Hacking for Defense at Columbia University

Over the last year we’ve been rolling out the Hacking for X classes in universities across the U.S. – Hacking for Defense, Hacking for Diplomacy, Hacking for Energy, Hacking for Impact (non-profits), etc.

All are designed to allow students to work on some of the toughest problems the country has while connecting them to a parts of the government they aren’t familiar with. When they leave they have contributed to the country through national service and gained a deeper understanding of our country.

Here is the view from Columbia University.

If you can’t see the video click here.

Innovators podcast @ Stanford

A fun interview at Stanford about some old things and new ones.
Founders
7:18: Mentorship is a two-way street
14:03: Failure=experience
17:27: Rules for raising a family if you’re a founder
Startups
19:25: Startups are not smaller versions of large companies
22:03: How I-Corps and H4X were born
26:25: Your idea is not a company
31:19: Why the old way of building startups no longer works
32:53: Origin of the Lean Startup
34:24 Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything in the Harvard Business Review
35:28: How innovation happens
Company/Government Innovation
41:37: Innovation is different in companies and gov’t agencies
43:30  Deliverable products and services not activities
46:44: Startups disrupting things by breaking the law
Government Innovation
51:12: Fighting continuous disruption with continuous innovation
52:08: How governments innovate
57:54: Innovation from the battlefield to the boardroom

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

Don’t let process distract you from finding the strategy

When you’re up to your neck in alligators, don’t forget the goal was to drain the swamp.

I love teaching because I learn something new every class.

This time it was, “Don’t let process distract you from finding the strategy.”


The latest “aha” moment for me when I was at Columbia University teaching an intensive 5-day version of the Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps class.  The goal of the class is to expose students to the basics of the Lean MethodologyBusiness Model Design, Customer Development and Agile Engineering.

In this short version of the class, students (in teams of four) spend half their day out of the classroom testing their hypotheses by talking to customers and building minimum viable products.  The teams come back into the class and present what they found, and then they get out and talk to more customers.  Repeat for 5 days.  All teams talk to at least 50 customers/ partners/ stakeholders, and some manage to reach more than 100.

One of the teams wanted to create a new woman’s clothing brand. The good news is that they were passionate, smart and committed.  The not so good news is that other than having been customers, none of them had ever been in the fashion business. But hey, no problem.  They had the Lean Startup model to follow. They could figure it out by simply talking to customers and stores that carry unique fashion brands.  How hard can this be?!

2_8_maraBy the second day the team appeared to be making lots of progress –  they had talked to many women about their clothing line, and had marched up and down NY stores talking to buyers in clothing boutiques.  They built detailed value proposition canvases for each customer segment (young urban professional woman, students, etc.) –  trying to match customer pains, gains and jobs to be done with their value proposition (their new clothing line.) They were busily testing their hypotheses about customer segments and value proposition, seeing if they could find product/market fit.

In listening to them it dawned on me that I had fallen victim to teaching process rather than helping the teams gain insight. I asked them to remind the class what business they were in.  “We’re creating a clothing fashion brand,” was the reply.  I asked, “And how much fashion brand expertise do you have as a team?” “None, we’re using customer discovery to quickly acquire it.”  On the surface, it sounded like a good answer.

But then I asked, “Has anyone on your team asked if any of your 120 classmates are in the apparel/fashion business?”  After a moment of reflection they did just that, and eight of their classmates raised their hands. I asked, “Do you think you might want to do customer discovery first on the domain experts in your own class?”  A small lightbulb appeared over their heads.

A day later, after interviewing their classmates, the team discovered that when creating a woman’s clothing brand, the clothing itself has less to do with success than the brand does. And the one critical element in creating a brand is getting written about by a small group (less than 10) of “brand influencers” (reviewers, editors, etc.) in fashion magazines and blogs.

fashion-brandWhoah… the big insight was that how you initially “get” these key influencers – not customers or stores – is the critical part of creating a clothing fashion brand. This meant understanding these influencers was more important than anything else on the business model canvas. The team immediately added brand influencers to their business model canvas, created a separate value proposition canvas for them and started setting up customer discovery interviews.
The lessons?

  • This team was entering an existing market. (The team had already drawn the Petal Diagram mapping the competitive landscape.)petal-and-canvas
  • In an existing market there is a track record for how new entrants create a brand, get traction and scale. Many of the key insights about the business model and value proposition canvases are already known.
  • In an existing market, going through customer discovery (talking to customers, buyers, distribution channel, etc.) without first asking, “Are there any insights that can be gained by understanding the incumbent strategies, can be a trap for the unwary.”

Ironically, when I was entrepreneur I knew and practiced this. When I started a new venture in existing markets I would spend part of my initial customer discovery attending conferences, reading analysts’ reports and talking to domain experts to understand current market entry strategies. (None of this obligated me to follow the path of other companies. At times I took this information and created a different strategy to disrupt the incumbents.) But as an educator I was getting trapped in teaching the process not the strategy.

The fashion brand team’s experience was a great wake-up call.

From now on my first question to startups in an existing market is: “Tell me the critical success factors of the existing incumbents.”

Lessons Learned

  • In an existing market, draw a Petal Diagram with adjacent companies
  • Focus part of your initial customer discovery on learning competitive insights.
  • Describe how those companies entered the market. What was critical?

 

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

Hacking for Diplomacy – The State Department Takes Notice

h4dip-screen-shotWe’ve just held our seventh and eighth weeks of Hacking for Diplomacy at Stanford, and the attention our course is getting from Washington – and around the world – has been interesting. Following Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with the students early in the quarter, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken paid a visit to the class in Week 7 and four foreign ministers in week 8

If there was any doubt among the teams about the value of what they’re learning, Blinken put it to rest with a compelling overview of how so many of today’s complex global problems – from stopping Ebola to monitoring cease-fires and improving food security – demand innovative, tech-based solutions.

Students got the chance to ask Blinken directly for his take on their challenges, such as  countering violent extremism and improving data on refugees who perish on their journeys. Their presentations hit the mark with the deputy secretary:

blnkken-tweetIn Week 8, we were joined by a powerhouse panel of four veteran diplomats: Alexander Downer, Australia’s current high commissioner to the United Kingdom and former foreign minister of Australia; Borys Tarasiuk, former foreign minister of Ukraine; Jaime Gama, former foreign minister of Portugal; and Don McKinnon, former foreign minister of New Zealand. They shared their experiences of how technology has enhanced – and threatens to undermine – diplomatic work.

foreign-ministers-in-h4dip

Hacking for Diplomacy takes the Lean Startup methodology and applies it to problems sourced from the State Department. Teams are continuing their relentless interviewing of customers, or beneficiaries as we call them in this class. For our students, that can mean anyone from a Syrian refugee trying to make contact with his family back home, to a supply chain manager for a major apparel brand who wants to make sure his contract factory in Bangladesh doesn’t use forced labor.

The students “get out of the building” and test their hypotheses in front of potential beneficiaries using the Customer Development methodology, all while building and updating their Minimal Viable Products. By the time the quarter is over, we expect our seven teams will have interviewed close to 700 potential beneficiaries around the globe. What we’re driving at is evidence-based, entrepreneurial solutions to big diplomatic challenges.

Each team continues to capture its work on a Mission Model Canvas – a modified version of the Business Model Canvas that’s at the heart of the Lean Startup methodology.  The nine boxes of the canvas help students visualize all the components needed to turn beneficiaries’ needs and problems into a solution.

mission-model-canvasOver these last two weeks, teams began to transition from the right side of the Mission Model Canvas to the left. They’ve been puzzling out what they would need to do to deploy their value proposition (a product, service or both). And they’ve been figuring out the feasibility of how they deliver the value proposition on the right side of the canvas. Feasibility requires the teams to figure out what are the key activities, resources and partners they would need to deliver their product or service to their beneficiaries and their State Department sponsors.

desire-feasible

  • Activities are the strategies of what the team needs to do to deliver the value proposition on the right side of the canvas to the beneficiaries. Activities might include hardware or software development, mastering a 10,000 mile supply chain, low-cost manufacturing, or to provide services in a foreign country.
  • Resources are what the team needs to hire or own inside their company — the team’s physical, financial, human and intellectual property.
  • Partners are the third parties also necessary to execute the activities, which in the case of our students’ challenges might include nongovernmental organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross working with refugees, amateur astronomers tracking space junk, and even former Islamic extremists who have left terrorist groups and now want to help dissuade others from going down that path.  In the context of the State Department, partners are particularly important because State rarely has the financial resources to push forward an innovation, though the U.S. government does have some unique convening power and the ability to tap external talent and resources.

Teams have been working their hearts out, and some have had to pivot hard when their hypotheses were invalidated and their minimum viable products (MVPs0 were met with shrugs of apathy. In these final weeks, they have to dig deep.

At this point in the class, it can be tempting for those who have momentum to get a little complacent, believing they’ve got a good handle on their problem. Others have had their enthusiasm curbed by frustration, and are still casting about for a fresh value proposition after striking out with their MVPs thus far.

Each team stands up in front of the class each week and reports on its progress and setbacks. The teaching team delivers comments, pulling no punches. It’s tough. But it ensures that students really see, warts and all, the complex process it takes to conceive and deliver a successful product or service.

L.A. Times China bureau chief Julie Makinen, who is on a JSK journalism fellowship at Stanford, and is part of our mentorship team, has been taking notes on Weeks 7 and 8. She shares her observations below.


As America’s No. 2 diplomat, Tony Blinken isn’t the kind of guy who has lots of spare time to help students with their homework. But there he was on a Thursday evening in early November, sitting down for several hours with undergrads and graduate students in Stanford’s Hacking for Diplomacy class, answering their questions about the tough challenges the State Department is grappling with: the largest wave of human displacement worldwide since World War II. Tony_BlinkenTerrorists harnessing the internet to radicalize and recruit new members. The rising international competition in space and escalating potential for collisions that could knock out critical military and commercial satellites.

For the deputy secretary, such a dialogue in Silicon Valley is not a matter of charity, but necessity. After a quarter-century in government – serving with the National Security Council, the Senate Armed Services Committee and now State – Blinken says Washington can no longer afford to pretend it can solve such complex problems alone.

“We have stakeholders two or three times a day in the White House situation room, grappling with everything from the crisis in Syria to Ebola to the refugee crisis around the world,” he said. “The thing that struck me so powerfully then was that virtually everything we were doing was at the intersection of foreign policy, and technology and innovation…. And yet, most of us responsible for trying to develop foreign policy don’t come from that background” of technology and innovation.

“We don’t have that mindset or that expertise,” he admitted to the class. “We need technologists and innovators in the room just to tell us if we need technologists and innovators in the room.”

Hacking for Diplomacy is an attempt to get some of those technologists and innovators into the room, at least figuratively, for a 10-week academic quarter — and maybe longer, if the class piques their interest in public service. At the same time, it’s a chance to expose some career State Department employees to Silicon Valley thinking.

Since late September, seven small teams of students from diverse academic backgrounds – computer science, law, engineering, business and more – have been working closely with mentors from the State Department to tackle difficult problems vexing Foggy Bottom.

Eight weeks in, the students and their State Department mentors are now deeply steeped in the Lean framework, which Steve Blank and his four fellow teachers have modified slightly to the peculiarities of solving problems in the realm of diplomacy. (Customers, for example, are recast as “beneficiaries,” and instead of identifying revenue streams, these diplo-preneurs are interested in defining “mission achievement.”)

The student teams have learned tons about how the State Department is organized and how it works (or doesn’t). And they’ve absorbed and analyzed incredible amounts of information about their topic of concern.

But students are learning how hard it is, even once you have amassed a fair bit of knowledge about your target market and prospective customers, to come up with a product or solution that anyone wants to “snatch out of your hand,” as Blank would say.

A giant fork in the road
Team Space Evaders, for example, which is working on preventing collisions in space, arrived in class on Week 8 with a funny slide that featured a picture of a giant fork planted in a roadway.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

The message: They’re facing a crucial decision of whether to continue with their previous Minimal Viable Product (MVP) – crowdsourcing data on the size and shape of objects in orbit to create a basic data platform – or pivot hard to a new idea. The previous MVP, they admitted, was “looking shaky” for a variety of reasons, particularly how to source the data, and had generated mixed reactions when they showed it to potential customers/beneficiaries.

So the team is looking to pivot hard to a new idea – creating a “debris footprint index” that would rate or rank items already in orbit (and those being launched) on their potential for becoming a hazard to other objects. Think of it as sort of a carbon footprint-type schema that would be based on metrics such as time the object is to remain in orbit, its specific orbital location, and its mass.

The team drew its inspiration from the environmental realm after noting some similarities between the problems of space junk and greenhouse gas emissions. Both are “global commons” problems. When the world was just waking up to the issue of global warming, for example, many countries claimed that they were acting responsibly, but emissions data was shaky. Bad actors/big emitters were not punished, and good actors were not rewarded.

Today, the problem is much the same in space – and the orbits above the earth are getting more crowded by the day as more countries and private countries launch satellites. Could a “debris footprint index” serve to raise awareness of the space debris issue – and give regulators or treaty negotiators some kind of common ground from which to start discussions, the same way carbon footprints did? That’s the team new hypothesis.

Blinken in Week 7 had encouraged the Space Evaders team to consider coming up with a product that would illustrate the growing severity of the problem and encourage other countries to more proactively share data and agree on norms.

“Ironically for the U.S.,  given the dependence of our economy and military on space and satellites, we face greatest risk of all,” he said.

“Drawing that picture, of  what space looks like without [action] would be a good way to start. …. We need to show the benefits to different countries, and show them that this is not going to undermine their interests, including their security interests,” he said. “I’ve got to admit it’s one of the things we’ve been struggling with.”

Space Evaders will be testing their new MVP with potential beneficiaries over the next two weeks.

Hacking Counter Terrorism
Another team that has pivoted hard and employed analogous modeling to come up with a new MVP is the one working on countering violent extremism. Back in Week 6, the teaching team had unceremoniously “fired their idea” because their MVP was deemed to be too far afield from the original problem sourced by the State Department.


If you can’t see the presentation click here


In Weeks 7 and 8, this team has gone back to the drawing board and taken inspiration from suicide prevention hotlines. Could a similar type of hotline system serve as a means to intervene with people who are expressing interest in joining radical groups? Could such a hotline also be a resource for the friends or family members of people who are expressing an inclination toward joining organizations like ISIS?

From Sharpies and T-shirts to ID bracelets
Other teams are moving ahead and iterating on MVPs generated in Weeks 4 and 5. Team 621, for example, which is tacking the problem of how to identify refugees who die en route to their destinations, several weeks ago proposed an elegantly simple solution: What if we could just convince migrants to write the phone number of a friend or relative on their clothing with a Sharpie permanent marker? Not their own name, or any other identifying information.


If you can’t see the presentation click here


That way, if tragedy were to strike the migrants en route to their destinations and their bodies were found, those authorities handling the corpses could use this contact information to inform the deceased’s loved ones.  Last year alone, more than 3,700 people died at sea in the Mediterranean and only about a third of the bodies were identified.

The initial MVP generated a significant amount of intrigue both in the classroom and outside. But Blank and the teaching team encouraged the students to keep “getting outside the building” and iterating their MVP – particularly with refugees themselves and the first responders tasked with handling corpses in front-line countries like Greece and Italy.

In Weeks 7 and 8, Team 621 expanded on the T-shirt idea by proposing ID bracelets that could be encoded with more complete information registered via a smartphone – and possibly be of benefit not only in the case of migrants who perish but those who survive the journey.

The team created an elaborate map showing the transit and smuggling routes from dozens of African countries to the Mediterranean, and possible distribution points for such bracelets in hubs served by groups like Red Cross/Red Crescent.

team-621-week-8

They tested this updated MVP with refugees and made some surprising discoveries. Contrary to their expectation that migrants might be reluctant to provide birthdates and other more detailed identifying information on a bracelet, refugees they interviewed expressed a willingness to do so if it would mean their family could be notified in the event of their death.

But their hypothesis that migrants could or would use smartphones was invalidated – their Customer Discovery interviews revealed that many migrants use only basic mobile phones because they fear that more expensive models may be stolen by smugglers.

In the final weeks of class, Team 621 is focusing on the critical activities they would need to do deploy their product — including how to get the bracelets to migrants and get them to wear them, and how to incentivize first responders to use the data on them. They’re also focusing on developing relationships with and getting buy-in from key partners like the Red Cross and other NGOs. Over the next two weeks, they’ll be drilling down on potential costs to deploy the solution – initial research indicates that the bracelets would cost $0.19 each while Sharpie markers run $0.375 apiece.

Looking ahead
With just two weeks left in the class, students know that not all teams will come up with a product/solution that will be deployed to the field. Nevertheless, many say they can see themselves applying the Lean LaunchPad techniques they’ve learned to their future endeavors.

Christos Makridis, a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Economics and Department of Management Science & Engineering who is on the team tackling how to better evaluate peacekeeping forces funded by the United States, said he signed up for Hacking for Diplomacy to “push the envelope” on his learning. christosHe’s hoping to take some of the Lean methods back to his work in economics.

“I think my catalyst for taking the class was: How would some of these business ideas be useful to generate new ideas in the academic economics community? How do we bring some of these best practices over to academia?” he said.

“For example, I love the idea of prototyping. Why can’t academics prototype their papers more often instead of passing them by people once a year after they’re almost entirely written?” he asked.

Makridis said while the class has been a much greater time commitment than he ever anticipated, he’s been energized by the potential to make a dent in a real-world problem.

“Sometimes you think, oh, the U.S. government, they must have state-of-the-art data scientists on this problem or that problem. But no, they don’t and in some cases, they don’t know certain meetings are going on” that could help them solve their issue, he said.

His team, for example, found out through their customer discovery interviews that some critical data that bureaucrats in Washington needed was actually available at the United Nations but wasn’t being transmitted to D.C.

“There is so much room for improvement,” he said. “It’s cool to be able to spot these kinds of opportunities and possibly make a real contribution.”



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