Defense Innovation Board

Secretary Carter charted the Defense Innovation Board (DIB) with some of the brightest technology leaders to “push the Pentagon to think outside our five-sided box, and be more open to new ideas and new partnerships that can help our military remain what it is today. I created the DIB earlier this year to advise me … how we can keep growing more competitive …particularly by keeping DoD imbued with a culture of innovation in people, practices, organizations and technology.”


The DIB is chaired by Eric Schmidt of Alphabet, with Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, Ret. ADM McRaven of USSOCOM, Eric Lander of MIT, among others (see below for full list). The Board discuss their initial observations and recommendations on how to expand and advance innovation across the DoD at a public hearing in the Pentagon yesterday.

The Defense Innovation Board includes:

  • Eric Schmidt, Alphabet
  • Jeff Bezos, the CEO and chairman of Amazon
  • Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn
  • Walter Isaacson, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute
  • Retired Adm. William McRaven, former USSOCOM commander
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist
  • Marne Levine, COO at Instagram
  • Cass Sunstein, Harvard Law School professor
  • Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America
  • Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School of Business
  • Danny Hillis, a computer theorist and co-founder of Applied Inventions
  • Eric Lander, president of the Broad Institute of the MIT and Harvard
  • Michael McQuade, SVP for science and technology at United Technologies
  • Milo Medin, VP of Access Services, Google Capital
  • Richard Murray, Professor at the California Institute of Technology
  • Josh Marcuse, DIB Executive Director from DoD

The board is tasked to provide SECDEF findings and recommendations to:

  1. Promoting innovative practices and culture in the conventional forces;
  2. barriers to innovation and collaboration in the civilian workforce;
  3. barriers to information sharing and the processing, exploitation, dissemination, and interoperability of data;
  4. enabling workforce-driven innovation using crowdsourcing methodologies and techniques;
  5. the lack of adequate organic capability and capacity for software development and rapid prototyping of software solutions;
  6. approaches to increasing collaboration with entities outside the federal government;
  7. recommendations on how to improve the digital infrastructure that supports command and control;
  8. streamlining of rapid fielding processes, particularly for unmanned systems;
  9. the lack of a dedicated computer science core in the workforce; and
  10. potential application of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, autonomy, and man-machine teaming.

Exponential Organizations – 10X Better, Faster, and Cheaper

A great book I’ve discovered is Exponential Organizations by Salim Ismail, Michael S. Malone, Yuri van Geest, with forward by Peter H. Diamandis. Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours (and what to do about it). They highlight many examples of how the price of major technologies have dropped radically and the pace of change is growing exponential. Most companies plan for linear growth, but a few exceptional companies are positioned for exponential growth – and world domination!

Highly recommend buying Exponential Organizations for you and your colleagues, especially if you work in the Pentagon.

10 Traits of Innovative Leaders

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman have an interesting piece in Harvard Business Review on the 10 Traits of Innovative Leaders

They are listed here in descending order of importance. These leaders: idea

  1. Display excellent strategic vision. The most effective innovation leaders could vividly describe their vision of the future, and as one respondent noted about his boss: “She excelled at painting a clear picture of the destination, while we worked to figure out how to get there.”
  2. Have a strong customer focus. What was merely interesting to the customer became fascinating to these individuals. They sought to get inside the customer’s mind. They networked with clients and asked incessant questions about their needs and wants.
  3. Create a climate of reciprocal trust. Innovation often requires some level of risk. Not all innovative ideas are successful. These highly innovative leaders initiated warm, collaborative relationships with the innovators who worked for them. They made themselves highly accessible. Colleagues knew that their leader would cover their backs and not throw them under the bus if something went wrong. People were never punished for honest mistakes.
  4. Display fearless loyalty to doing what’s right for the organization and customer. Pleasing the boss or some other higher level executive always took a back seat to doing the right thing for the project or the company.
  5. Put their faith in a culture that magnifies upward communication. These leaders believed that the best and most innovative ideas bubbled up from underneath. They strived to create a culture that uncorked good ideas from the first level of the organization. They were often described as projecting optimism, full of energy, and always receptive to new ideas. Grimness was replaced with kidding and laughter.
  6. Are persuasive. These individuals were highly effective in getting others to accept good ideas. They did not push or force their ideas onto their teams. Instead, they presented ideas with enthusiasm and conviction, and the team willingly followed.
  7. Excel at setting stretch goals. These goals required people to go far beyond just working harder. These goals required that they find new ways to achieve a high goal.
  8. Emphasize speed. These leaders believed that speed scraped the barnacles off the hull of the boat. Experiments and rapid prototypes were preferred to lengthy studies by large committees.
  9. Are candid in their communication. These leaders were described as providing honest, and at times even sometimes blunt, feedback. Subordinates felt they could always count on straight answers from their leader.
  10. Inspire and motivate through action. One respondent said, “For innovation to exist you have to feel inspired.” This comes from a clear sense of purpose and meaning in the work.

How VA Turned Itself Around With Agile Development

VA CIO Stephen Warren provides a powerful message at FedTalks 2014 on How VA Turned Itself Around With Agile Development.  There are key messages that DoD executives must understand, embrace, and apply.

Some of his key takeaways include:

  • The greatest impediment to delivering something is how long you take to deliver it
  • If you can’t do it in 6 months, don’t bother
  • Lock the time – flex scope
  • Deliver capabilities, not reports
  • Don’t ever re-baseline – Even during the government shutdown, they held the delivery dates
  • The only measure of success is delivery to a date