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.

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.

Chief Digital Officer

George Westerman has an interesting post Should Your CIO Be Chief Digital Officer? on Harvard Business Review.

He discussed the emergence of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO).  Here are some key excerpts:

In many companies, “digital” is a cacophony of disconnected, inconsistent, and sometimes incompatible activities. One company had three simultaneous mobile marketing initiatives, conducted by different groups, using different tools and vendors. Other companies have multiple employee collaboration platforms with different rules and technologies. The problem is exacerbated as business units do their own things digitally, or as companies hire vendors who can only do things their own way.

The CDO’s job is to turn the digital cacophony into a symphony. It’s OK to experiment with new businesses and tools, but experimentation must be coupled with building scalable, efficient capabilities. The CDO creates a unifying digital vision, energizes the company around digital possibilities, coordinates digital activities, helps to rethink products and processes for the digital age, and sometimes provides critical tools or resources.

In an increasingly digitizing business world, most companies need better digital leadership and coordination. You need to create a compelling digital vision, coordinate digital investments, drive appropriate synergies, build a clean technology platform, and foster innovation. You need to energize a busy workforce and generate shared understanding in your senior executive team. 

DEPSECDEF on Transitioning DoD

As we draw down from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our force needs to make a very difficult transition from a large, rotational, counterinsurgency-based force to a leaner, more agile, more flexible, and ready force for the future.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Ashton Carter

See Dr. Carter’s full remarks at the National Press Club on May 7, 2013.

Long Tenure Can Hurt Performance

A March 2013 Harvard Business Review article, Long CEO Tenure Can Hurt Performance, highlighted research on CEO tenure on impact with employees and customers.

It’s a familiar cycle: A CEO takes office, begins gaining knowledge and experience, and is soon launching initiatives that boost the bottom line. Fast-forward a decade, and the same executive is risk-averse and slow to adapt to change—and the company’s performance is on the decline. Optimal tenure length: 4.8 years.

The underlying reasons for the pattern have to do with how CEOs learn. Early on, when new executives are getting up to speed, they seek information in diverse ways, turning to both external and internal company sources. This deepens their relationships with customers and employees alike.

But as CEOs accumulate knowledge and become entrenched, they rely more on their internal networks for information, growing less attuned to market conditions. And, because they have more invested in the firm, they favor avoiding losses over pursuing gains. Their attachment to the status quo makes them less responsive to vacillating consumer preferences.

In part 3 of my Inventing a Digital Pentagon post, I had a similar point on tenure of managers and key headquarters staff.

While the DoD frets about the frequent turnover of political appointees and program managers, it should remain vigilant of people who are entrenched into key headquarters staff positions. Maintaining a steady pipeline of fresh talent and ideas in organizations fosters an environment for thought leaders to emerge.  Innovation rarely occurs from someone who has been in the same job for a decade. The DoD should review those who have been in a key position for over five years and develop transition strategies to maintain a vibrant enterprise.

Beyond tenure, they reinforced the importance of being attuned to the enterprise (internal and external) information networks.  I couldn’t agree more.