We Have A Moral Obligation

I was in Boston and was interviewed by The Growth Show about my current thinking about innovation in companies and government agencies.The interviewer was great and managed to get me to summarize several years of learning in one podcast.

It’s worth a listen.

At the end of the interview I got surprised by a great question – “What’s the Problem that Still Haunts You?”  I wasn’t really prepared for the question but gave the best answer I could on the fly.

Part of the answer is the title of this blog post.

Listen to the entire interview here:
Taking the Lean Startup From Silicon Valley to Corporations and the State and Defense Department

Or just parts of the interview:
1:20  Failure and Lessons Learned

Hacking for Defense @ Stanford 2017 – Lessons Learned Presentations

We just finished our second Hacking for Defense class at Stanford. Eight teams presented their Lessons Learned presentations.

Hacking for Defense is a battle-tested problem-solving methodology that runs at Silicon Valley speed. It combines the same Lean Startup Methodology used by the National Science Foundation to commercialize science, with 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.

Goals for the Hacking for Defense Class
Our primary goal was to teach students entrepreneurship while they engaged in a 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.

Our second goal was to teach our sponsors (the innovators inside the Department of Defense (DOD) and Intelligence Community (IC)) that there is a methodology that can help them understand and better respond to rapidly evolving asymmetric threats. 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, could defense acquisition programs operate at speed and urgency and deliver timely and needed solutions.

Finally, we also wanted to 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.

The Class
Here’s a brief description of the Lean Methodology our students used:

If you can’t see the video click here

Our mantra to the students was that we wanted them to learn about “Deployment not Demos.” Our observation is that the DOD has more technology demos than they need, but often lack deep problem understanding.  Our goal was to have the students first deeply understand their sponsors problem – before they started building solutions. As you can imagine with a roomful of technologists this was tough. Further we wanted 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 give yet 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.

(Our sponsors did remind us, that at times getting a solution deployed meant that someone did have to see a demo!)

The Hacking for Defense class was designed as “fundamental research” to be shared broadly and the results are not subject to restriction for proprietary or national security reasons. In the 10 weeks the students have, Hacking for Defense hardware and software prototypes don’t advance beyond a Technology Readiness Level 4 and remain outside the scope of US export control regulations and restrictions on foreign national participation.

Results

  • Eight teams spoke to over 800 beneficiaries, requirements writers, program managers, warfighters, legal, security, customers, etc.
  • Seven out of the eight teams realized that the problem as given by the sponsor really wasn’t the problem. Their sponsors agreed.
  • Received from a problem sponsor mid-live stream broadcast “we are working funding for this team now.”
  • Over half the student teams have decided to continue working on national security projects after this class.

This is the End
Each of the eight teams presented a 2-minute video to provide context about their problem and then gave an 8-minute presentation of their Lessons Learned over the 10-weeks. Each of their slide presentation follow their customer discovery journey. All the teams used the Mission Model Canvas, Customer Development and Agile Engineering to build Minimal Viable Products, but all of their journeys were unique.

The teams presented in front of several hundred people in person and online.

21st Century Frogman

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VA Companion

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Austra Lumina

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Xplomo

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Seacurity

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Surgency

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Broadcom

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The video of the team presenting is below.  You can see all their slides right below this video

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Librarian

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The Innovation Insurgency Spreads
Hacking for Defense is now offered at eight universities in addition to Stanford – Georgetown,  University of Pittsburgh, Boise State, UC San Diego, James Madison University, University of Southern Mississippi, and later this year University of Southern California and Columbia University. We established Hacking for Defense.org a non-profit, to train educators and to provide a single point of contact for connecting the DOD/IC sponsor problems to these universities.

The Department of Defense has expanded their use of Hacking for Defense to include a classified version, and corporate partners are expanding their efforts to support the course and to create their own internal Hacking for Defense courses.

Another surprise was how applicable the “Hacking for X…” methodology is for other problems. Working with the State Department we offered a Hacking for Diplomacy class at Stanford.

Both the Defense and Diplomacy classes created lots of interest from organizations that have realized that this “Hacking for X…” problem-solving methodology is equally applicable to solving public safety, energy, policy, community and social issues internationally and within our own communities. This fall a series of new “Hacking for X…” classes will address these deserving communities. These include:

If you’re interested in learning how to apply a “Hacking for X…” class in your workplace or school we’ve partnered with the 1776 incubator in Washington DC to offer a 2-day “Hacking for X…” certification course 26-27 July for those interested in learning how. Sign up here.

It Takes a Village
While I authored this blog post, these classes are a team project. The teaching team consisted of:

  • Joe Felter a retired Army Special Forces Colonel with research and teaching appointments at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), the Hoover Institution, and the dept. of Management Science and Engineering. Joe is the incoming Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia.
  • Pete Newell is a retired Army Colonel currently a Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the National Defense University’s Center for Technology and National Security Policy and CEO of BMNT Partners.
  • Steve Weinstein a 30-year veteran of Silicon Valley technology companies and Hollywood media companies.  Steve is CEO of MovieLabs the joint R&D lab of all the major motion picture studios.

Our teaching assistants were all prior students: Issac Matthews our lead TA, and Melisa Tokmak, Jared Dunnmon, and Darren Hau.

We were lucky to get a team of 25 mentors (VC’s and entrepreneurs) who selflessly volunteered their time to help coach the teams. Thanks to the team Lean Startup mentors: Paul Dawes, Tom Bedecarre, Kevin Ray, Craig Seidel, Daniel Bardenstein, Roi Chobadi, Donna Slade, and Rafi Holtzman and other advisors; Lisa Wallace, Peter Higgins, Steve Hong, Robert Medve.

We were privileged to have the support of an extraordinary all volunteer team of professional senior military officers representing all branches of service attending fellowship programs at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and Asia Pacific Research Center (APARC) at the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI). These included: Colonel Lincoln Bonner (US Air Force), Colonel Curtis Burns (US Army), Captain Kurt Clark (US Coast Guard), Lieutenant Colonel Kurt Helphinstine (US Air Force), Colonel Seth Krummrich (US Army)), Commander Leo Leos (US Navy), Lieutenant Colonel Eric Reid (US Marine Corps), Colonel Mike Turley (US Army), and Colonel Dave Zinn US Army.  Additional volunteers from the active duty military providing support to our teams included  Lieutenant Colonel Donny Haseltine (US Marine Corps), Captain Jason Rathje (US Air Force), Major Dave Ahern US Army) and, Major Kevin Mott (US Army).

And finally a special thanks to our course advisor Bill Perry, former Secretary of Defense and Professor Emeritus, and Tom Byers, Professor of Engineering and Faculty Director, STVP.

Herding Cats – Using Lean to Work Together

When Colonel Peter Newell headed up the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force (REF) he used lean methods on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to provide immediate technology solutions to urgent problems.

Today, his company BMNT does for government and commercial customers what the Rapid Equipping Force did for the U.S. Army.

Pete and I created the Hacking for Defense class (with Joe Felter and Tom Byers.) One of the problems our students run into is that there are always multiple beneficiaries and stakeholders associated with a problem, often with conflicting value propositions and missions.  So how do you figure out whose needs to satisfy?

Here’s Pete’s view of how you do it.


Unlike businesses, government organizations don’t sell products, and they don’t earn revenue. Instead, they have missions to accomplish and very hard problems to solve.  They use a variant of the Business Model Canvas –  the Mission Model Canvas – to map their hypotheses, and they get of the building to do beneficiary discovery. (A beneficiary can be a soldier, program manager, commanding general, government contractor, stakeholder, customer, etc.)  And just like in a commercial business they are trying to determine whether the value proposition solves the problem and helps the beneficiary accomplish their mission.

Discovery for both business and government is similar in that the only way to do it is to turn assumptions into facts by generating hypotheses, developing Minimum Viable Products and getting out of the building to test those MVP’s in the trenches where the customers and beneficiaries work. Early in the discovery process, teams are faced with a cacophony of personalities and organizations. Often, they struggle with understanding which person or group represents a beneficiary, supporter, advocate or potential key partner. It’s only through repetitive hypothesis testing that they begin to sort them all out.

It’s in the trenches however, where things become different.

Multiple Beneficiaries, Multiple Conflicts
Unlike their commercial counterparts, government problem solvers are often faced with multiple beneficiaries associated with a problem, often with conflicting value propositions. As these differences become apparent, teams must make decisions about the value proposition trade-offs between conflicting beneficiaries – sometimes even pivoting completely in favor of one beneficiary to the detriment of another.

During last year’s Hacking for Defense class at Stanford Team Aqualink experienced the conflicting beneficiaries’ problem.  The result was a significant pivot of both beneficiary and value proposition.

Aqualink started with a problem given to them from the chief medical officer of the Navy SEALS – they had no way to understand chronic long-term health issues divers face. Divers work 60 to 200 feet underwater for 2-4 hours, but Navy doctors currently have no way to monitor divers’ core temperature, maximum dive pressure, blood pressure, pulse and the rebreather (air consumption), or the dive computer (dive profile) data.

Having all this new data would give a diver early warning of hypothermia or the bends. More importantly the data would allow the medical director to individually assess the short and long-term health of each diver. And medical researchers would have access to detailed physiological data. The medical director tasked the team with building a wearable sensor system and developing apps that would allow divers to monitor their own physiological conditions while underwater and to download it for later analysis.

In the first week of the class this team got out of the building, suited up in full Navy diving gear and did customer discovery by spending an hour in the life of the beneficiary.

But as the students on the Aqualink team spoke to the SEAL team divers, (another one of their beneficiaries), they experienced an existential crisis. Most of the divers were “ambivalent” (read hostile) about the introduction of a vitals monitoring platform, (“If you gave to us at 0900, it would end up on the bottom of the ocean by 0905.”) Having worked so hard to get into the SEALS, no diver wanted doctors telling them they could no longer dive.

After further questioning, the team discovered the reason the divers were spending so much time underwater – they often did not know where they were. To find out, they had to get a GPS fix. This meant their minisub (called the SEAL Delivery Vehicle) had to rise to within 6 feet of the ocean surface so the GPS antenna could broach the surface. And to do so they had to surface slowly to avoid giving the divers the bends.

The divers told our student team, “Screw the health sensors. Build us a GPS sensor that can be deployed from 100 feet underwater.”

Now the team had a dilemma. They would have to decide which beneficiary to focus on – the SEAL Team medical director, who was the sponsor of their problem, or the operators of the delivery vehicle and divers within SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team One, along with their immediate chains of command in SDVT-1 and Naval Special Warfare Group 3.

When they went back to the medical director with their findings, he was surprised as they were.  “Never knew that’s why they spent all that time down there.  Heck, yes, fix their problem first.”

Understanding the Problem Context and Problem Ecosystem
As Aqualink shows, getting out of the building – interviewing the beneficiaries, drawing their workflows and mapping a day-in -their-life – will give you a more complete picture of the context in which a proposed problem exists. Talking to multiple beneficiaries will lead to better understanding of the entire ecosystem of the problem. Often this will show that the problem you have been given is merely a symptom of a larger problem, or is the result of a different problem.

The solution is to:

  1. Cross check the results of your discovery between different beneficiaries. Often, you’ll find that they seldom have a complete understanding of one another’s workflows and pain points but instead are championing the solution to a mere symptom of a different problem.
  2. Share what you learned in discovery among the different beneficiaries. This will arm you with the tools needed to get them (or their leadership) to agree on the right problem that needs to be solved first. In many cases this will lead to your first pivot!

The goal is to sort out who has a value proposition that must be addressed first.

The power of beneficiaries helping one another
While discovery with multiple beneficiaries can be confusing and exhausting, there is immense power when all the beneficiaries work together. Therefore, the goal of customer discovery is not just to understand the pains and gains of individual beneficiaries, but to find a shared purpose between all of them.

Once they understand they share the same goal, they can solve pain points or create gains for each other using the resources they already control. A “shared” sense of purpose is a very powerful step in the pathway towards a deployable solution.

When the Department of Energy asked BMNT to build a training program for getting veterans into advanced manufacturing jobs, we saw the power of a shared purpose between multiple beneficiaries first hand.

The problem we were asked to solve is that of the 10,000 veterans who leave military service every month, many remain unemployed or underemployed, yet at the same time the number of unfilled advanced manufacturing jobs in the U.S. is expected to climb to over a million by 2020. From a business perspective, obtaining technically qualified talent is among the top constraints to growth in the US.

Seems like it would be a match made in heaven, right?  Not so fast…

While we initially thought the beneficiaries of the effort were the veterans, we quickly discovered there were other beneficiaries in advanced manufacturing. We found these additional beneficiaries had different pains and gains which in turn required different value propositions to solve their problems.

Our customer discovery taught us that there were three additional beneficiaries:

  • Universities needed to grow their enrollments. Our discovery showed us universities were willing to create programming for Advanced Manufacturing, but first needed to see a business case for how it would increase their enrollment to make it a worthwhile effort.
  • Industry needed to attract and hire qualified employees. We learned that technically qualified employees within industry were in such demand that the number one way to get qualified employees was to pilfer them from others.
  • Government Agencies needed to help their communities build skilled labor pools to attract new industries.

And we learned that our initial beneficiary, veterans leaving service, didn’t need internships or low-paying jobs, but needed jobs that paid enough to support their families.

We found each of these beneficiaries had a shared purpose. And each of them had a value proposition that would create a gain or relieve a pain point for another beneficiary. These were big ideas.

We found that as these overlapping value propositions emerged, we used the results to get the beneficiaries to come together in a workshop designed to jointly create a shared minimum viable product that they could then use to test within their own organizations.

Bringing the groups together in a workshop also served to align value propositions between beneficiaries by demonstrating that there was a way to create a single program that served all their needs. And we created an environment that allowed each beneficiary to discover that the other beneficiaries were partners they could work with in the future.

What was the impact of bringing the beneficiaries together in a workshop and creating this beneficiary ecosystem for advanced manufacturing?

Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) created a veterans’ jobs program. They teamed with a local college to create internships that allowed veterans to work during the summer.  In turn, the local college created additional advanced manufacturing classes to meet LLNL’s technical needs and the regional workforce investment board provided funding.

In Fort Riley, the Army base in Kansas, the military teamed with Kansas State University to create an advanced manufacturing program. Kansas State created a series of advanced manufacturing classes. Soldiers leaving the service can take these courses at a nearby campus beginning up to six months before they leave service.

An unexpected consequence is that today there are soldiers from Fort Riley using advanced manufacturing processes to create parts for vehicles and equipment at the Army base.

Lessons learned

  • Government problem solvers will often be faced with multiple beneficiaries with different value propositions. Share what you learn from different beneficiaries with each other to sort out which has a value proposition that must be addressed first.
  • The benefit of having multiple beneficiaries is that their strengths can be used to help one another create gains and relieve pains for one another. Creating a shared sense of empowerment from working together smooths the pathway towards scaling the right solution.

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.

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