Technology, Innovation and Great Power Competition

For 25 years as the sole Superpower, the U.S. neglected strategic threats from China and a rearmed Russia. The country, our elected officials, and our military committed to a decades-long battle to ensure that terrorists like those that executed the 9/11 attacks are not able to attack us on that scale again.  Meanwhile, our country’s legacy weapons systems have too many entrenched and interlocking interests (Congress, lobbyists, DOD/contractor revolving door, service promotion of executors versus innovators) that inhibit radical change. Our economic and foreign policy officials didn’t notice the four-alarm fire as we first gutted our manufacturing infrastructure and sent it to China (profits are better when you outsource); then passively stood by as our intellectual property was being siphoned off; and had no answer to China’s web of trade deals (China’s Belt and Road). The 2018 National Defense Strategy became a wakeup call for our nation.

National power is ephemeral. Nations decline when they lose allies, decline in economic power (the UK in the 20th Century); they lose interest in global affairs (China in the 15th Century); internal/civil conflicts (Russia in the 20th Century); a nations military can miss disruptive technology transitions and new operational concepts. One can make the case that all of these have/or are happening to the United States.


Joe Felter, Raj Shah and I are about to start our second year of teaching what was our Technology, Innovation and Modern War class. (See all the class sessions here.) The goal of last year’s class was to explain how new emerging technologies have radically changed how countries fight and deter threats across air, land, sea, space, and cyber. And to point out that winning future conflicts requires more than just adopting new technology; it requires a revolution in thinking about how this technology can be acquired and integrated into new weapons systems to drive new operational and organizational concepts that change the way we fight.

This year we’ve expanded the scope of the class to look beyond just the effect of new technology on weapons and operational concepts. We’re now covering how technology will shape all the elements of national power (our influence and footprint on the world stage). National power is the combination of a country’s diplomacy (soft power and alliances), information/ intelligence and its military and economic strength. The instruments of national power brought to bear in this  “whole of government approach” were long  known by the acronym, DIME (Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic) and in recent years have expanded to include “FIL”- finance, intelligence and law enforcement-or DIME-FIL. Given the broadened scope of the class, we’ve tweaked the course title to Technology, Innovation and Great Power Competition.

Our goals in this year’s class are to:

  1. Help our students understand how each component of our national security and instruments of national power are now inexorably intertwined with commercial technology. We will explore the complexity and urgency of the impact of the 21st century onslaught of commercial technologies (AI, machine learning, autonomy, biotech, cyber, commercial access to space, et al.) in all parts of the government — State, climate change, Department of Defense, economic policy, et al.
  2. Give them hands-on experience to propose and prototype solutions to these problems.

Much like last year’s class, this one has three parts – teaching team lectures, guest speakers, and most importantly team projects. We’ll be using the concept of commercial technologies’ impact on DIME as the connective element between each week’s class.

In addition to the teaching team lectures and assigned readings, last year we had 20+ guest speakers including two Secretaries of Defense, a Secretary of State, members of Congress, Generals, Admirals and policy makers. We hope to enrich the student experience with similar expertise and experience this year.

Last year, team projects started with a mid-term paper and finished with what was supposed be a final paper project. However, one team took their project, got out of the building, and interviewed and presented a radically new operational concept for the South China Sea. It’s an idea that has caught fire. So this year we’re going to build on that success. Teams will form on week 1, pick an area of interest across DIME and spend the quarter interviewing key stakeholders, beneficiaries, policy makers, etc. while testing proposed solutions.

If the past is a prologue, our students, a mix between international policy and engineering, will be the ones in this fight. They’ll go off to senior roles in State, Defense, policy and to the companies building new disruptive technologies.

This is the first in a series of classes from the new Stanford Gordian Knot Center for National Security. (More on this in later post.)

Lessons Learned

  • Technology, Innovation and Great Power Competition will focus on how our national security and national power is intertwined with commercial technology. We will explore:
    • AI, machine learning, autonomy, biotech, cyber, commercial access to space, et al.
    • In all parts of the government; State, climate change, Department of Defense, economic policy, et al.
  • Give our students hands-on experience to propose and prototype solutions to these problems

Lead and Disrupt

You think startups are hard? Try innovating inside a large company where 99% of the company is executing the current business model, while you’re trying to figure out and build what comes next.

Charles O’Reilly and Michael Tushman coined the term an “Ambidextrous Organization” to describe how some companies get this simultaneous execution and innovation process right. Their book Lead and Disrupt describes how others can learn how to do so.

I was honored to write the forward to their second edition.  Here it is in its entirety.


What you’re holding in your hand is a revolutionary document. It answers the questions of why some companies trace a brilliant arc as a shooting star and then flame out while others continue to thrive. Why are some companies able to reinvent themselves while others, once market leaders, are disrupted?

Is it that some CEOs are better than others? Are their people smarter? Do they have better sales, marketing, or product development groups?

The short answer is no. What the winners start with is the realization that in a world of continuous disruption, they have only a few years to develop new capabilities or be pushed over the brink. And they also recognize that simply exploiting their existing assets, capabilities, and business models is insufficient for long-term survival. So they prepare for future markets by exploring new ventures.

This radical idea of companies continuing to execute and exploit their existing business model while simultaneously exploring and creating new products, businesses, and business models is what O’Reilly and Tushman call ambidexterity. While simple at first glance, the concept is revolutionary in its ability to transform an enterprise. This book not only explains the “why does this happen” but more importantly gives you the tools for “what to do about it.”

In the 20th century, finding the successful formula for repeatable start-up success remained a black art. The idea of exploitation versus exploration was central in my own work in building the lean methodology for start-ups. The key was the realization that start-ups are not simply smaller versions of large companies, which execute/exploit known business models, and whose customers, problems, and necessary product features are all “knowns.” In sharp contrast, start-ups operate in “search/explore” mode, seeking a repeatable and profitable business model. The search for a business model requires dramatically different rules, roadmaps, skill sets, tools, and culture in order to minimize risk and optimize chances for success.

Recognizing the anomaly was just the first step. There were no standard tools, methods, or playbooks for start-ups. So we built our own tools to enable founders to rapidly translate their vision into hypotheses and then into validated facts. These tools—Customer Development, Agile Engineering, and Business Model design—became the lean start-up methodology, a rigorous approach to testing hypotheses and building prototypes, and, on the basis of data and evidence, adjusting or pivoting to a variant of the original hypothesis. Today, lean is the de facto method for building new start-ups.

Fast forward two decades, and many companies have adopted these start-up tools and methods to deal with disruption. However, after watching innovators in large companies try to use the lean start-up methodology, I’m embarrassed to say that it has mostly devolved into standalone innovation activities (corporate incubators, accelerators, and so on) resulting in “innovation theater,” with nice coffee mugs and posters but little impact on the top or bottom line.

In this book O’Reilly and Tushman succinctly articulate why these tools succeed in start-ups but fail in large companies. Most R&D budgets in established companies are spent on sustaining innovations that support existing products and operating divisions and the attendant processes and procedures, rigorous measurement, and controls. These formalized structures, necessary  for managing execution/exploitation, actually strangle disruptive innovation before it can start.

Companies built around exploitation emphasize efficiency, productivity, and the reduction of variance, whereas exploration demands searching, discovering, and accepting risk and failure. To accomplish both simultaneously—to be an ambidextrous company—requires not only separate organizations for each function, but also different business models, competencies, systems, processes, incentives, and cultures. In short, it requires a different way not only to manage a company, but a different way to organize it as well.

This is a really big idea.

To be truly successful at ambidexterity firms must master the new skills of ideation, incubation, and scaling. Firms first generate new ideas via ideation: the last twenty years have seen an explosion of corporate venture capital, open innovation, and employee involvement via hackathons and incubators. A smaller number of companies have become proficient at the next step—incubation—rigorously testing new business concepts, using the lean start-up methods of Customer Development, Agile Engineering, and Business Model design. However, relatively few have successfully scaled new internal ventures to enable them to stay ahead of disruption. It is this discipline of scaling, actually building new, substantive, profitable businesses, that is critical to the success of new, highly innovative corporate ventures. It’s only when companies can scale that they truly win. Scaling is the crux of ambidexterity.

Recognizing the need for ambidexterity and building an ambidextrous organization are tests of corporate leadership.

In the end, exploitation pays your salary while exploration pays your pension. Companies that survive do both.

This book will do for companies what the lean methodology did for start-ups – give its leaders the essential playbook for transforming their organizations to meet the future.

Get your copy of Lead and Disrupt.

Why Innovation Heroes are a Sign of a Dysfunctional Organization

A week ago I got invited to an “innovation hero” award ceremony at a government agency. I don’t know how many of these I’ve been to in the last couple years, but this one just made my head explode.

The award was for an entrepreneur who worked against all odds to buck the system to turn her insight into an application. She had realized it was possible to automate a process that was being done manually – reentering data from one spreadsheet to another and annotating it with additional data from another system. Inspired by her own work problem, she talked to her peers and other stakeholders, built multiple minimum viable products, and figured out how to get engineering, policy, legal, security and everyone else in the enterprise to actually approve it. And then she fought with the acquisition folks to buy the trivial amount of additional hardware needed to connect it. It was a development process that would’ve taken three weeks in a startup, but inside this agency took 10 months (which was considered fast.) At each step she was confronted with “we’re not budgeted for this” or “this isn’t on our schedule” and “this isn’t your job.” Most rational people would’ve given up and said “you can’t fight the system“ but yet she persisted.

Having seen this scenario play out multiple times at multiple large corporations and government agencies, I could’ve repeated the speech her agency director made at the ceremony verbatim. “Blah blah blah and a $100 bonus.” Everyone politely applauded and went back to work feeling good. I was simply depressed. Never once did anyone ever step back and say that what we just witnessed was leadership rewarding and perpetuating a dysfunctional and broken system.

I’m constantly puzzled why thoughtful and astute CEOs and Agency Directors never ask, “Why is it that innovations require heroics to occur in our organization? Why don’t we have a repeatable process for innovation? What are the obstacles in the way of delivering needed innovation with speed and urgency in our organization? Why is it that after each one of these awards we don’t go back and fix the parts of the system that made creating something new so difficult?”

Instead, everyone at this award ceremony just went back to work like it was business as usual. I realized that innovation in this organization was going to continue to happen by heroics and exception rather than by design. As I’ve seen play out way too many times, ultimately the innovators get tired of banging their heads against the wall and leave government service or large companies. Their organizations hemorrhage the very people they need to help them compete against aggressive adversaries or competitors who have them in their sights.

An Organizational Design Problem
Sadly, this wasn’t a single act of bad management or malice. No single individual thought they weren’t doing their job. However, if anyone had taken the time to deconstruct the reason for the roadblocks to innovation, they would have uncovered they weren’t just obstinate middle managers, or a single bad process. Asking a series of “five whys,” (see this HBR article) would have discovered that:

  1. The agency’s existing processes were not designed for non-standard work. As in most large organizations, they were designed for the repeatable execution of pre-defined tasks.
  2. There were no resources available for non-standard work or any parallel organization responsible for innovation.
  3. The culture of the organization discouraged experimentation and punished the inevitable failures of a learning and discovery process.

Ultimately, the root cause was the entire government agency lacked an Innovation Doctrine. This manifested itself as an organizational design problem. There was simply no permanent place in the organization for unscheduled innovation to happen. And even if there had been, there was no way to turn demos into deployment with speed and at scale.Innovation Doctrine
In peacetime and/or when you’re the dominant superpower (or a commercial market leader), the emphasis is on process, procedures, and sustainment of existing systems. Deviations from that create chaos and diverge from the predetermined are not welcomed, let alone promoted, and funded. They are eliminated. This works great when the external environment -competitors, adversaries, technologies, threats – is static. However in times of crisis, war or disruption, these unconventional thinkers and innovators are exactly what is needed, and their ideas need to be rapidly deployed.

Well-managed organizations realize that they need both innovation and execution. With execution being dominant in peacetime/competitive advantage you have managers of process. In crisis/wartime innovation is dominant. Instead of mangers of process you need innovation leaders who shepherd ideas through an innovation pipeline. (see this HBR article.) Successful organizations recognize that innovation isn’t a single activity (incubators, accelerators, hackathons); it is a strategically organized end-to-end process from idea to deployment.

While innovation and execution have different processes, people, and culture, they need to respect and depend on each other. This ambidexterity (see this HBR article) and the innovation processes that go with it require an innovation doctrine – an overall strategy and playbook for the entire organization and enterprise that includes an innovation pipeline and processes intended to drive innovation efforts, and describes the role of innovation leaders in an ambidextrous organization – all focused on rapid deployment of new capabilities.

Lessons Learned

  • Innovation heroics are a symptom of a lack of an innovation doctrine
  • An innovation doctrine has a playbook, and innovation pipeline and describes the role of innovation leaders in an ambidextrous organization – all focused on rapid deployment of new capabilities
  • All large organizations – both government and corporate—need an innovation doctrine or else risk being outpaced by competitors.

The Class That Changed the Way Entrepreneurship is Taught

This article first appeared in Poets and Quants

 

Revolutions start by overturning the status quo. By the end of the 20th century, case studies and business plans had reached an evolutionary dead-end for entrepreneurs. Here’s why and what we did about it.


The Rise of Business Schools – Management as an Occupation
The business school was invented in the first decade of the 20th century in response to a massive economic transformation in the U.S. that took place in the last quarter of the 19th century. The country exited the Civil War as a nation of small businesses and ended the century with large national corporations (railroads, steel, oil, food, insurance, etc.). These explosions in company size and scale created a demand for professional managers. In 1908 Harvard Business School filled that need by creating a graduate degree – the Master of Business Administration. Its purpose was to educate management on best practices to run existing companies.

The MBA Curriculum – From Fieldwork to Case Studies
When Harvard started the MBA program there were no graduate-level business textbooks. The school used the “problem-method” which emphasized fieldwork – getting out of the classroom and visiting real companies– as an important part of the curriculum. Students observed how executives worked, interviewed them, and wrote up how real managers solved problems. Students then discussed these problems and solutions in class.

First Case Study-General Shoe

By the early 1920s a new dean changed the curriculum – shifting it from an industry orientation (steel, railroads, etc.) – to a functional one (marketing, factory and employment management (HR), etc.). This focus on a functional curriculum involved a switch to the case method; fieldwork now took second place. The case method assumes that students learn when they participate in a discussion of a theoretical situation they may face when they are a decision-maker rather than a real one they see in the field.

By 1923, 2/3rds of the courses at Harvard were taught with the case method, and the pattern was set for business education for the rest of the 20th century.

Entrepreneurship Becomes a Subject in Business Schools
While MBA programs proliferated during the first half of the 20th century, they focused on teaching management of existing companies. There were no classes on how to start a business. That is until 1947 when Myles Mace taught the first entrepreneurship course “Management of New Enterprises” at Harvard Business School. Soon others were created. In 1953 Peter Drucker offered an Entrepreneurship and Innovation class at New York University, and in 1954 Stanford’s business school offered “Small Business Management” its first small business course.

In 1967 the first contemporary MBA entrepreneurship courses were introduced at Stanford and NYU, and a year later Babson offered the first undergraduate entrepreneurship program. By 1970 sixteen schools were offering entrepreneurship courses, and in 1971 UCLA offered the first MBA in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship textbooks such as Small Business Management: Essentials of Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurship: Playing to Win started to appear. In 1985 the University of Miami held the first national business plan competition. By 1991 there were 57 undergraduate and 22 MBA programs. Textbooks, papers, and journal articles proliferated.

By the end of the 20th century entrepreneurship education fell into two categories: 1) starting small businesses and 2) starting high-growth, high-risk scalable startups. But both types of entrepreneurship courses were taught using case studies and taught students how to write and execute a business plan. The curriculum of both types of courses were simply adaptations of what business schools were using to train managers for the administration and execution of existing organizations.

The case method and business plans are the antithesis of how entrepreneurs create startups
The case method assumes that students learn when they participate in a discussion of a situation they may someday face as a decision-maker. But the case method is the antithesis of how entrepreneurs create a startup. Cases teaches pattern recognition tools for static patterns—and has limited value as a tool for teaching entrepreneurship.  Analyzing a case in the classroom, removed from the realities of a new venture, adds little to an entrepreneur’s preparation for the chaos, uncertainty, and conflicting customer responses that all entrepreneurs face.

Business plans presume that building a startup is a series of predictable steps requiring execution of a plan which assumes a series of known facts: known customers, known features, known pricing, known distribution channel. As a serial entrepreneur turned educator, this didn’t make sense to me. In a new venture none of these things are truly known. The reality is that most business plans don’t survive first contact with customers.

Neither cases nor business plans replicate the actual startup experience. Cases and plans are useful for teaching managers of process, not founders. Founders of startups (and new ventures inside existing companies) are searching for product/market fit and a repeatable and scalable business model. Searching, unlike execution, is not a predictable pattern. An entrepreneur must start with the belief that all their assumptions are simply hypotheses that will undoubtedly be challenged by what they learn from customers.

Yet up until 10 years ago, schools were still teaching entrepreneurs how to build startups on the premise that they were simply smaller versions of large companies. Entrepreneurial education was trapped in the 20th century.

21st Century Entrepreneurship curriculums
At the start of the 21st century, after two decades and 8 startups, I retired and had time to think about how VCs directed their startups using business plans. I began formulating the key ideas around what became the Lean Startup – that startups and existing companies were distinctly different – companies execute business models while startups search for them. Consequently the methodologies for launching products in startups were different than for existing companies.

A decade later, I began to teach the foundations of Lean, first at UC Berkeley (Customer Development) and then at Stanford using cases and business plans. After a few years of trial and error in front of a lot of students, I realized that the replacement for the case method was not better cases written for startups and that the replacement for business plans was not how to write better business plans and pitch decks. (I did both!). Instead, we needed a new management stack for company creation.

I posited that teaching “how to write a business plan” might be obsolete.

With Lean LaunchPad, we were going to toss teaching the business plan aside and try to teach students a completely new, hands-on approach to starting companies – one which combines customer development, agile development, business models and pivots.

Let’s Teach Lean Via Experiential Learning
First I searched the academic literature trying to learn what methods would best convey information that entrepreneurship students could understand, retain, and put to practical use. There were five parts to consider:

  • What’s the level of ambiguity, realism and complexity of the course content
  • How structured are the tasks within the class?
  • What were the experiential techniques used to deliver the content?
  • What were the pedagogical components of the class?
  • How will we deliver feedback to the students?

For each of these parts of the course design we needed to consider where on the spectrum of directedversus experiential each of the five parts of the class would fall.

Direct Guidance Versus Experiential Classes
I concluded that best way to teach entrepreneurs (versus managers) was to create an experiential and inquiry-based class that would develop the mindset, reflexes, agility, and resilience needed to search for a business model certainty in a chaotic world.

Experiential learning (also called “active learning” or “learning by doing”) is designed to have a high degree of complexity and realism. It’s not about read and remember, but rather is about problem exploration, design and inventing and iterating solutions. This differs from a traditional class with directed learning where students are taught to remember facts, understand concepts, and perhaps apply procedures but not to discover these by themselves.

In contrast, experiential classes are designed with the theory that people learn best in an unguided or minimally guided environment, where the students, rather than being presented with all of the essential information, must discover, or construct that information rapidly for themselves.

This seemed to me to be the best way to teach entrepreneurship. Experiential learning is the core of how we teach the Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps/Hacking for X classes. Launched in 2011, the Lean LaunchPad capstone entrepreneurship class was unique in that it was:

  1. team-based
  2. experiential
  3. Lean-driven (hypothesis testing/business model/customer development/agile engineering).

The class aimed to mimic the uncertainty all startups face as they search for a business model while imparting an understanding of all the components of a business model, not just how to give a pitch or a demo.

The figure below illustrates the spectrum of teaching techniques and shows where our class fits on the right.

The Syllabus
We were going to teach entrepreneurship like you teach artists – combining theory with intensive hands-on practice.

This Lean LaunchPad is built around the business model / customer development / agile development solution stack. Students start by mapping their initial assumptions (their business model). Each week they test these hypotheses with customers and partners outside the classroom (using customer development), then use iterative and incremental development (agile development) to build Minimal Viable Products.

The goal is to get students out of the building to test each of the 9 parts of their business model (or mission model for Hacking for Defense students), understand which of their assumptions were wrong, and figure out what they need to do to find product/market fit and then a validated business model.

Our objective is to get them using the tools that help startups test their hypotheses and adjust when they learn that their original assumptions are wrong.  We want them to experience faulty assumptions not as a crisis, but as a learning event called a pivot —an opportunity to change the model. (More than just for use in startups, these problem-solving skills are increasingly crucial in today’s increasingly complex world.)

Each week every team presents to the teaching team – “Here’s what we thought, here’s what we did, here’s what we learned, here’s what we’re going to do next week.”

Designing the Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps Class – the “Pedagogy”
While the Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps/H4X students are experiencing what appears to them to be a fully hands-on, experiential class, it’s a carefully designed illusion. In fact, it’s highly structured. The syllabus has been designed so that we are offering continual implicit guidance, structure, and repetition. This is a critical distinction between our class and an open-ended experiential class.

Guidance, Direction and Structure
For example, students start the class with their own initial guidance – they believe they have an idea for a product or service (Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps) or have been given a clear real-world problem (Hacking for Defense). Coming into the class, students believe their goal is to validate their commercialization or deployment hypotheses. (The teaching team knows that over the course of the class, students will discover that most of their initial hypotheses are incorrect.)

Next, the business/mission model canvas offers students guidance, explicit direction, and structure. First, the canvas offers a complete, visual roadmap of all the hypotheses they will need to test over the entire class. Second, the canvas helps the students goal-seek, by visualizing what an optimal endpoint would look like – product/market fit / mission success – would look like. Finally, the canvas provides students with a map of they what they learn week-to-week through their customer discovery work.

(I can’t overemphasize the important role of the canvas. Unlike an incubator or accelerator with no frame, the canvas acts as the connective tissue – the frame – that students can fall back on when they got lost or confused. It allows us to teach the theory of how to turn an idea, need, or problem into commercial practice, week by week a piece at a time.)

Third, the tools for customer discovery (videos, sample experiments, etc.) offer guidance and structure for students to work outside the classroom. The explicit goal of 10-15 customer interviews a week along with the requirement for building a continual series of minimal viable products, provides metrics that track the team’s progress. The mandatory office hours with the instructors and support from mentors provide additional guidance and structure.

Working Memory and Reflection
One of the challenges we wanted to avoid is overloading students’ short-term memory. If you give students minimal feedback and provide no structure or guidance, most of what students experience gets forgotten. To counter that, we’ve built three techniques in to reduce the cognitive load: regular summing up, repetition, and reflection. This allows students to transfer their weekly experiences into long-term memory and knowledge.

By design, each week we make students stop, reflect, and summarize their learning (here’s what we thought, here’s what we did, here’s what we found and here’s what we’re going to do next week.) The teams present these reflections, along with required specific deliverables for each week. These weekly presentations also provide reinforcement – students need to remember their learning from each of the prior components in the business/mission model canvas to provide a context for the current week.

In addition to the week-to-week summaries, we give students a reflection week at the end of the class to synthesize, process and integrate those week-to-week learnings. And we teach them how to turn that learning into a compelling story of their learning journey.

Ambiguity, Realism and Complexity
Ambiguity in a class means the subject can have multiple right answers. Or even no right answer. Searching for answers to the business and mission problems i.e. product/market fit has maximum ambiguity – there isn’t always a correct answer, nor will the same path get you to the same answer in different circumstances.

Realism in a class means, how well does the class content match an actual problem in practice? Learning accounting in a classroom is likely similar to doing accounting in an office. However, reading case studies about startup problems in a classroom has little connection to the real world and has low realism.

Complexity refers to the number of things that can change that may affect the outcome of a decision.  As the number of things that change goes up the so does the complexity of the learning process.

New ventures are ambiguous, real and complex. Teaching “how to write a business plan” as a method to build a startup assumes low ambiguity, low realism, and low complexity when the opposite is true. So we structured the class to model a startup; extremely ambiguous with multiple possible answers (or at times none,) realism in the pressures, chaos and uncertainty of a startup, and complex in trying to understand all parts of a business model.

The Flipped Classroom
Inside the classroom, we deliberately trade off lecture time for student/teaching team interaction. The class is run using a “flipped classroom.” Instead of lecturing about the basics during class time, we assign the core lectures, recorded as video clips, as homework.

Instructors then supplement the video lectures with their own in-class short lecture about this week’s business model topic.  This allows instructors to use the class time for review of the concepts or short lectures customized for specific domains (e.g., hardware, life sciences, etc.).

Emotional Investment
In an experiential class students must be fully immersed in the experience, not just doing what the syllabus says is required of them. Project-based learning engages and motivates students Having each team present weekly in front of their peers raises the commitment (and heart rate) of the students. No one wants to be shown up by another team.

Speed and Tempo Outside Their Comfort Zones
One of the goals of the class is to talk to 100 customers and partners. That may seem like an absurdly unreasonable goal, yet all teams manage to do so. Most case-based or project classes do not offer time and resource constraints. Our class is purposely designed to offer maximum ambiguity while pushing students to achieve extraordinary results under relentless pressure and time constraints.  We stress a relentless speed and tempo because we believe that learning is enhanced when students are given the opportunity to operate outside of their own perceived comfort zones.

Our objective is to have students experience what it’s like to operate in a real-world startup. Outside the classroom walls conditions will change so rapidly that their originally well thought out plans become irrelevant. If they can’t manage chaos and uncertainty, if they can’t bias themselves for action, and if they wait around for someone else to tell them what to do, then their investors and competitors will make their decisions for them and they will run out of money and their company will die.

Therefore, every successful founder needs a decisive mindset that can quickly separate the crucial from the irrelevant, synthesize the output, and use this intelligence to create islands of order in the all-out chaos of a startup. The class is designed to emulate that chaos and teach a bias for action.

Relentlessly Direct Feedback
There’s one last part of our pedagogy that might seem out of place in an experiential class – and that’s the relentlessly direct model of feedback.

The class moves at breakneck speed and is designed to create immediate action in time-, resource-, and cash-constrained environments. The teaching team practices Radical Candor – caring personally while challenging directly. At its core, Radical Candor is guidance and feedback that’s both kind and clear, specific, and sincere, and focused on helping the other person grow.

We give the students public feedback about the quality and quantity of their work in front of their peers weekly. For some, it’s the first time they’ve ever heard “not good enough.”

Class Design – Summary
The design of the class was a balance between ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty with structure and learning strategies.

While this process is extremely effective, it can be painful to watch. Our natural inclination (at least mine) is to offer specific guidance and solutions. (There are a few times in class when the team may need explicit directions such as, “It’s time to pivot” or “Your team needs to restart.”  But these should be exceptions.)

The genius of the class design was making the class look like it wasn’t designed.

Results
In the first decade of the Lean LaunchPad class we’ve trained hundreds of other educators around the world to teach the class at their universities. By now 100s of thousands of students have taken some form of the class, and 100’s of companies have been created.

In addition, two government-funded programs have adopted the class at scale. The first was the National Science Foundation I-Corps. Errol Arkilic the then head of commercialization at the National Science adopted the class saying, “You’ve developed the scientific method for startups, using the Business Model Canvas as the laboratory notebook.”  I-Corps which is now offered in 100 universities and has trained ~2,500 teams/7,500 scientists in 100 cohorts. The National Institute of Health also teaches a version, I-Corps @ NIH,  in the National Cancer Institute.

Today, this Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps syllabus is also the basis for a series of Mission-Driven Entrepreneurship classes– Hacking for Diplomacy, DefenseOceans, non-profits and cities. Hacking for Defense is now taught in over 55 universities in the U.S., with versions of the course offered in the UK and Australia.

While the Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps curriculum was a revolutionary break with the past, it’s not the end. In the last decade enumerable variants have emerged. The class we teach at Stanford has continued to evolve. Better versions from others will appear. And one day another revolutionary break will take us to the next level.

Lean LaunchPad – For Deep Science and Technology

We just finished the 11th annual Lean LaunchPad class at Stanford — our first version focused on deep science and technology.

I’ve always thought of the class as a minimal viable product – testing new ideas and changing the class as we learn. This year was no exception as we made some major changes, all of which we are going to keep going forward.

  1. A focus on scientists and engineers. We created an additional Spring section of the class with a focus on commercializing inventions from Stanford’s scientists and engineers. The existing winter quarter of the class remains the same as we taught for the last 10 years – taking all students’ projects – e-commerce, social media, web, and mobile apps. This newly created Spring section focuses on scientists and engineers who want to learn how to commercialize deep science and technology – life sciences (medical devices, diagnostics, digital health, therapeutics,) semiconductors, health care, sensors, materials, artificial intelligence/deep learning, et al.
    This allowed us to emphasize how to differentiate a technical spec from a value proposition and expand on the parts of the business model that are unique for science and engineering startups. For example, life sciences versus commercial applications have radically different reimbursement, regulatory, clinical trials, scientific advisory boards, demand creation, etc. In addition, we found we needed to add new material on Intellectual Property, how to license inventions from the university, and discussions about team dynamics.  Going forward we’ll continue to offer the class in two sections with the second class focused on science and technology.
  2. Remote Discovery – As the pandemic forced teaching remotely, we’ve learned that customer discovery is actually more efficient using video conferencing. It increased the number of interviews the students were able to do each week. When Covid restrictions are over, we plan to add remote customer discovery to the students’ toolkit. It remains to be seen whether customers will remain as available on Zoom as they were during the pandemic. (See here for an extended discussion of remote customer discovery.) Remote discovery also allowed a bigger pool of potential interviews not bounded by geography. The quality of interviewees seemed to improve by this larger pool.
  3. Class size/configuration – For the past decade our class size was 8 teams of 4. This year we accepted 12 teams of 4. Previously all teams needed to sit through all 8 weekly presentations. That was tough in person and not sustainable via Zoom. This year, by moving into two breakout sections, we cut the number of presentations that each team sat through by half.  The new format allowed students and teaching staff to devote greater attention to each presentation.
  4. Adopt a team – in past years all instructors had office hours with all the teams. This year each instructor adopted three teams and saw them weekly for a half hour. Students really appreciated building a closer working relationship with one faculty member.
  5. Alumni as guest speakers – Most weeks we invited a past student to guest speak about their journey through the class, highlighting “what I wish I knew” and “what to pay attention to.”

Below are the Lessons Learned presentations from the Lean LaunchPad for deep science and technology, as well as additional learnings from the class.

During the quarter the teams spoke to 1,237 potential customers, beneficiaries, regulators – all via Zoom. Most students spent 15-20 hours a week on the class, about double that of a normal class.

Team Gloflow

Started on Week 1 as a pathology slide digitization service.
Ended in Week 10 as response prediction for cancer treatments.

If you can’t see the Gloflow video, click here

If you can’t see the Gloflow slides, click here

Team Loomia

Started on Week 1 as flexible e-textile circuit looking for a problem.
Ended in Week 10 as easy-to-integrate components for automotive suppliers.

If you can’t see the Loomia video, click here

If you can’t see the Loomia slides, click here

Team Skywalk

Started on Week 1 as wearable gesture control device for real and virtual worlds.
Ended in Week 10 as a future-proof gesture control solution for AR headsets and the Department of Defense.

If you can’t see the Skywalk video, click here

If you can’t see the Skywalk slides, click here

Team EdgeAI

Started on Week 1 as a custom silicon chip with embedded memories and a Machine Learning accelerator targeting low-power, high-throughput, and low-latency applications.
Ended in Week 10 as a chip enabling AI vision applications on next generation battery powered surveillance cameras.

If you can’t see the EdgeAI video click here

If you can’t see the EdgeAI slides, click here

Team MushroomX

Started on Week 1 as Drone pollination of crops.
Ended in Week 10 as autonomous button mushroom harvesting.

If you can’t see the MushroomX video, see here

If you can’t see the MushroomX slides, click here

Team RVEX

Started on Week 1 as a Biomimetic Sleeve as a Left Ventricular Assist Device.
Ended in Week 10 as a Platform technology as a right heart failure device.

If you can’t see the RVEX video, click here

If you can’t see the RVEX slides, click here

Team Pause

Started on Week 1 as a Menopause digital health platform that connects women to providers and other women.
Ended in Week 10 as a D2C Menopause symptom tracking app and on-demand telehealth platform that offers women a personalized and integrative approach to menopause care.

If you can’t see the Pause video, click here

If you can’t see the Pause slides, click here

Team Celsius

Started on Week 1 as an IOT hardware sensor for environmental quality and human presence.
Ended in Week 10 as hybrid work collaboration + employee engagement.

If you can’t see the Celsius video, click here

If you can’t see the Celsius slides, click here

Team TakeCare

Started on Week 1 as a platform for finding and managing at-home senior care.
Ended in Week 10 as a B2C platform for scheduling on-demand at-home senior care.

If you can’t see the TakeCare video, click here

If you can’t see the Take Care slides, click here

Team CareMatch

Started on Week 1 as AI to Match Patients to Post-Acute Care.
Ended in Week 10 as Skilled Nursing Facility-at-Home for Wound Care.

If you can’t see the CareMatch video, click here

If you can’t see the CareMatch slides, click here

Team NeuroDB

Started on Week 1 as Unstructured data Tableau-like tool.
Ended in Week 10 as Cloud-based Pandas dataframe.

If you can’t see the NeuroDB video click here

If you can’t see the NeuroDB slides, click here

Team Drova

Started on Week 1 as a provider for autonomous drone delivery for restaurants and grocery stores.
Ended in Week 10 as Fleet management software for autonomous drone delivery.

If you can’t see the Drova video click here

If you can’t see the Drova slides, click here

Student Comments
I normally don’t include student comments in these summaries, but this year’s summarized why – after a decade – we still teach the class. The students find the class hard and exhausting, and say their instructors are tough and demanding. Yet in the end, the class and the work they invest in is highly rewarding to them.

  • “Awesome course- one of the best I’ve taken so far. You get out what you put into it, but find a team you like working with, get ready to hustle and work hard, and trust the process. A must-take for entrepreneurs!”
  • “Absolutely crucial to starting a company for a first-time founder. Couldn’t imagine a better teaching team or learning environment.”
  • “Very worth taking, whether you want to do a start-up your own or not.”
  • “Recommend to everyone considering entrepreneurship or want to learn about it.”
  • “Great class if you are interested in learning about the Customer Discovery Model, but takes a lot of time and work.”
  • “Intense course where you learn through experience on how to build a startup. I came with a product and I learned to find a solution and how to build from there.”
  • “Incredible experience – really glad I took the class and happy with the outcome.”
  • “Steve Blank tells you your slides are ugly”
  • “Take this course if you get a chance, especially if you are a PhD student. Super useful and a different kind of learning than most case-based classes. Extremely experiential.”
  • “A great class to learn about customer discovery and entrepreneurship methodologies! The teaching team is incredibly experienced and very honest in their feedback. It is quite time intensive and heavily based on your team. Make sure to clarify expectations with your team beforehand and communicate.”
  • “Definitely recommend this course, it’s a great experience and will give you tools to launch your idea.”
  • “A really excellent course to take to learn about entrepreneurship! An invaluable opportunity you might not find anywhere else. The instructors are extremely knowledgeable veteran entrepreneurs who give all the support and encouragement needed.”

Diversity
In past years, the students in the class were mostly men, reflecting the makeup of the applicants. While Ann Miura-Ko was part of the original teaching team, having all male instructors for the last five years didn’t help. Mar Hershenson joined the teaching team in 2018 and made an all-out effort to recruit women to apply. In this new Spring section of the class Heidi Roizen and Jennifer Carolan joined us as instructors. Mar, Heidi and Jennifer are all successful VC’s. They sponsored lunch sessions, mixers and meetings with women entrepreneurs and alumni for female students interested in the class and for male students looking to work with a more diverse team. I am happy to report that as a result of many people’s hard work the gender balance in the class substantially changed. Our Spring cohort focused on deep science and tech had 51 students — 25 were women.

The lessons for me were: 1) the class had been unintentionally signaling a “boys-only” environment, 2) these unconscious biases were easily dismissed by assuming that the class makeup simply reflected the applicant pipeline, and 3) when in fact it required active outreach by a woman to change that perception and bring more women into the pipeline and teams.

Teaching Assistants (TAs)
Our Teaching Assistants keep all the moving parts of the class running. This year their job was even more challenging running the class virtually and they made it run like clockwork.

Each year’s TAs have continued to make the class better (although I must admit it was interesting to watch the TAs remove any student uncertainty about what they need to do week-to-week by moving to a more prescriptive syllabus. Originally, I had designed a level of uncertainty into the class to mimic what a real-world startup feel like.) However, the art of teaching this class is remembering that it wasn’t designed by a focus group.

A Great Class Endures Beyond Its Author
I’ve always believed that great classes continue to thrive after the original teachers have moved on. While I created the Lean LaunchPad methodology and pedagogy (how to teach the class), over the past decade the Stanford class has had ten additional instructors, thirty-three wonderful TA’s and ninety volunteer mentors.

In addition to myself the teaching team has been:

2011 Instructors: Ann Miura-ko, Jon Feiber
Lead TA: Thomas Haymore, TA’s: Felix Huber, Christina Cacioppo

2012 Instructors: Ann Miura-ko, Jon Feiber
Lead TA: Thomas Haymore, TA:, Stephanie Glass

2013 Instructors: Ann Miura-ko, Jon Feiber
Lead TA: Rick Barber, TA: Stephanie Glass

2014 Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Jim Hornthal
Lead TA: Soumya Mohan, TA: Stephanie Zhan, Asst: Gabriel Garza, Jennifer Tsau

2015 Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Steve Weinstein
TA’s: Stephanie Zhan, Gabriel Garza TAs: Jennifer Tsau, Akaash Nanda, Asst: Nick Hershey

2016 Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Steve Weinstein
Lead TA: Jose Ignacio del Villar TA’s: Akaash Nanda, Nick Hershey, Zabreen Khan, Asst: Eric Peter

2017 Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Steve Weinstein
Lead TA: Eric Peter TA’s: Nick Hershey, Lorel Sim Karan Singhal Asst: Jenny Xia

2018 Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Steve Weinstein, Mar Hershenson, George John
Lead TA: Jenny Xia TA’s: Anand Upender, Marco Lorenzon, Lorel Sim Asst: Parker Ence, Trent Hazy, Sigalit Perelson

2019 Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Steve Weinstein, Mar Hershenson, George John, Tom Bedecarre
Lead TA: Parker Ence, Trent Hazy TA’s: Marco Lorenzon, Sigalit Perelson, Lorel Sim Asst:, Ashley Wu

2020 Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Steve Weinstein, Mar Hershenson, George John, Tom Bedecarre
Lead TA: Marco Lorenzon, Ashley Wu TA’s: Sigalit Perelson, Gopal Raman

2021 – Winter Instructors: Jeff Epstein, Mar Hershenson, George John, Tom Bedecarre
Lead TA: Erica Meehan, Anand Lalwani, TA’s: Gopal Raman, Andrew Hojel

2021 – Spring Instructors: Steve Weinstein, Heidi Roizen, Jennifer Carolan, Tom Bedecarre
Lead TAs: Sandra Ha, Lorenz Pallhuber TA: Manan Rai

Our Decade of Mentors
The mentors (industry experts) who volunteer their time have been supported and coordinated by Tom Bedecarre and Todd Basche. Each mentor’s contribution gets graded by the student team they coached.

Bryan Stolle, Charles Hudson, Dan Martell, David Feinlab, David Stewart, Doug Camplejohn, Eric Carr, George Zachary, Gina Bianchini, Heiko Hubertz, Hiten Shah, Jason Davies, Jim Greer, Jim Smith, Jonathan Ebinger, Josh Schwarzapel, Joshua Reeves, Justin Schaffer, Karen Richardson, Marianne Wu, Masheesh Jain, Ravi Belani, Rowan Chapman, Shawn Carolan, Steve Turner, Sven Strohbad, Thomas Hessler, Will Harvey, Ashton Udall, Ethan Bloch, Jonathan Abrams, Nick O’Connor, Pete Vlastellica, Steve Weinstein, Adi Bittan, Alan Chiu, George Zachary, Jeff Epstein, Kat Barr, Konstantin Guericke, Michael Borrus, Scott Harley, Jorge Heraud, Bob Garrow, Eyal Shavit, Ethan Kurzweil, Jim Anderson, George John, Dan Manian, Lee Redden, Steve King, Sunil Nagaraj, Evan Rapoport, Haydi Danielson, Nicholas O’Connor, Jake Seid, Tom Bedecarre, Lucy Lu, Adam Smith, Justin Wickett, Allan May, Craig Seidel, Rafi Holtzman, Roger Ross, Danielle Fong, Mar Hershenson, Heather Richman, Jim Cai, Siqi Mou, Vera Kenehan, Phil Dillard, Susan Golden, Todd Basche, Robert Locke, Maria Amundson, Freddy Dopfel, Don Peppers, Rekha Pai, Radhika Malpani, Michael Heinrich, MariaLena Popo, Jordan Segall, Mike Dorsey, Katie Connor, Anmol Madan, Kira Makagon, Andrew Westergren, Wendy Tsu, Teresa Briggs, Pradeep Jotwani.

And thanks to the continued support of Tom Byers, Tina Seelig, Kathy Eisenhardt, Ritta Katilla, Bob Sutton and Chuck Eesly at Stanford Technology Ventures Program (the entrepreneurship center in the Stanford Engineering School).

Hacking for Defense @ Stanford 2021 Lessons Learned Presentations

We just finished our 6th annual Hacking for Defense class at Stanford.

What a year. With the pandemic winding down it finally feels like the beginning of the end.

This was my sixth time teaching a virtual class during the lockdown – and for our students likely their 15th or more. Hacking for Defense has teams of students working to understand and solve national security problems. Although the class was run completely online, and even though they were suffering from Zoom fatigue, the 10 teams of 42 students collectively interviewed 1,142 beneficiaries, stakeholders, requirements writers, program managers, industry partners, etc. – while simultaneously building a series of minimal viable products.

At the end of the quarter, each of the teams gave a final “Lessons Learned” presentation. Unlike traditional demo days or Shark Tanks which are, “Here’s how smart I am, and isn’t this a great product, please give me money,” a Lessons Learned presentation tells the story of a team’s 10-week journey and hard-won learning and discovery. For all of them it’s a roller coaster narrative describing what happens when you discover that everything you thought you knew on day one was wrong and how they eventually got it right.

Here’s how they did it and what they delivered.


How Do You Get Out of the Building When You Can’t Get Out of the Building?
This class is built on conducting in-person of interviews with customers/ beneficiaries and stakeholders, but due to the pandemic, teams now had to do all their customer discovery via a computer screen. This would seem to be a fatal stake through the heart of the class. How would customer interviews work via video?  After teaching remotely for the last year, we’ve learned that customer discovery is actually more efficient using video conferencing. It increased the number of interviews the students were able to do each week.

Many of the people the students needed to talk to were sheltering at home, which meant they weren’t surrounded by gatekeepers. While the students missed gaining the context of standing on a navy ship or visiting a drone control station or watching someone try their app or hardware, the teaching team’s assessment was that remote interviews were more than an adequate substitute. When Covid restrictions are over, we plan to add remote customer discovery to the students’ toolkit. (See here for an extended discussion of remote customer discovery.)

We Changed The Class Format
While teaching remotely we made two major changes to the class. Previously, each of the teams presented a weekly ten-minute summary consisting of “here’s what we thought, here’s what we did, here’s what we found, here’s what we’re going to do next week.”  While we kept that cadence, it was too exhausting for all the other teams to stare at their screen watching every other team present. So we split the weekly student presentations into thirds – three teams presented to the entire class then three teams each went into two Zoom breakout rooms. During the quarter we rotated the teams and instructors through the main room and breakout sessions.

The second change was the addition of alumni guest speakers – students who had taken the class in the past. They offered insights about what they got right and wrong and what they wished they had known.

Lessons Learned Presentation Format
For the final Lessons Learned presentation many of the eight teams presented a 2-minute video to provide context about their problem. This was followed by an 8-minute slide presentation describing their customer discovery journey over the 10 weeks. While all the teams used the Mission Model Canvas, (videos here), Customer Development and Agile Engineering to build Minimal Viable Products, each of their journeys was unique.

By the end the class all the teams realized that the problem as given by the sponsor had morphed into something bigger, deeper and much more interesting.

All the presentations are worth a watch.

Team Fleetwise – Vehicle Fleet Management

If you can’t see the Fleetwise 2-minute video, click here

If you can’t see the Fleetwise slides, click here

Mission-Driven Entrepreneurship
This class is part of a bigger idea – Mission-Driven Entrepreneurship. Instead of students or faculty coming in with their own ideas, we ask them to work on societal problems, whether they’re problems for the State Department or the Department of Defense or non-profits/NGOs  or the Oceans and Climate or for anything the students are passionate about. The trick is we use the same Lean LaunchPad / I-Corps curriculum — and the same class structure – experiential, hands-on– driven this time by a mission-model not a business model. (The National Science Foundation, National Security Agency and the Common Mission Project have helped promote the expansion of the methodology worldwide.)

Mission-driven entrepreneurship is the answer to students who say, “I want to give back. I want to make my community, country or world a better place, while being challenged to solve some of the toughest problems.”

Project Agrippa – Logistics and Sustainment in IndoPacific

If you can’t see the Project Agrippa 2-minute video, click here

If you can’t see the Project Agrippa slides, click here

It Started With An Idea
Hacking for Defense has its origins in the Lean LaunchPad class I first taught at Stanford in 2011. I observed that teaching case studies and/or how to write a business plan as a capstone entrepreneurship class didn’t match the hands-on chaos of a startup. Furthermore, there was no entrepreneurship class that combined experiential learning with the Lean methodology. Our goal was to teach both theory and practice.

The same year we started the class, it was adopted by the National Science Foundation to train Principal Investigators who wanted to get a federal grant for commercializing their science (an SBIR grant.) The NSF observed, “The class is the scientific method for entrepreneurship. Scientists understand hypothesis testing” and relabeled the class as the NSF I-Corps (Innovation Corps). The class is now taught in 9 regional locations supporting 98 universities and has trained over ~2,500 teams/7,500 scientists in 100 cohorts. It was adopted by the National Institutes of Health as I-Corps at NIH in 2014 and at the National Security Agency in 2015.

Team Silknet – Detecting Ground Base Threats

If you can’t see the Silknet 2-minute video, click here

If you can’t see the Silknet slides, click here

Origins Of Hacking For Defense
In 2016, brainstorming with Pete Newell of BMNT and Joe Felter at Stanford, we observed that students in our research universities had little connection to the problems their government was trying to solve or the larger issues civil society was grappling with. As we thought about how we could get students engaged, we realized the same Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps class would provide a framework to do so. That year we launched both Hacking for Defense and Hacking for Diplomacy (with Professor Jeremy Weinstein and the State Department) at Stanford.

Team Flexible Fingerprints – Improve Cybersecurity

If you can’t see the Flexible Fingerprints 2-minute video, click here

If you can’t see the Flexible Fingerprints slides, click here

Goals for the Hacking for Defense Class
Our primary goal was to teach students Lean Innovation while they engaged in national public service. Today if college students want to give back to their country, they think of Teach for America, the Peace Corps, or AmeriCorps or perhaps the US Digital Service or the GSA’s 18F. Few consider opportunities to make the world safer with the Department of Defense, Intelligence community or other government agencies.

In the class we saw that students could learn about the nation’s threats and security challenges while working with innovators inside the DoD and Intelligence Community. At the same time the experience would introduce to the sponsors, who are innovators inside the Department of Defense (DOD) and Intelligence Community (IC), a methodology that could help them understand and better respond to rapidly evolving threats. We wanted to show that if we could get teams to rapidly discover the real problems in the field using Lean methods, and only then articulate the requirements to solve them, defense acquisition programs could operate at speed and urgency and deliver timely and needed solutions.

Finally, we wanted to familiarize students with the military as a profession and help the better understand its expertise, and its proper role in society. We hoped it would also show our sponsors in the Department of Defense and Intelligence community that civilian students can make a meaningful contribution to problem understanding and rapid prototyping of solutions to real-world problems.

Team Neurosmart –  Optimizing Performance of Special Operators

If you can’t see the Neurosmart 2-minute video, click here

If you can’t see the Neurosmart slides, click here

Mission-Driven in 50 Universities and Continuing to Expand in Scope and Reach
What started as a class is now a movement.

From its beginning with our Stanford class, Hacking for Defense is now offered in over 50 universities in the U.S., as well as in the UK and Australia. Steve Weinstein started Hacking for Impact (Non-Profits) and Hacking for Local (Oakland) at U.C. Berkeley, and Hacking for Oceans at both Scripps and UC Santa Cruz.  Hacking for Homeland Security launched last year at the Colorado School of Mines and Carnegie Mellon University. A version for NASA is coming up next.

And to help businesses recover from the pandemic, the teaching team taught a series of Hacking For Recovery classes last summer.

Our Hacking for Defense team continues to look for opportunities to adapt and apply the course methodology for broader impact and public good. Project Agrippa, for example, piloted a new “Hacking for Strategy” initiative inspired by their experience in Stanford’s “Technology, Innovation and Modern War” class that Raj Shah, Joe Felter and I taught last fall. This all-star team of 4 undergraduates and a JD/MBA developed new ways to provide logistical support to maritime forces in the Indo-Pacific region. Their recommendations drew on insights gleaned from over 242! interviews (a national H4D class record.) After in-person briefings to Marine Corps and Navy commanders and staff across major commands from California to Hawaii, they received interest in establishing a future collaboration, validating our hypothesis that Hacking for Strategy would be a welcome addition to our course offerings. Its premise is that keeping America safe not only requires us maintaining a technological edge but also using these cutting edge technologies to develop new operational concepts and strategies. Stay tuned.

Team AngelComms – Rescuing Downed Pilots

If you can’t see the AngelComms 2-minute video, click here

If you can’t see the AngelComms slides, click here

Team Salus – Patching Operational Systems to Keep them Secure

If you can’t see the Salus 2-minute video, click here

If you can’t see the Salus slides, click here

Team Mongoose – Tracking Hackers Disposable Infrastructure

If you can’t see the Mongoose 2-minute video, click here

If you can’t see the Mongoose slides, click here

Team Engage – Preparing Aviators to Make Critical High Stakes Decisions

If you can’t see the Engage slides, click here

What’s Next For These Teams?
When they graduate, the Stanford students on these teams have the pick of jobs in startups, companies, and consulting firms. Most are applying to H4X Labs, an accelerator focused on building dual-use companies that sell to both the government and commercial firms. Many will continue to work with their problem sponsor. Several will join the new Stanford Gordian Knot Center which is focused on the intersection of policy, operational concepts, and technology.

In our post class survey 86% of the students said that the class had impact on their immediate next steps in their career. Over 75% said it changed their opinion of working with the Department of Defense and other USG organizations.

It Takes A Village
While I authored this blog post, this class is a team project. The secret sauce of the success of Hacking for Defense at Stanford is the extraordinary group of dedicated volunteers supporting our students in so many critical ways.

The teaching team consisted of myself and:

  • Pete Newell, retired Army Colonel and ex Director of the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, now CEO of BMNT.
  • Joe Felter, retired Army Colonel; and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania; and William J. Perry Fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.
  • Steve Weinstein, 30-year veteran of Silicon Valley technology companies and Hollywood media companies. Steve was CEO of MovieLabs, the joint R&D lab of all the major motion picture studios. He runs H4X Labs.
  • Tom Bedecarré, the founder and CEO of AKQA, the leading digital advertising agency.
  • Jeff Decker, a Stanford researcher focusing on dual-use research. Jeff served in the U.S. Army as a special operations light infantry squad leader in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our teaching assistants this year were Nick Mirda, Sally Eagen, Joel Johnson, past graduates of Hacking for Defense, and Valeria RinconA special thanks to the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) and Rich Carlin and the Office of Naval Research for supporting the program at Stanford and across the country, as well as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. And our course advisor, Tom Byers, Professor of Engineering and Faculty Director, STVP.

Thanks to Mike Brown, Director of the Defense Innovation Unit for giving an extraordinary closing keynote.

We were lucky to get a team of mentors (VCs and entrepreneurs) as well as an extraordinary force of military liaisons from the Hoover Institution’s National Security Affairs Fellows program, Stanford senior military fellowship program and other accomplished military affiliated volunteers. This diverse group of experienced experts selflessly volunteer their time to help coach the teams. Thanks to Todd Basche, Rafi Holtzman, Kevin Ray, Craig Seidel, Katie Tobin, Jennifer Quarrie, Jason Chen, Matt Fante, Richard Tippitt, Rich Lawson, Commander Jack Sounders, Mike Hoeschele, Donnie Hasseltine, Steve Skipper, LTC Jim Wiese, Col. Denny Davis, Commander Jeff Vanak, Marco Romani, Rachel Costello, LtCol Kenny Del Mazo, Don Peppers, Mark Wilson and LTC Ed Cuevas

And of course a big shout-out to our problem sponsors across the DoD and IC: MSgt Ashley McCarthy, Jason Stack, Col Sean Heidgerken, LTC Richard Barnes, George Huber, Neal Ziring, Shane Williams, Anthony Ries, Russell Hoffing, Javier Garcia, Matt Correa, Shawn Walsh, and Claudia Quigley.

You Don’t Need Permission

I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Suresh, an ex-student I’ve known for a long time. A U.S. citizen he was now the head of sales and marketing for a company in London selling medical devices to hospitals in the UK National Health Service.  His boss had identified the U.S. as their next market and wanted him to set up a U.S. salesforce. Suresh understood that the U.S. health system was very different from the system in the UK, not just the regulatory regime through the FDA, but the reimbursement process and the entire sales process.

Over a Zoom call Suresh explained, “I’m trying to push the importance of running customer discovery and testing these hypotheses before we build our U.S. product, but I’m running into a pushback from my CEO. He says, “We’re disruptors! Discovery is going to slow us down.  We need to move quickly!”

Suresh was concerned. “If we don’t test our assumptions about the market and any changes needed to our products, we’ll build something I can’t sell. Worse, given how expensive clinical trials are in medtech, I’m concerned if we build a product that isn’t commercially viable, we’ll be out of business before we even start.”

I could hear his frustration and concern when he asked, “How can I convince my boss to use customer discovery to test our hypotheses?”

That’s when I realized that Suresh was overlooking a few things.

  1. He was trying to sell the “story” of Customer Discovery as part of the Lean Methodology to his CEO by explaining how discovery worked with the business model canvas, agile engineering, pivots and MVPs.
  2. But talking about the method to others is not the same as “doing” Customer Discovery.
  3. Customer Discovery is about gathering validated evidence, not proselytizing a method.
  4. The goal of discovery is to gather evidence to test hypotheses, deeply understand the customer problem and validate a solution.
  5. As head of sales and marketing, Suresh didn’t need his CEO to buy into the process or give his permission to start the discovery process. He was in charge.
  6. Given the ubiquity of Zoom, he could use it to rapidly get out of the building to the U.S. to test some hypotheses and gather some initial insights.

I pointed out that once he had potential customer, regulator, and reimbursement data from his Discovery interviews, he could bring that data into conversations with his CEO.

Having real data turns conversations from faith-based to evidence-based.

Lessons Learned

  • Talking about the Lean method to others is not the same as doing it
  • If you’re in charge or part of a customer-facing organization, you don’t need to wait for permission to talk to customers to test hypotheses
  • Having real data turns conversations from faith-based to evidence-based

Your Product is Not Their Problem

There are no facts inside your building, so get the heck outside

I just had a call with Lorenz, a former business school student who started a job at a biotech startup making bacteria to take CO2 out of the air. His job was to find new commercial markets for this bacteria at scale.  And he wanted to chat about how to best enter a new market.

His market research found that the concrete industry contributes between 5 and 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. So it seemed logical to him that the concrete industry was going to be one the first places to approach since it was obvious that they need to reduce carbon emissions. He believed that if used as an additive to concrete, his bacteria could strengthen it while reducing CO2.

The conversation got interesting when I asked, “How are you going to describe the product to potential customers in the concrete industry?” Lorenz began a long description of the details of the bacteria, his founders’ research papers on bacteria, the scientific advisory board bacteria experts they had assembled, how the bacteria was made at scale in fluidized bed reactors, etc… This went on for at least ten more minutes. When he was done I asked him, “So why should anybody in the concrete industry care? Do you really think they’re looking for bacteria made in fluidized bed reactors? Do you think there are a significant number whose number one issue is to buy bacteria? Do you know what if any of the features you mentioned actually matter to a potential customer?” There was silence for a moment. And then he said, “I don’t know.”

I wasn’t completely surprised because as a young marketeer, I made this mistake all the time – thinking that my product was a solution to someone’s problem  – without ever understanding what problems the customers really had. And that I needed to have all the answers when in fact I didn’t even understand the questions.

I suggested that perhaps he should get out of the building and actually talk to some large-scale concrete suppliers and rather than starting with what he wanted to sell them, try to understand what their needs were. For example, how were current and upcoming green building regulations on CO2 emissions affecting the concrete industry? How are they solving that problem today? (If they weren’t solving it, it may not be a problem they’ll pay to solve.) What was the current cost of low carbon concrete? How much would they have to charge to be competitive? Were there specific use-cases that made sense for initial adoption/pilots? What additional benefits could bacteria as an concrete additive make (ie. greater strength, crack healing)?

We talked for a few minutes more and by then I could see the lightbulb going on over his head when he said, “I think I got my work cut out for me.”

Lessons learned

  • Your product is not someone’s problem
  • Start with a deep understanding of a customer problem or need before you start pitching your solution
  • Ask customers how they solve the problem today
  • Understand future regulations that might change your customer’s priorities or challenges

Back to the Classroom – The Educators Summit

Register Here

In 2020 over 1,000 educators joined us online to learn and share how to teach during the pandemic. Now we’re heading back into the classroom and the world has changed. What is the “new normal” for Lean Education? Will using video to “get out of the building” still play a role? What roles do diversity, equity and inclusion play in future syllabi?

Join me, our guest speaker Dr. Laura Tyson, our panelists Brandy Nagel, Ivy Shultz, Michael Camp and Jim Hornthal and hosts Jerry Engel, Pete Newell, Steve Weinstein and your peers for a robust discussion to these questions at the 4th edition of Lean Innovation Educators Summit on June 3rd, 1 – 4pm EDT, 10am – 1pm PDT.


Why
The Pandemic has changed everything. After a year plus in the virtual teaching environment how much will stick and what will return to pre-pandemic norms? How much of our virtual  “getting out of the classroom” teaching methods will remain? The business landscape crippled some industries while others have exploded. Which ones will rebound? The funding environment for our students continues to be on fire. Will that continue? How will the push for diversity, equity and inclusion affect educators?

What
The event will begin with a fireside chat with Dr. Laura Tyson former Dean of the Berkeley Haas School of Business and former Chairman of the National Economic Council. The respondent panel will include, Brandy Nagel (Georgia Tech), and Ivy Shultz (Columbia University), Michael Camp (Ohio State), Jim Hornthal (UC Berkeley). To learn from each other and share ideas, we’ll then go into breakout sessions so you can discuss the topics from the fireside chat and share best practices with your peer Lean educators from around the world.

How
This session is free to all but limited to Innovation educators. You can register for the event here and/or learn more on our website. We look forward to gathering as a community of educators to shape the future of Lean Innovation Education.

When
See you on June 3rd 1pm – 4pm EDT, 10am-1pm PDT.

Bring your best ideas!

Register here

These Five Principles Will Accelerate Innovation

As Director of the U.S. Army’s Rapid Equipping Force Pete Newell delivered innovation at speed and scale in the Department of Defense. Pete is now CEO of BMNT, a company that delivers innovation solutions and processes for governments.

Here are Pete’s 5 principles that will accelerate innovation.


To help a large Defense organization wrestle with how to increase the velocity of innovation in their ranks Steve Blank and I spent the better part of last week with our heads together reviewing everything we learned in the five years since we merged the concepts of problem curation and Lean while launching the innovation pipeline.

The original Innovation Pipeline sketch – 2016

I spent yesterday sifting through the most recent lessons learned and results from a series of accelerators BMNT is running for the intelligence community. Then last night I watched the final presentations from the inaugural Hacking for National Security course in Australia before jumping over to teach Stanford’s Hacking for Defense® (H4D) class.

Looking back on the week I’m blown away by how far we’ve come since we merged the two methodologies five years ago and by how fast we are discovering the pathways toward solving incredibly hard problems. Some examples:

  • In less than six weeks a Stanford H4D team has redefined a problem related to security vetting and radicalization while also describing the pathway a solution could follow to deployment within the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community.
  • A Navy team recently sourced 80 problems, then curated down to one priority problem to solve. In less than 60 days they created 26 MVPs while interviewing over two dozen companies. They then incubated and delivered a solution that will help get large vessels back to sea faster, potentially saving the Navy $20M-$30M a year.
  • In just three weeks, the DIA MARS team sourced 100 problems from nearly 400 people, then curated and selected five priority problems to focus on. In eight weeks, five teams conducted more than 125 interviews (across 53 stakeholder organizations) and 12 experiments to deliver five validated proofs-of-concept and the evidence needed to confidently invest resources to prototype three of the five based on their user desirability, technical feasibility and organizational viability.

What I observed from the week’s deep dive: Whether it is an agency cross-functional team or a university-based “Hacking for” team we are accelerating, five key concepts drive the foundation for this increasing pace of learning and solution delivery. They are

  1. The power of Lean Methodology is supercharged when discovery begins with a well-curated and prioritized problem. Getting to one well-curated problem requires access to a source of hundreds of them.   
  2. Problem curation doesn’t stop until discovery is complete — the process of trying to discover the solution to a problem helps define the actual problem (and for .gov folks the actual requirement for the future solution).
  3. Stakeholder mapping and nailing the value propositions for beneficiaries, buyers, supporters, advocates and potential saboteurs are critical to building a pathway through the phases of the innovation pipeline and transitioning a solution to deployment. 
  4. The key to understanding value propositions is in building interviews that are based on a set of hypotheses (about the problem, the stakeholder and potential solutions to be explored) and data to be captured while using minimum viable products (just enough “product” to increase the efficacy of a conversation and increase the speed of learning).
  5. Innovation happens because of people and it takes a village. Whether academic-based like our Hacking for Defense teams or internal organizational Integrated Product or Cross-Functional Teams (IPTs/CFTs), accelerator teams perform best when supported by:
    1. Teachers – who can ground teams in a common framework and language for the discipline of innovation and entrepreneurship.
    2. Coaches – who can walk teams through the practical application of innovation tools in context with the problem they are trying to solve.
    3. Mentors – who will provide relentlessly direct feedback to teams and challenge them on the quality of the hypotheses, MVPs and the analysis of what they’ve learned, while driving them through each pivot rather than letting them get bogged down in “analysis paralysis.”
    4. Advisors – who will provide alternative viewpoints that will enable teams to see clearer pathways through bureaucracies.
    5. Connectors – who will help teams rapidly grow their networks to gain new insights from unique partners not yet discovered.

If your organization is running innovation activities or an accelerator and these five principles aren’t part of their program they are likely wasting your organization’s time and resources, and contributing to Innovation Theater instead of deploying solutions to real problems.

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Next up we’ll dig into how the innovation pipeline serves a parallel process for managing innovation

Enterprise Innovation for the 21st Century

Today’s environment requires separate systems for innovation and execution that operate with parallel and sometimes overlapping processes


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