May 29, 2024

Differentiating Innovation: From Performance Art to Production Scale

The Department of Defense has an innovation problem, and it’s not the one you are probably thinking about.

Certainly, the Department needs to improve its ability to move with speed and scale to field new capabilities and deter increasingly sophisticated adversaries. However, it is not always clear what “innovation” means, or who should do it. Is innovation some revolutionary technology that will change the face of battle? Is it a process change that nets the DoD a half percent savings a year? Or is it a new warfighting concept that improves the performance of existing systems?

Process innovation is about changing the way the DoD operates everything from force development and requirements to payroll and facility management.

Plausibly, and problematically, this is all “innovation” — and today’s innovation miasma makes it incredibly difficult for organizations charged with “innovating” to build focus and expertise. Achieving anything in the Department requires purpose-built teams and organizations, not one size fits all solutions. Put another way, if innovation means all things to all people, it no longer is a useful term.

With this in mind, DoD should adapt a framework with three broad categories of innovation — capability, concept, and process — that will impact the critical task focus of the specific organizations and groups charged with pursuing each type. While there can be considerable overlap between each category, the key differences should be traced back to the problems to be solved and the solutions to be pursued.

Such a framework achieves a “goldilocks” level of specificity, enough to be useful but not too much to be unwieldy. By being more specific about the type of innovation an organization is tasked to achieve, the Department can ensure the right resources are matched against the right problems. This “innovation to tasks” approach will lead to innovation successes becoming more of a natural DoD outcome, requiring less direct senior leader intervention.

Read the full article from Breaking Defense.

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