Air Missile Defense Mission coordination. Stakeholders – even very senior ones – are paying attention.
In a message dated 08 Feb 2016, Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus announced his 2015 innovation award winners – ranging from Third Class Petty Officers, Midshipmen, PhD civilians, and senior officers. These winners tackled a wide-variety of challenges to include robotics/autonomous systems, data analytics, additive manufacturing, energy, weapons, decision aide, and many others. Of particular note were the categories of innovation leadership and innovation catalyst. What can be learned from these innovation leaders? More importantly, what is their formula – or process – for inspiring a culture of innovation success?
Opportunities for Innovation
According to the Department of the Navy’s innovation vision, “the [Navy] must anticipate, adapt, and thrive in a rapidly changing environment, which requires freedom, the flexibility to innovate at all levels, and the ability to flatten the organization, break-down silos, and create cross-disciplinary synergies.”
Perhaps SECNAV’s guidance says it best:
- Commanders at every level must create an environment which allows for the challenging of assumptions, the creation of novel ideas and strategies, and the support to follow-through and make an impact.
- Commanders at all levels must identify the appropriate conditions for taking risks.
- Prudent risk takers, and the failures which result in learning, must be recognized and rewarded.
- Zero-Defect thinking must not permeate promotion boards or performance assessments. Failure that occurs in a learning environment ultimately benefits the organization.
The key to DoN’s innovation success will be a collection of individual leaders who inspire trust in their people – willing to listen, provide feedback, and champion good ideas wherever they may come from. Our DoN members are already partnering with internal Navy circles, industry, small businesses, and academia to organize projects, symposiums, innovation forums, and task groups. I urge Navy leadership to leverage the enthusiasm and creativity already resident inside our organization today. Innovation success relies on relationships and empowerment, not mandates and directives.
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.
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- On Midrats 12 Feb 2017 – Episode 371: Rice Bowls, Silos, & Firewalls – the National Security Bureaucracy
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- On Midrats 5 Feb 2017 – Episode 370: The SECNAV’s In Basket With James Holmes