Design2

DEF 2014 and the Guardians of the Machine

This piece by Mikhail Grinberg is featured as part of our Innovation week in honor of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. It is also featured at The Bridge.

In December 1918, a few weeks after The Great War ended, the government of the United Kingdom released a report on the “Machinery of Government,” which it spent the last year of the war preparing. The purpose of the report was to first understand how various departments were organized and second to propose a series of recommendations for improvement. A prolonged period of conflict had left most departments with much “overlapping and consequent obscurity and confusion.” In fact, the very “purposes for which they were thus called into being” were wildly altered by four years of fighting on the Continent.

All departments were affected. But even those that were least tied to the wartime effort – Health or Education – fell short of basic organizational “foundation for efficient action.” Such were the report’s conclusions at a time when London was seeing a radically changed – and still changing – world through the fog of victory.

“Machinery of Government” gave birth to a simple concept that decisions about “what” to do in any particular department or “how” to do it – whether it is about acquiring weapons systems or setting academic curricula – should be done by experts and not policymakers. The answers to these questions need to meet policy objectives and strategic priorities set by politicians, but they should be unencumbered by Politics.

The report did not express this logic explicitly, but its recommendations led to this logical conclusion. The research community was the most fervent adopter of this approach, giving birth to today’s UK Research Councils, which are bodies of experts – scientists and artists alike – that distribute public funds to projects that have the most promise.

In April 2008, John Denham — the then Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities, and Skills — remarked how the spirit of a report written 90 years prior was still relevant to the science community. He outlined three key points:

  • Scientists are “best placed to determine research priorities”
  • Government’s role is to set “over-arching strategy”
  • And that research councils are the “guardians of the independence of science”

The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) just concluded its second annual conference(#DEF2014), where dozens of bright young leaders from the military, government, academia, and industry gathered to discuss ideas. We gathered at a time when war has gone on too long, where new and existing machines of government have overlapping obscurity and confusion, and where Politics certainly seems to dog every aspect of governing more than it did in the past.

Last year’s conference (#DEF2013) concluded on a major high note, but what DEF is remained undefined. This year, we’re getting clarity. #DEF2014 participants have outlined a vision: to potentially become the guardians of independent and clear thinking about how to make the military better. A community that identifies problems, determines priority areas, works to meet overarching strategic objectives more efficiently and at a lesser cost, and guards these initiatives by having a place – DEF – to host and nurture ideas.

Richard Burdon Haldane, who chaired the committee that authored the “Machinery of Government,” knew that any initiative cannot be effective if it’s scripted and formulaic. In fact, he suggested that “practical efficacy will depend upon the zeal and discretion… the living forces whose spirit is essential to any form of government that is more than a machine.” For the second year in a row, DEF has proven that it has limitless zeal and discretion, or in this year’s lingua DEF, conviction.

To those of us that make up DEF, this is more than a word…it is a charter. We have taken the first steps by supporting the implementation of great projects such as this year’s Innovation Challenge winner, the Syrian Airlift Project by Mark Jacobsen.

What’s next? It’s up to you…

Editors Note: What’s up next? Well, DEF 2015, of course! Also, contact the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum about putting on your own DEFx or a DEF “Agora“… but without the Athenian invasion of Sicily or the executing of victorious Admirals.

Color_SIlk_Upcoming_Events_wide_t

Events 27 October – 02 November 2014

This is a roundup of events we think our readers and members might find interesting. Inclusion does not equal endorsement, all descriptions are the events’ own. Think of one we should inclcalendarude? Email me at extrelations@cimsec.org.

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27 October – 02 November 2014 Events of Interest

27 October 2014 – Canberra, Australia – Australian Institute of International Affairs - “AIIA National Conference 2014

27 October 2014 – Washington, DC – A Hamilton Society GMU - “US Civil-Military Relations”

27 October 2014 – Washington, DC – CSIS - “Russia’s War, Ukraine’s Option, and the West’s Options”

27 October 2014 – Washington, DC – Wilson Center - “Brazil’s Presidential Election and FP Implications”

28 October 2014 – Washington, DC – The Stimson Center - “Supporting Transitions Towards Sustainable Peace and Security Through Community Policing”

28 October 2014 – Washington, DC – WAC DC - “The Future Army: Win in a Complex World”

29 October 2014 – Washington, DC – Gtown- “”The Pivot” and the ANZUS Alliance”

29 October 2014 – Washington, DC – CATO - “Peace, Love, and Liberty: The Path to Less War and More Peace”

30 October 2014 – Washington, DC – AEI – “A Nuclear Deal with Iran? Weighing the Possibilities”

30 October 2014 – San Francisco, CA – Aspen Inst – “Leadership and Innovation: Madeline Albright, Emile Cubeisy, Chris Schroeder”

30 October 2014 - Washington, DC – Wilson - “Strategic Rebalancing and the Trans-Pacific Partnership”

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Long-range Events

03 November – Washington, DC – A Hamilton Society Gtown“Does the United States Have the Right Strategy to Defeat ISIS?”

05 November – Washington, DC – Atlantic Council - “NATO’s Cyber Defense Mission and Capabilities” 

05 November – Washington, DC – WAC DC - “The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington”

06 November – New York, NY – Carnegie Council - “Conversation with Gen Dempsey, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff”

06 November – Hampton Roads, VA – A Hamilton Society CNU “The Crisis in Ukraine”

06-07 November – Santa Monica, CA – RAND- “US-Japan Alliance Conference Series”

07 November – Washington, DC – CSIS - “Talking Technology: A Conference and Workshop”

07-09 November – Canberra, Australia – The Kokoda Foundation - Future Strategic Leader’s Congress

10 November – Washington, DC – CNAS- “For Love of Country: Robert Gates Books Launch”

10 November – Baltimore, MD – UMB- “Veteran’s Voices”

10 November – Arlington, VA – JHU APL- “Robert Galluci: The Impact & Implications of Iranian Nuclear Weapons on U.S. & Regional Security”

17 November – Chicago, IL – Chicago Council WA - “National Insecurity”

24 November 2014 – Washington, DC – A Hamilton Society GMU - “War with China: How Would it Be Fought and Could it Be Prevented”

03 December 2014 – Washington, DC – FPI – “Foreign Policy Initiative Forum”

04 December 2014 – Washington, DC – USNI – “Defense Forum Washington 2014: What Does the Nation Need from Its Sea Services?”

10 December 2014 – Chicago, IL -Chicago Council WA – “The Coming Global Disorder: America’s New Isolationism”

13-15 January 2015 – Washington, DC – SNA – 2015 Surface Navy Association National Symposium”

10-12 February 2015 – San Diego, CA – USNI/AFCEA – “West Conference”

17-18 April 2015 – Portsmouth, UK – National Museum of the Royal Navy – “Statesmen & Seapower”

13-17 May 2015 – Monterey, CA – North American Society for Oceanic History – “Pacific – The Peaceful Ocean?”

29-30 May 2015 – Providence, RI – North American Society for Oceanic History – “50th Anniversary Gaspee Days Maritime History / Maritime Studies Symposium”

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The Foundations of Innovation (Part 2 of 5): Ideas

Written by Dave Lyle for our Innovation Week.

Innovation starts with ideas – the realization that something new is possible once old things are seen in new ways. Thus, it’s very important to understand how knowledge and insight are created both individually and in groups if one wishes to posture themselves to encourage successful innovations.

In the American Civil War, veterans used to describe their initial baptism of fire as “seeing the elephant”. But if you’re interested in the nature of innovation, there’s another elephant that you need to see before you do anything else.
Picture 1

 

An ancient Sufi parable, the story of the blind studying an elephant reveals three tremendously important insights about how we know what we think we know:

  • Our ability to observe and sense the greater environment that affects our lives is inherently limited by our own ability to perceive it, and by the limited perspectives of those we communicate with
  • We get a better sense of reality by seeking multiple frames of reference to study the same problem, even if that process of “sensemaking” is still inevitably incomplete, and
  • We all have a basic human tendency to assume that our limited knowledge of the world is more descriptive of the whole than it really is, and that our limited knowledge is adequate for the problem we’re trying to solve, whether it is indeed sufficient or not.

These insights hold true at both the individual level and in the sense of groups. Individually, what we perceive to be our conscious thought is really a churn of multiple, mostly unconscious mental submodels, each coming from different frames of sensory reference, and each competing for dominance of the really small portion of our total cognitive bandwith that we call conscious thought. What we perceive to be conscious choices are often driven by intuitive, gut feel actions unexplainable in specific cause and effect terms even by the people making the decision, a point Thomas Schelling made in his classic book Micromotives and Macrobehavior. From a group perspective, we have established bodies of knowledge from different perspectives, and seek to combine and reconcile these perspectives in patterns of social interaction that tend to solidify some ideas as commonly accepted frameworks of accumulated knowledge – what we commonly describe as paradigms, taking a cue from Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

But it’s far more complicated than that. In fact, most of the time, the elephant is constantly changing, in part due to responses to our own efforts to sense and describe it. And much of the time – like in the case of inherently unquantifiable social phenomenon like popularity, confidence, and a feeling of security – the elephant only exists as an abstract concept in our heads.

Picture 2

Ideas are networks

As Steven Johnson points out in his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Ideas are literally networks of accumulated information encoded and continually modified in the physical and chemical structures of our brains, with collections of ideas working together as the schema we use to make sense of what our senses are detecting. In a group sense, ideas are embedded in our social conventions like our stories, norms, rules, procedures, etc .. Innovation happens when old ideas are combined in new and interesting ways, either through deliberate effort, unconscious deliberation, or through serendipitous revelation and discovery.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NugRZGDbPFU

The “slow hunch” unconscious deliberative processes that Johnson describes is reflective of the “collision of smaller hunches” that take place in the individual mind as people take collections of existing ideas, and use their intuitive, creative processes to recombine them in new , interesting, and useful ways. This mostly unconscious and intuitive creative process was described in part by Isaac Asimov as “the Eureka Phenomenon”:

http://newviewoptions.com/The-Eureka-Phenomenon-by-Isaac-Asimov.pdf

…and also by Joseph Campbell when he answered the following to Bill Moyers during the interviews that led to a modern humanities classic, The Power of Myth:

BILL MOYERS: Do you ever have the sense of… being helped by hidden hands?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time – namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.

http://www.jcf.org/new/index.php?categoryid=31

Combining Asimov and Campbell’s observations with a growing body of evidence from cognitive neuroscience, it seems that there really is something to “finding your calling”. Each of us have natural tendencies to be interested in specific things, and when we find the ability to concentrate on them, our drive and enthusiasm – our bliss – pushes mostly unconscious creative processes to seek creative recombinations of ideas that we’re interested in, even when we’re not consciously thinking about them.

But it’s not just about brilliant individuals bringing innovative ideas to the rest of us. The history of innovation also shows that in-person social interactions – and most importantly, serendipitous chance meetings between people who think differently – are crucial to innovation. It’s usually not the people in your own peer group who have the missing piece of a puzzle that you’re working on, because they tend to see the world much like you do. More often, it’s the people who see your problem from a completely different frame of reference that serve as the catalysts for innovative collaborations. A notable example of this was the genesis of the Doolittle Raid during World War II, when a submariner initially thought of the idea of putting US Army bombers on US Navy aircraft carriers to strike back at the Empire of Japan after the attack at Pearl Harbor, an idea that might never have occurred to Army pilots or Naval aviators who were comfortable with their own paradigms regarding what bombers and aircraft carriers could do.

http://www.uss-hornet.org/history/wwii/doolittle_bio-Francis_S_Low.shtml

Sometimes, interdisciplinary collaborations help you create new innovations even before you’ve imagined the problem. See Steven Johnson’s story of the invention of GPS at the end of this clip for a great illustration of this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0af00UcTO-c

Thus, it’s likely no accident that many Nobel Prize winners were not specialists in the fields that they won their awards in. Being outsiders, they were free of the cognitive blinders that “dyed in the wool” specialists often accumulate. More significantly, they were free of the cognitive attachments that are created when specific ideas become associated with individual and group identities, ones that convince us that challenges to those ideas equate to being personal attacks upon ourselves. Everytime we make an idea part of our resume, our job title, or a badge on our uniform, we risk creating cognitive biases that can inhibit innovation.

Designing for Innovation

Although it took some time – and whether it was through conscious understanding of the dynamics of creativity or not – the US Department of Defense eventually created an organizational structure well suited to foster innovation though its “joint but separate” service construct. Having separate services allows creative innovation in niche areas by people who are passionate about them, and promotes resilience by preventing groupthink and “common contagions” that would be more prevalent in a single “purple” service. But by also requiring mandatory collaboration across the services as per the Goldwater Nichols act, common interoperability of both ideas and tools is promoted across the services, preventing recidivism into the dysfunctions that would result from individual services thinking only within their own specialized domains, irrespective of their contribution to the dynamic whole.

Supporting creative cross domain integration – in either the macro or micro sense – requires supervisors who can look outside of their own areas of expertise and local imperatives, and who are willing to allow their creative subordinates to do the same, in order to create greater systemic resilience across the entire force. When one is looking for innovative solutions to thorny problems, the process of coming up with those ideas is neither highly linear nor highly visible, and may require interdisciplinary, person-to-person creative explorations outside of the local norms that those who are not innovation minded will not intuitively grasp, especially when they do not match up with the normal office schedule and practices. As Gordon MacKenzie describes it in his book Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving With Grace, a visual depiction of creative processes might look like this:

Picture 3

This speaks to the importance of protecting creative individuals, and the creative processes that sustain innovation, within an organization that may not understand creative people and processes very well, and may seek to minimize or expel those who it doesn’t understand that their creative process is still being “part of the team”, even if it doesn’t look at all like their daily repetitive ones. As General Mattis recently expressed it:

“Take the mavericks in your service,” he tells new officers, “the ones that wear rumpled uniforms and look like a bag of mud but whose ideas are so offsetting that they actually upset the people in the bureaucracy. One of your primary jobs is to take the risk and protect these people, because if they are not nurtured in your service, the enemy will bring their contrary ideas to you.”

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/top_right/2011/08/gen_james_mattis_usmc.html

Conclusion

As Johnson concludes, “Chance favors the connected mind”, and this applies in both in the individual and group senses. The keys to innovation are creative exploration driven by passion, having sufficient room to play with ideas in both the conscious and unconscious sense, and in finding new way to use different parts of the individual and collective brain to look at old problems, which can be assisted by the use of visual metaphor, abstract thought experiments, and the utilization of “boundary objects” and “bridging metaphors” to create interdisciplinary dialogue that will breed innovative recombinations of previously existing ideas. By nature of its design, DEF is embracing and furthering these concepts. When it comes to sustaining innovation, it’s not just about spreading individual ideas – it’s about forming enduring networks of idea creators and enablers if you want to create vibrant and adaptive military forces who embrace change, and can rapidly respond to challenges faster than the enemy can present new ones.

Finally, Williamson Murray hammers home the need to deliberately design the ideas behind the innovation into the way we educate and develop our military leaders, and the culture that they will promote in the active force on the other side of military education.

One needs to rethink professional military education in fundamental ways. A significant portion of successful innovation in the interwar period depended on close relationships between schools of professional military education and the world of operations…[A]ny approach to military education that encourages changes in cultural values and fosters intellectual curiosity would demand more than a better school system: it demands that professional military education remain a central concern throughout the entire career of an officer. One may not create another Dowding and manage his career to the top ranks, but one can foster a military culture where those promoted to the highest ranks possess the imagination and intellectual framework to support innovation [and adaptation].

Next in the series: We’ll continue exploring the model of innovation, continuing with Groups.

Little_Big_Horn_Battle

The Innovation that Wasn’t: U.S. Cavalry, Their Weapons, and Their Training on the Great Plains

Written for Innovation Week by Major Andrew J. Forney, US ARMY

During the winter of 1879, Army officers reported to Chicago to decide whom to blame for the disaster at the Little Bighorn. Ostensibly meeting to clear the name of Major Marcus Reno, the commander of the southern wing of Custer’s Seventh Cavalry during the battle, some of the attendees surely hoped that the Court of Inquiry would prove cathartic and help explain the battle’s tragic outcome. Custer’s defeat during the summer of 1876 had shocked a nation celebrating the centennial of its founding and espousing notions of progress and growth. How could Custer, one of the Army’s ablest tacticians, and his vaunted Seventh Cavalry have been decimated by a coalition of Plains Tribes Indians over the course of one afternoon?

By the Inquiry’s conclusion, the presiding officers had half-heartedly cleared Reno of any wrong-doing during the battle, but did place blame on two others: the dead Custer and the very-much still in use 1872 .45 caliber Springfield carbine. While one could explain away the designs of a purportedly narcissistic and egomaniacal commanding officers, the reported combat malfunctions and slow rate of fire of the Springfield carbine wreaked of bureaucratic inefficiency and government malfeasance. Not only did Custer’s troopers find themselves outnumbered by Sioux warriors, they also claimed to have been outgunned, as several survivors of the battle recounted the prevalence of Winchester repeating rifles among the Sioux. Reading the minutes of the Inquiry, many contemporary observes roundly criticized the United States government and the army for not only allowing soldiers to fight at a technological mismatch, but for also missing the opportunity to revolutionize the mounted force by arming them with faster-firing repeating rifles.

The Springfield carbine/Winchester repeating rifle debate, particularly in the wake of Custer’s defeat at the Little Bighorn, provides a very interesting case study in military innovation. Many present-day scholars still insist that the 1872 board of officers ordered by then-General of the Army William T. Sherman to choose a single small arm for use by the U.S. army missed the mark. The board chose the 1872 Springfield rifle for use in the Army, selecting it over many other experimental and retooled designs then on the market. For the cavalry branch, the board decided upon the same design, just in carbine form, the shortened stock and barrel allowing for easier management on horseback. Interestingly enough, the board had ominous connections with the disaster still four years in the future. General Alfred Terry, later commander of the Department of the Dakotas and overall in charge of the 1876 Centennial Campaign, served as chair of the board; Major Marcus Reno, later besmirched survivor of the Little Bighorn battlefield, represented the cavalry branch.

What many critics of the Springfield carbine and the board overlook is how innovative the board and its selection actually were. New technology aside, the board operated under some guiding notions. First, the War Department wanted to use a single round for all of its weapons, as opposed to the myriad of round sizes and grain weights currently in service. They also hoped to conserve ammunition. Most officers believed that soldiers fired wildly and inaccurately during combat, leading to an inefficient exhaustion of ammunition stores. Enlistment data, presented to the board, showed that uneducated industrial workers and partially-literate foreign immigrants composed the majority of the post-Civil War force. Commanders could not assume that new recruits possessed any experience with firearms. Finally, the transition to conflict on the western frontier necessitated a lengthy supply line. Moving large amounts of specialized parts over long distances in inhospitable terrain and weather to maintain the small arms of a widely scattered force daunted many on the board. The Springfield rifle, and its carbine variant, brought simplicity and durability to the army; as a single-shot breechloader, it addressed the board’s concern with ammunition expenditure, while the .45/70 metallic center fire round provided high muzzle velocity and added range. Granted, the carbine used a smaller .45/55 round, but its internal parts and design mirrored the larger model. By deciding on the Springfield, the War Department modernized and standardized the force, increasing efficiency in arming soldiers, repairing weapons, and supplying units. While not necessarily the “sexy” choice, the selection of the Springfield signaled the genesis of bureaucratic innovation in the U.S. army. The Springfield would remain as the army’s primary small arm until the eve of the Spanish-American War and the adoption of the Krag-Jorgensen Rifle.

Later small arms studies and archaeological evidence also seemed to, if not invalidate, at least weaken the pro-Winchester argument. The United States Military Academy (USMA) commissioned a series of short films during the 1990s that examined small arms throughout military history, eventually devoting an entire forty-five minute film to discuss the debate over the Springfield carbine and the Winchester repeater at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The narrator points out that the Winchester repeater models of the early 1870s suffered from a poor design, the weapon’s internal mechanisms preventing the adoption of a long and powerful round. The Winchester could reach out accurately to 120 yards at best, with little force behind the round after approximately 80 – 100 yards. The Springfield carbine could maintain a steady rate of fire and deliver well placed and effective rounds past 200 yards. The USMA analysis built off of archaeological evidence found during the 1980s and 1990s at the Little Bighorn. Surveys of the battlefield helped to discount the idea that every Sioux warrior fired a Winchester repeater during the battle. Searchers found evidence of forty-three other types of small arms used at the battle, running the gamut from old muzzle-loading muskets to the historically much-ballyhooed Winchesters. They and others advanced the proposition that about a third of all warriors possessed firearms of any kind, further evidence and first person Indian accounts showing that the majority of the Sioux, particularly early in the battle, fought with bows and arrows instead of rifles. Historians also point out the lack of range the Winchesters possessed, as well as the lack of a regimented Indian marksmanship program. Custer’s troopers would have most felt the impact of the repeaters at close range, the short distance limiting the impact of their carbines’ rate of fire and accuracy.

If one cannot fully blame the Springfield carbine for the disaster, can we thus disregard the Battle of the Little Bighorn as a learning point in terms of innovation? No, for it does illustrate a key component of technological innovation that well-meaning theorists and intellectuals often over-look: TRAINING. As stated above, the 1872 small arms selection board used as one of its guiding assumptions that the new recruit would most likely be semi-literate or a non-native English-speaker who would have little to no experience with firearms. This in mind, the board never recommended and the army never explored the idea of an institutionalized recruit training program. The army instead banked on the hope that the gaining regiment or troop would familiarize the recruit with tactical and technical information. This rarely played out in terms favorable for the new trooper. The USMA small arms analysis placed a significant portion of the blame for the Little Bighorn on a perceived lack of discipline and preparedness within Custer’s command. Several Indian accounts from the battle noted that many of the cavalry’s shots travelled over their head, even though the majority of the troopers fired from stationary positions, indicative of poor marksmanship training. At the same time, ammunition expenditure during the battle appears to have been quite high, with numerous officers voicing their concerns about the scarcity of ammunition. Strikingly, most troopers chose to fight dismounted, foregoing mobility over a sense of grounded security. More than likely, this also stemmed from a lack of training, as troopers untaught in how to fight from horseback went to ground in the hopes of placing a semblance of well-aimed fire against their foes. More often than not, this practice eventually led to the routing of dismounted forces by their more mobile and horse-bound Sioux enemy.

My recent participation in a symposium discussing the future of small arms made me realize that the problem of linking training with innovation still exists in some quarters. As we debated what the future force would carry into battle, other scholars and experts repeatedly instructed me to “not worry about training” and to instead focus on capabilities. These maxims stayed with me, particularly as I considered the half-way or deadened innovation of the early 1870s. While the War Department correctly pursued innovations in procurement and sustainment, the lack of other institutional changes prevented them from realizing the fullest potential of their technological advance. A hard look at structures, doctrine, and training prior to Custer entering the valley of the Little Bighorn might have precluded the need to lay blame during the cold Chicago winter of 1879.

MAJ Andrew J. Forney is an Army strategist serving as the American Division Counselor and teaching in the History Department of the United States Military Academy, West Point.  The views expressed are the author’s alone and do not reflect the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Army, or the Department of Defense.

realistic adaptation

The Foundations of Innovation (Part 1 of 5) – A Model of Innovative Change

How should we scope and understand the dynamic processes behind innovation, in order to better set ourselves up for success? Stealing from John Boyd’s formulation of “people, ideas, and hardware”, let’s add some more nuance, and consider a simple and universal model of change in social systems. We’ll start by artificially separating the world into three basic categories: groups (bureaucracy, incentives, processes, etc), ideas (doctrine, concepts, narratives, etc) and tools (tech, infrastructure, etc), and simulate them evolving and interacting with each other on a left to right timeline.

whatreallyhappens

Figure 1. A General Model of Change and Innovation

Successful Innovation springs from the mutual evolution of ideas, groups, and tools, with each influencing the adaptation of the others in no particular order or precedence, but rather by building upon each other iteratively and simultaneously. Let’s look at each component in detail:

IDEAS – Ideas are both the reason groups are formed, and are the genesis of our tools. If the nature of warfare is constant, as most modern strategists advocate, it is because the basic ideas inherent to human nature (including many tacit ones) have stayed constant over the millennia. Ideas set the context for what we do with our tools, and drives the formation and modification of our groups.

TOOLS – Even as the nature of war stays constant, its character is constantly changing mostly due to advances in these. Tools are born from ideas, but they also make new ideas and group social structures possible.

GROUPS – Groups define how we blend both ideas and tools in order to cooperate and adapt to the environment collectively. The way groups are structured through norms, rules, and bureaucracy determines how easily some ideas and tools develop and flourish, and can alternately decide which ones attenuate or disappear. Groups effectively act as the “throttles” of human societal evolution through the predictability and synergy that they make possible by focusing the efforts of many individuals towards common purposes. They also provoke conflict when the identities and aspirations of separate groups come in conflict with one another in ways that cannot be reconciled through compromise or toleration.

Engineering Innovation – How Strategic Agility is Created

We create strategic agility when we actively invest in improvements in all three of the areas mentioned above, and look for new possibilities in each specific area that will help us to release the full potential of the others. We also achieve agility by exploring multiple alternatives in each area, creating the adaptive variety needed to respond to emerging challenges that we won’t be able to fully anticipate. Then when the future presents itself, we have invested in the ideas, groups, and tools we need to cope. To innovate successfully, you have to innovate in all three areas, not just the most familiar or tangible ones.

But there’s a catch…

smooth adaptation

What we imagine happens – We like to think that there’s a smooth interchange between innovations in the three areas, that Moore’s law will grant us continuous returns in speed and power, that progress will continue upwards on a steady slope, and that the exchange between the three areas will keep pace with each other.

 

realistic adaptation

 

What really happens – In truth, we often see advances in one area without a commensurate advance in the others, creating imbalances that often lead to unpredictable and undesirable results. In many ways we’ve designed “Tools 3.0”, but are still stuck with the old ways of thinking, and the old bureaucratic structures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We will talk about how and why this happens this week on DEF and the Bridge, and what we can do to maintain a healthy balance between innovations in all three areas.

Conclusion

Innovation is optional, but change is not. As Williamson Murray admonishes us in Adaptation in War (With Fear of Change):

It is clear that we live in an era of increasingly rapid technological change. The historical lesson is equally clear: US military forces are going to have to place increasing emphasis on realistic innovation in peacetime and swift adaptation in combat. This will require leaders who understand war and its reality as well as the implications of technological change. Imagination and intellectual qualities will be as important as the specific technical and tactical details of war making. The great challenge here is how to inculcate those qualities widely in the officer corps.

We’ll use our examination of the three components of the innovation model to help determine what those qualities are, and how we can promote them within our own organizations, even as junior members in the corporate process.

Bottom line: Those who fail to innovate will be left in the dust kicked up by those who do. It’s our duty to be successful innovators – and advocates for the constructs and concepts that lead to successful innovation in groups – lest we forfeit the legacy of freedom and self-determination that those who came before us fought, bled, and died for. You can’t just choose your favorite part of the model and expect that your problems will be solved – if you’re not innovating in all three areas simultaneously, you’re setting yourself up for even more unpredictability, unanticipated systemic consequences and vulnerabilities, expensive projects with little return on investment, and an increased possibility of a catastrophic failure in some situations.

Next in the series: We’ll continue with a deep dive into each component of the model, starting with Ideas.

militaryinnovation

Innovation Week Kickoff

To mark the success of the first annual Defense Entrepreneurs Forum last year, and to set the stage for DEF 2.0 happening this week in Chicago, The Bridge and CIMSEC have come together to offer a second joint series of posts, this time on the topic of innovation. And this discussion couldn’t come at a more timely moment for many of our followers, given that…

  • Our era of protracted conflict shows no sign of abating, and the very same time that traditional great power rivalries continue to play themselves out.
  • Our current plans for force structure and employment are unsustainable given our internal fiscal situation, and may not be relevant given our anticipated threats even if we can resource them
  • Changes in technology are driving changes in the way we socialize, and are also disrupting traditional balances of power in ways that we cannot yet grasp or adequately anticipate

Why Innovation?

But putting all that aside, why do we innovate, and why do so many of us seem to actually embrace the process of seeking change, even if not all of us do so eagerly?

Because it is literally in our nature to do so.

The story of our ascendance on the planet earth, and our explorations beyond it, despite our otherwise low position on the natural food chain, springs from our ability to innovate new and creative ways to cope with our external environment. Our brains are wired to find satisfaction in making new connections, and seeing existing things in new ways, which has led to our ability to survive in even the most hostile environments throughout history, even with relatively simple technologies.

Because innovation is the key to adaptation in hostile and competitive environments if you want to have a say in your own destiny.

Successful survival in any sense comes from the ability to adapt – to adequately match your response to the challenges that the environment presents, challenges you can never perfectly predict in advance, or sense in the present. The best way to hedge against this uncertainty is to have a variety of potential responses ready, or to design in the capability to rapidly develop adequate ones when a possible threat becomes an actual one. In an organizational sense, we can characterize this organizational ability to adapt as having strategic agility. But agility does not simply mean having many different types of technology available to you – it means being adaptive along the entire process of change within social systems.

Because we have no choice.

The world is constantly changing around us, and we must be adaptive even just to keep the things we already have. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that our current plans and methods are not keeping pace with the rates of change either internally or externally, and our only way out of our current death spirals will be successful innovation.

What are our challenges to successful innovation?

In his book Military Adaptation in War (With Fear of Change), Williamson Murray summarizes the primary challenges that make successful adaptation and innovation difficult:

The greatest difficulty clearly has to do with the fundamental nature of war itself. Second, human nature – especially when the egos of leaders at the highest levels become involved – places considerable difficulties in the path of understanding the tactical and operational issues military organizations confront. Without that understanding, adaptation to the actual conditions of conflict simply cannot take place, or even worse, will follow the wrong path.

Making change more difficult is the harsh fact that incompetence, rather than competence, lies at the heart of man’s character. Inevitably, a few individuals possess the clarity of vision, the self-discipline, the imagination, and the toughness of mind to understand the daunting problems that war creates. Moreover, effective performance at one level of war rarely guarantees success at the next level…That is why there have been so few great captains in military history…The few competent can see the forest and the wider landscape of war; most, however, see only the details and the irrelevant.

Exacerbating the difficulties that military institutions face is the fact that, more often than not, they reach decisions by corporate agreement. And there are few institutions in human life more dysfunctional in reaching clear, distinct, purposeful direction than committees.

Finally, and perhaps most daunting, is the fact that war inevitably involves issues at the political, strategic, operational, and tactical levels. That spread of perspective invariably presents contradictory choices to military leaders. Moreover, the qualities that provide for excellence at one level may prevent adaptation at the other levels. “

If Murray is correct, it’s clear that the challenge of innovation goes far beyond investments in the right tools and technology – it requires deliberate engagement along the entire process of change within military societies, to include how the groups that use the technology are formed, and how they think.

How We’ll Talk About Innovation in this Series

  • We’ll provide a five part series, “The Foundations of Innovation”, to introduce and discuss a three part model of innovation and change based around the mutual evolutions of “Ideas, Groups, and Tools”,
  • We’ll provide examples of innovative ways to look at some the challenges discussed in the “Foundations” series
  • We’ll provide some practical advice from those actively pushing for innovation
  • Practicing what we preach, we’ll leave open space in the format for creative additions before, during, and after DEF

Recommended Reading

The essays in this series will provide evidence from three noteworthy case studies on military innovation, and one brilliant gem written by a self-described “corporate fool”.

The first is Elting Elmore Morison’s Men, Machines, and Modern Times, complied in 1966.

morris

Morison was an author of non-fiction books, an essayist, a United States historian of technology, a military biographer, an MIT professor emeritus, and was notably the conceiver and founder of MIT’s interdisciplinary program in Science, Technology and Society (STS), through which MIT faculty and students focus on the ways in which scientific, technological and social factors interact. During World War II he served in the Naval Reserve.

 

The Second is Williamson Murray’s 2011 book Military Adaptation in War (With Fear of Change).

militaryinnovation

Murray has taught at the United States Air War College, the United States Military Academy, and the Naval War College. According to the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, he “also served as a Secretary of the Navy Fellow at the Navy War College, the Centennial Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics, the Matthew C. Horner Professor of Military Theory at the Marine Corps University, the Charles Lindbergh Chair at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, and the Harold K. Johnson Professor of Military History at the Army War College”. He previously served in the US Air Force, including a tour in SE Asia with the 314th Tactical Air Wing (C-130s).

 

The third is Stephen Peter Rosen’s 1994 book, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military.

winning

Stephen Peter Rosen is Harvard College Professor and Beton Michael Kaneb Professor of National Security and Military Affairs at Harvard University, was a professor in the strategy department at Naval War College, and was director of political-military affairs at the National Security Council in the Reagan Administration.

The fourth is Steven Johnson’s 2011 book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.

good ideas

Steven Johnson is a contributing editor to Wired, he writes regularly for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and many other periodicals. He will also be the host of the upcoming BBC and PBS series,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0af00UcTO-c

Johnson is also the host of the television series How We Got To Now, a documentary on the history of innovation currently airing on BBC and PBS.

http://video.pbs.org/program/how-we-got-now/

And finally, Gordon MacKenzie’s 1998 book Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace.

hairball

Gordon MacKenzie was an artist and card designer for Hallmark Corporation who established Hallmark’s Humor Workshop, and eventually created his own position as a “self styled corporate holy man” and “loyal subversive” for Hallmark with the self-created job title of “Creative Paradox”, who served as the the “liaison between the chaos of creativity and the discipline of business”.

http://www.fastcompany.com/32950/how-your-company-giant-hairball

Enjoy the series, and we hope to see you at DEF 2.0!

http://defenseentrepreneurs.org/def2014/

 

seacontrolemblem

Sea Control 57 – Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China

seacontrol2Discussing the Hong Kong protests and Taiwan’s recent statements in regard to them and China with Dean Cheng… and some India thrown in at the end.

 

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 57- Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China

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