Strategic Challenges Program

Thought leader Seth Godin held a competition in 2009 for a handful of folks to be challenged in an apprenticeship under him for six months as an alternative to getting an MBA.  “Here’s the program I’m interested in creating: One hour a day of class/dialogue; Four hours a day of working on my projects; Three hours a day of working on your personal project; and Five hours a day of living, noticing, doing and connecting. I’m convinced that there are people out there who–given the right teaching, encouragement and opportunity–can change the world. ”  

Leveraging that idea, we could explore a similar effort within DoD.  DoD senior leaders assemble 6-10 bright, talented, and motivated individuals from across their industry for two weeks to collaborate with senior leadership and tackle some challenging issues.

The group comprises a broad mix of ranks (O-3-O-5/GS-12-14), experience, and specialties within their career field.  They would apply via a simple two page application and selected based on the merits of their ideas, passion, and experience.  A small portion of the application could include recommendations.  The goal is to assemble a broad mix of thought leaders to tackle some critical issues, collaborate across hierarchical levels, and identify future opportunities for these talented individuals.

The group would meet with key senior leadership of their field and have frank, open discussions about the current status and future trends of their field.  Senior leaders would share their insight, vision, and challenges while the group would share their feedback and experiences from the front lines.

Throughout the week(s) each member will give a short presentation they prepared ahead of time on a topic of their choosing for others in the group and various senior leaders.  Topics could include new ideas, recommended transformations, issues from the field, lessons learned, or more.  This is a platform to pitch innovative ideas to senior leaders.

The bulk of the time will be spent on tackling issues presented by senior leadership.  Most leaders have a long list of issues plaguing them, with some quick fixes, while others require significant transformations.  Leadership would outline a few of these challenges for the group to analyze, collaborate, and recommend solutions.  This group of bright individuals would serve as a surge team to tackle these challenges.  Sufficient time together is required for the forming-storming-norming-performing team dynamics to take shape.  They would have access to key personnel and information to support their analysis and resources (computers, conference room, etc) to get it done.  At the end of each challenge, the group will present their recommendations to senior leadership ideally offering innovative solutions beyond what their traditional staffs could offer.  Leaders will have fresh ideas and actionable recommendations to pursue.  The group members will have gained an invaluable experience far beyond anything taught in a classroom.

While most Services and Agencies have programs like this where fast burners are selected for a 12-18 month assignment with a think tank, leading university, and tour on Capital Hill, this program would be targeted for a shorter term.  It would open up the number of opportunities based on rank, military/civilian, and wouldn’t require relocation.  The teams assembled provide leadership with a fresh crop of bright individuals to tackle their biggest challenges.

A program like this could be held annually, semi-annually, or quarterly and over time could be a competitive opportunity many pursue.  Feedback from each program will improve subsequent sessions.  The application process itself will provide a bounty of fresh, bright ideas for leaders and their staffs to pursue and motivate those across the industry to generate ideas to improve their operations.

What are your thoughts?  Is this doable within your field?  How could we improve the program?  What are the hurdles to achieving a program like this?


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