The U.S. Department of Defense continues to look to the private sector for ways to encourage innovation. This is a welcome initiative that we have commented on previously, and we applaud the leadership of Defense Secretary Ash Carter in this area. Earlier this month, Defense One reported on recommendations from the Defense Innovation Board, made up of technology company heavyweights such as Google Alphabet’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Most of their recommendations were very sound, and we applaud the DoD’s focus on innovation. The recommendation for the DoD to establish a Chief Innovation Officer position – to better promote innovation inside the DoD – should be approached with caution. Innovation comes from the bottom up, relying on collaboration and a culture that incentivizes asking tough questions and solving big challenges. Being innovative is not hierarchical in nature. Fostering innovation means challenging the status quo, and such behavior has not historically been acceptable within the risk-averse DoD. Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk captured the current situation in what he shared with Secretary Carter: “Having an incentive structure that rewards innovation is extremely important. It’s economics 101. Whatever you reward will happen.” The other recommendations of the Defense Innovation Board include:
- Increase the speed and timeliness of the acquisition process by increasing the use of mechanisms for waivers and exemptions and offering incentives for quickly resolving concerns.
- Establish a career track for computer science and a digital Reserve Officer’s Training Corps program.
- Build a culture of evidence-based, outcome-driven policies and experimentation by, among other things, offering bonuses, recognition, awards and other incentives for managers who promote innovation; giving employees greater voice; and encouraging creativity and divergent views.
- Increase investment in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Strategic Capabilities Office, the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, rapid equipping units and other small, agile, innovative organizations and create more connections among them.
- Establish a computer science resource that is a “human cloud” of computer programmers and software developers available on demand to swiftly solve software problems.