The Army has five key deficiencies to overcome if it wants to innovate more like Silicon Valley.
Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon, director of the Office of Business Transformation, and Robin Swan, deputy director of the office, told attendees at the annual AUSA meeting that for a long time, the Army lacked a strategic-level plan or thinking to foster innovation.
But through a deep review and series of meetings and conferences with industry and other government entities, leaders have spotted five areas to start working on now:
1. The Army has a risk averse culture. Leaders need to encourage risk-oriented innovation and accept that some ideas, projects will fail.
2. The service doesn’t have tools to innovate. There are not embedded ways to “surface, discuss and drive ideas” into a reality. The Army doesn’t effectively fund innovation or allow commander discretion to use funds for innovative projects.
3. Ideas from employees are not systematically captured. Too much innovation is ad hoc and not supported to fruition. Leaders must be able to align their talent with projects and then reward success.
4. There isn’t any training related to innovation or entrepreneurship within the ranks. This requires more cultural changes in thinking.
5. No innovation metrics. Top leaders and unit commanders must have a way to track the progress of their efforts and be able to adjust accordingly. All innovation must aim toward a strategic outcome.
Cardon likened the challenge to building the cyber community within the ranks. It calls for entirely different thinking than the Army has traditionally used.
Normally an officer is expected to be the most knowledgeable person on a topic or subject matter. That officer then directs his staff on the related task.
“That’s not the way cyber works,” Cardon said. And neither does innovation.
Sometimes the most knowledgeable persons are in the lower ranks. He said restructuring some teams to use specific leaders on tailored projects or problems, like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency model, might be the way to go.
Those changes could result in more rapid and experimental prototyping of new equipment and systems that would bring results quicker, he said.
“The leader has to put the problem on the table, step back and watch the magic happen,” Cardon said.