Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Does the military encourage innovation? See at the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum

By Roxanne Bras Best Defense department of innovation If you’re in the military and have a good idea, do you know where to go? As recent debates erupted over whether the military encourages innovation and retains talent, I asked friends this question. Many had vague notions about programs at Leavenworth/IDEA Program/Quantico, but not a single ...

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By Roxanne Bras

Best Defense department of innovation

By Roxanne Bras

Best Defense department of innovation

If you’re in the military and have a good idea, do you know where to go? As recent debates erupted over whether the military encourages innovation and retains talent, I asked friends this question. Many had vague notions about programs at Leavenworth/IDEA Program/Quantico, but not a single person said he had confidence in this process. Now the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data,’ but in the absence of a survey about junior leaders’ confidence in senior echelon responsiveness, I’m going to venture a guess that the low confidence exhibited by my peers is not spurious.

But we’ve debated this before, practically every month. Compare all the junior officer blog posts saying that good officers are frustrated with a geriatric bureaucracy to all the senior leaders’ assurances that everything is fine. What do you get? I don’t know, because these discussions quickly become personal, distracted by red herrings, and unsupported by data.

So is the military encouraging innovation? We can write about it, or we can test it by reaching out to emerging leaders and listening to their ideas. A group of junior officers has come together to try and do just that. We’re organizing the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF), a three-day conference at the University of Chicago, because we believe that our peers have great ideas, strategies, and inventions that can make our military better. And we hope that senior leaders will work with us in this process; this conference is developed in a spirit of duty to our military and its continued improvement, not disloyalty or arrogance.

(Un)fortunately, this conference couldn’t be better timed: The military’s run out of money. Now it must really think. DEF hopes to provide a place where junior leaders can come together to propose new ideas, network with people from different services and ranks, and learn how to translate ideas into action. General officers and civilian entrepreneurs are also attending, keeping us from just preaching to the choir.

And so you don’t think we fully drank the Kool-Aid, we’ll admit it: Slogans and buzzwords about innovation and change can sound starry-eyed. But the process of moving from brainstorming to actionable innovations is messy and hard to capture in a bumper sticker. That’s why we want to move this conversation to a physical space where we can get together, discuss ideas, and help create road-maps for implementation.

Please take few minutes and check out www.def2013.com, then register and come to the conference! If you have an idea, no matter how random, technical, or high-level, submit it to our Ideas Competition. We’ll be picking the best innovations, and the winners will be able to share their ideas at the conference. We’ve also arranged for an excellent series of speakers, and lots of time for small groups and informal discussions. Sign up for more information, tell us what you think on our Facebook page, get involved, and we’ll see you in Chicago.

Roxanne Bras is a captain in the U.S. Army, and a member of the DEF board. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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