Hacking for Defense Goes National

Our goal was to scale Hacking for Defense classes across the US – giving students the opportunity to perform national service by solving real defense/diplomacy problems using Lean Methods. In exchange our government sponsors benefit from 1) access to talent that most likely would never have served the country, 2) getting solutions as minimum viable products/prototypes in 10 weeks, 3) exposure to a problem solving methodology used in Silicon Valley and battle tested in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This week we are doing what we said we’ll do – scale the class nationally:

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None of this would be possible without Pete Newell and Joe Felter and the entire team at BMNT and the extraordinary teaching team at each of these universities.

This week I’m in Washington co-teaching the 2nd Hacking for Defense Educators and Sponsor class.  More universities coming to the program, more government sponsors sharing problems, more variants being taught in 2017 (Diplomacy, Impact/Development, Space, Cities, Hollywood, etc.)

The Innovation Insurgency Gets Educated: Hacking for Defense, Diplomacy, Development, …

educator-classWe’re holding our 2nd Hacking for Defense, Diplomacy,… educators and sponsors class January 17-19 at Georgetown University. The class is for:

  • educators who want to learn how to teach a Hacking for Defense, Diplomacy, Development, etc. class;
  • problem sponsors who want to learn how to get the most out of their interaction with student teams and how to use the teams to help accelerate their problem
  • government organizations who want to a more efficient way to deliver needed solutions with speed and urgency to their stakeholders.
  • corporate innovation leaders and technologists who want to engage with both emerging national problems and students who are the future corporate work force

The Innovation Insurgency
We taught the first Hacking for Defense class less than 6 months ago

hacking classesOur first Hacking for Diplomacy class ended this month.

Our goal was to scale these classes across the US giving students the opportunity to perform national service by getting solving real defense/diplomacy problems using Lean Methods. In exchange our government sponsors benefit from access to talent that most likely would never have served the country.

We trained our first group of educators and sponsors three months ago.  Since then 8 universities have taught the Hacking for Defense class or put it on their academic calendar for 2017: UC San Diego, Georgetown, Air Force, University of Pittsburgh, James Madison University, Boise State, RIT, and Stanford.

Since then our Hacking for Defense our original sponsors; (JIDO, ARCYBER, AWG, USMC, NSA, AFNWC, SOCOM, 75th Ranger Regiment, USTRANSCOM, Cyber Force Protection Brigade, National Defense University, and the Center for Technology and National Security Policy) and a host of new ones have given us another 45 national security problems for these universities to solve.

Our Hacking for Diplomacy sponsors at State gave us 15 problems for the students to solve. The students selected seven from the the Office of Space and Advanced Technology, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations the Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

What We’ve Learned: Hacking for X
As soon as we stood up the first Hacking for Defense class we began to get requests from universities that sounded like, “can we start a Hacking for Energy class?” or “How about a NASA or the NRO class with Hacking for Space as the topic?” As soon as we followed it up with Hacking for Diplomacy we got asked, “Will this work at USAID with Hacking for Development?” How about a completely classified version? Or my favorite, “How about we get the movie studios give us some of their toughest challenges and we offer a “Hacking for Hollywood class in a Los Angeles university?”

More encouraging was that program managers inside of existing government agencies started asking, “could we use this method to better understand our stakeholder/warfighter needs to build and deliver needed solutions with speed and urgency?”

Most encouraging was the reaction of our students, who as Dean Al Pisano at the University of San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering put it “Will never look at their education curriculum the same way again.”  Many of these same students whom have never been given an opportunity to provide a public service to their country are now consider solving our nation’s problems the coolest job they could have.

The answers to all of these questions are yes, yes, yes and yes.

Why this is possible is that at its core the Hacking for X for pedagogy is built around the same Lean methodology that’s been proven on the battlefield of Iraq and Afghanistan, Silicon Valley and the 1000+ teams from the National Science Foundation.  Modifying the curriculum for a specific technology or field of interest; whether it’s defense, diplomacy or development or something that has yet to be asked for, is relatively simple.

h4di-orgHacking for X Educators Class
We done five things to make this possible.

First, we (Pete Newell, Joe Felter, Tom Byers and I) set up a non-profit – H4Di.org to coordinate all these educational opportunities.

  • We wrote a 300-page educator guide which illustrates how to set up and teach a canonical “Hacking for…” class.
  • We wrote a sponsor guide which shows best practices for sponsors who want to offer problems for university students
  • We wrote a program managers guide to help leaders inside government organizations use the class to speed up their problem solving process
  • We hold a 2 ½ day educator class twice a year (east coast and west) to train both educators and sponsors on best practices and logistics

Come join us at the January 17-19th Hacking for Defense, Diplomacy, Development class at Georgetown and learn how this works.

educator-class

So Here’s What I’ve Been Thinking…

I was interviewed at the Stanford Business School and in listening to the podcast, I realize I repeated some of my usual soundbites but embedded in the conversation were a few things I’ve never shared before about service.

Listen here:

Steve Blank on Silicon Valley, AI and the Future of Innovation

Download the .mp3 here:

Download Episode

How The Marine Corps Builds an Innovation Culture

marine-corps-logoJennifer Edgin is the Chief Technology Officer of the Intelligence Division at the Headquarters of the Marine Corps. As the Senior Technical Advisor to the Director of Intelligence, she is responsible for building and infusing new technologies within the Marine Corps Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Enterprise (MCISRE). Jennifer is one the “innovation insurgents” inside the Department of Defense driving rapid innovation. Here’s her story of the Lean innovation accelerator she’s built for the Marines.


If you asked 100 people to describe a United States Marine, they would probably use words such as “Warrior,” “Fierce,” “Patriot,” “Honorable,” and “Tough.” Marine Corps culture transcends generations and is rooted in the values of courage, honor, and commitment.  Marines are known for adapting to change and overcoming obstacles and adversity to meet new mission requirements continuously.  Three years ago, Marine Corps Intelligence outlined a mission to harness the disruptions occurring in the new frontier of warfare, the Electronic battlefield. To achieve this mission, we established a framework that leveraged Marine Corps tenacity, agility, and adaptability to create a persistent culture of innovation.

One of our primary goals in establishing this framework was to keep the user front and center, and to quickly deliver solutions to their challenges. To achieve this, we stood up the Marine Corps Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Enterprise (MCISRE) Accelerator. Like a tech startup accelerator, the MCISRE Accelerator assembles a cohort of active duty Marines of all ranks, experiences, and disciplines and pairs them with developers, designers, and mentors through a 12-week “Design—Develop—Deploy” cycle.  Marines are taught tools and methodologies from the Lean Startup, Design Thinking, and Service Design practices, which are then used to zero in on a problem; identify the target customer segment; validate the problem and solution by “getting out of the building” and submitting their problem and concept designs to peers for feedback, designing wireframes and prototypes, developing a minimum viable product (MVP); and finally pitch the MVP to the Director of Intelligence (DIRINT) and other leaders and stakeholders for a go/no-go decision for release.

Over the course of the last year, we have carefully measured and monitored our framework so we could quickly identify what was working, what was not working, and tune accordingly so that the end result created value for both the Marines in the cohort and the larger community of Marine Corps Intelligence. Below are the top 5 factors we found are necessary to successfully innovate.

1. Understand Your Customer and Teach Them to Solve Real Problems
Innovation begins and ends with understanding the customer and the specific problems they are facing. Too often in government, problems are talked about in generalizations, users are not part of the design and development of solutions, and anecdotal information gets passed around without data to validate it until at some point it becomes “truth” and is accepted without verification.

distributed-common-ground-surface-systemOne of the most difficult exercises for our cohorts is distilling “world-hunger”-level challenges into discrete, focused problems we can solve in 12 weeks. We learned that if you cannot define your problem in one sentence that a 7 year-old can understand, you don’t understand the problem.  If you want to create innovative solutions, you must start by defining real problems. Real problems—when defined properly—have metrics that quantify the scope, magnitude, and impact.

Before we launched the MCISRE Accelerator, we conducted site visits, and spoke with Marines from around the world to hear from them what wasn’t working and what was.  After our site visits, we identified common issues across each of the sites, disciplines, and ranks, and launched data surveys to explore and quantify problems.  The data showed us how users were currently performing a mission, where deficits existed in enabling technology and processes, and which anecdotal problems were actual problems and which were not. We then compared the results of the surveys with the site survey interviews and prepared a list of the top issues and challenges facing Marine Corps Intelligence. When we launched the MCISRE Accelerator, we used this information to quickly move the focus of the cohort from the world-hunger view to zeroing in one or two key issues that caused major disruptions in their tasking and productivity.

One of the biggest benefits to this process was that it helped shift the focus of the Marines from nebulous systems-centric thinking—“The network architecture sucks”—to identifying specific pain points impeding their productivity on the job. Because the tools and methodologies we use are simple but highly effective for analysis and problem solving, many of our cohort Marines take them back to their units so that they can reframe problems within their communities of practice.

2. Always Be Shipping
If vision without execution is hallucination, frameworks that don’t produce tangible products breed insanity.  Within the MCISRE we have two frameworks that engage Marines. Our yearly technical design meeting (TDM) brings together Marines to identify and address challenges and issues across the MCISRE. The outputs of the technical design meeting are used as primers for defining the problem themes that each MCISRE Accelerator cohort will work on.  The MCISRE Accelerator pairs Marines with developers and designers who work collaboratively both in person and virtually to design, prototype, and then develop and build a minimum viable product (MVP) in 12 weeks.  These two frameworks allow us to continuously innovate from within, creating a pipeline of challenges to be solved over the long term and implementing against them iteratively and quickly.  This rapid implementation creates real metrics that allow us to create quick, measurable value and kill bad ideas before too much time, money, and human capital has been spent on them. Rapid implementation also allows leadership to make quicker decisions on where, when, and how to apply resources.marine-map-photo

3.  Always Be Measuring
Big idea fairies live everywhere, sometimes for a very long time. This can be particularly true in the government where the acquisition lifecycle imposes “shipbuilding timelines” on information technology systems. Successful innovation requires one simple act: always be measuring. Using the Lean Startup methodology to build, learn, and measure in a 12-week cycle provides quantifiable data and user feedback that allows us to validate problem/solution fit quickly. By the time our cohort is pitching to the DIRINT and other leaders and stakeholders, the minimum viable product (MVP) has metrics that validate its value to users as well as prevent redundancy, loss of, or misalignment of capability, funding, and other key resources.

4.  To think differently…be different
Most meetings within the government involve PowerPoint, a conference table, and a bunch of subject matter experts espousing the relative merits or demerits of a point. These meetings can last hours to weeks, and at the end, there might be nothing tangible to show. When we set out to create this culture of innovation, we knew that to get people to do things differently, we had to get them to think differently.

Our first mission value was to create an experience for our Marines, stakeholders, and mentors that was counter to the typical meetings they were used to and focused on establishing a co-creative environment where everyone’s input had value regardless of rank, experience, and skill.  Our technical design meetings and Accelerators use little technology; are not set up as lectures; encourage jeans and your favorite T-shirt; and require constant, active participation. When you walk into our rooms, you will see Marines on their feet, Post-It notes and markers in hand, diagramming, sketching, and plotting furiously on white boards, flip charts, and any other available surface.  They paper the room with problem statements, lean canvases, journey maps, value proposition canvases, process flows, wireframes, and Pixar-worthy storyboards. By the end of the week, you can walk the walls and see the progression of problem to solution in their words, through their eyes, from their point of view. This process takes Marines outside of the normal rank structure that they are accustomed. It is admittedly uncomfortable for them at first. But within hours of the kickoff, these simple tactics result in ideation, collaboration, and production that is evident to them and fundamentally changes how they approach problem solving and conduct meetings when they return to their units.marines-hit-the-beach

5.  Do It Again… and Again… and Again
With any new skill, repetition is important.  Marines don’t learn close order drill with a one-time explanation, they spend countless hours on the drill field until they have mastered it.  We apply the same repetition mindset for our innovation methodology because it creates an environment of continuous learning.  With every repetition, we learn more about our problems and how we can solve them.  We learn which solutions are working and which ones are not.  We learn what techniques for engaging Marines are working and which ones are not. We learn how the operating environment is evolving.  Continuous learning is the objective of our innovation activities, and it is more powerful than the solution itself.  Learning means successes, learning means failures, learning means growth.

November 10, 2016 marks the 241th anniversary of the formation of the Marine Corps; 241 years of adapting to changes and 241 years of innovation. Innovation does not mean that it has to come from external entities.  Sometimes you just need to put Marines in jeans, challenge them to think differently, and give them another opportunity to adapt and overcome.

There are 145 Entrepreneurship Courses at Stanford

Stanford is an incubator with dorms

Download the full text file with links to the courses here.
http://www.slideshare.net/sblank/stanford-entreprenuership-classes

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7 Steps to Hacking for Defense

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The Innovation Insurgency Scales – Hacking For Defense (H4D)

Hacking for Defense is a battle-tested problem-solving methodology that runs at Silicon Valley speed. We just held our first Hacking for Defense Educators Class with 75 attendees.

h4d-ed-classThe results: 13 Universities will offer the course in the next year, government sponsors committed to keep sending hard problems to the course, the Department of Defense is expanding their use of H4D to include a classified version, and corporate partners are expanding their efforts to support the course and to create their own internal H4D courses.

It was a good three days.

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Another Tool for Defense Innovation
Last week we held our first 3-day Hacking for Defense Educator and Sponsor Class. Our goal in this class was to:

  1. Train other educators on how to teach the class at their schools.
  2. Teach Department of Defense /Intelligence Community sponsors how to deliver problems to these schools and how to get the most out of student teams.
  3. Create a national network of colleges and universities that use the Hacking for Defense Course to provide hundreds of solutions to critical national security problems every year.

What our sponsors have recognized is that Hacking for Defense is a new tool in the country’s Defense Innovation toolkit. In 1957 after the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite the U.S. felt that it was the victim of a strategic technological surprise. DARPA was founded in 1958 to ensure that from then on the United States would be the initiator of technological surprises. It does so by funding research that promises the Department of Defense transformational change instead of incremental advances.

darpa-iqt-h4dBy the end of the 20th century the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) realized that it was no longer the technology leader it had been when it developed the U-2, SR-71, and CORONA reconnaissance programs in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Its systems were struggling to manage the rapidly increasing torrent of information being collected. They realized that commercial applications of technology were often more advanced than those used internally. The CIA set up In-Q-Tel to be the venture capital arm of the intelligence community to speed the insertion of technologies. In-Q-Tel invests in startups developing technologies that provide ready-soon innovation (within 36 months) vital to the IC mission. More than 70 percent of the In-Q-Tel portfolio companies have never before done business with the government .

In the 21st century the DOD/IC community have realized that adversaries are moving at a speed that our traditional acquisition systems could not keep up with. Hacking for Defense combines the rapid problem sourcing and curation methodology developed on the battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq by Colonel Pete Newell and the US Army’s Rapid Equipping Force with the Lean Startup practices that I pioneered in Silicon Valley and which are now the mainstay of the National Science Foundations’ I-Corps program. Hacking for Defense is a problem-solving methodology that offers the DOD/IC community a collaborative approach to innovation that provides ready-now innovation (within 12-36 months).

Train the Trainers
Pete Newell, Joe Felter and I learned a lot developing the Hacking for Defense class, more as we taught it, and even more as we worked with the problem sponsors in the DOD/Intel community.u-pitt-h4d Since one of our goals is to make this class available nationally, now it was time to pass on what we had learned and to train other educators how to teach the class and sponsors how to craft problems that student teams could work on.

(If you want a great overview of the Hacking for Defense class, stop and read this article from War on The Rocks. Seriously.)

sponsor-guide-coverWhen we developed our Hacking for Defense class, we created a ton of course materials (syllabus, slides, videos). In addition, for the Educator Class we captured all we knew about setting up and teaching the class and wrote a 290-page educator’s guide with suggested best practices, sample lesson plans, and detailed lecture scripts and slides for each class session. We developed a separate sponsor guide with ideas about how to get the most out of the student teams and the university.

The Educator Class: What We Learned
One of the surprises for me was seeing the value of having the Department of Defense and other government agency sponsors working together with the university educators.  (One bit of learning was that the sponsors portion of the workshop could have been a day shorter.)

Two other things we learned has us modifying the pedagogy of the class.

First, our mantra to the students has been to learn about “Deployment not Demos.” That meant we were asking the students to understand all parts of the mission model canvas, not just the beneficiaries and the value proposition. We wanted them to learn what it takes to get their product/service deployed to the field, not just have another demo to a general. This meant that the minimal viable products the students built were focused on maximizing their learning of what to build, not just building prototypes. While that worked great for the students, we learned from our sponsors that for some of them getting to deployment actually required demos as part of the means to reach this end. They wanted the students to start delivering MVPs early and often and use the sponsor feedback to accelerate their learning.

This conversation made us realize that we had skewed the class to maximize student learning without really appreciating what specific deliverables would make the sponsors feel that the time they’ve invested in the class was worthwhile. So for our next round of classes we will:

  • require sponsors to specifically define what success from their student team would look like
  • have students in the first week of class present what sponsors say success looks like
  • still encourage MVPs that maximize student learning, but also recognize that for some sponsors, learning could be accelerated with earlier functional MVPs

u-sd-h4dOur second insight that has changed the pedagogy also came from our sponsors. As most of our students have no military experience, we teach a 3-hour introduction to the DOD and Intel Community workshop. While that provides a 30,000-foot overview, it doesn’t describe any detail about the teams’ specific sponsoring organization (NSA, ARCYBER, 7th Fleet, etc.). (By the end of the quarter every team figures out how their sponsor ecosystem works.) The sponsors suggested that they offer a workshop early in the class and brief their student team on their organizations, budget, issues, etc.  We thought this was a great idea as this will greatly accelerate how teams target their customer discovery.  When we update the sponsor guide, we will suggest this to all sponsors.

Another surprise was how applicable the “Hacking for…” methodology is for other problems. Working with the State Department we are offering a Hacking for Diplomacy class at Stanford starting later this month. And we now have lots of interest from organizations that have realized that this problem-solving methodology is equally applicable to solving public safety, policy, community and social issues internationally and within our own communities. We’ll soon launch a series of new modules to address these deserving communities.

Lessons Learned

  • Hacking for Defense = problem-solving methodology for innovation insurgents inside the DOD/Intel Community
  • The program will scale to 13+ universities in 2017
  • There is demand to apply the problem-solving methodology to a range of public sector organizations where success is measured by impact and mission achievement versus revenue and profit.
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