DEF2013 Group Shot
10-12-2013 - 09:00:00
University of Chicago
Chicago, IL

On 12-14 October 2013, over 120 military innovators and entrepreneurs came together to discuss challenges in our military and how to overcome them.

The incredible drive entrepreneurship often produce a potent exhaust of made-up business words, words like “ideate.” However, as irritating as a not-words may be, ideate serves as a heartening metaphor for the spirit of DEF2013. Ideate is merely the word “idea” verbed. Unlike the vast sea of conferences on creativity and new ideas, DEF2013′s central thrust was the array of actions necessary to turn ideas into realities.

You Don’t Have To Be The Innovator/Doing Your Homework: BJ Armstrong reminds us that ADM Sims started with an innovation from someone else, an ideat he considered worth his effort and attention. Further, if ADM Sims hadn’t done his research and tests on Percy Scott’s continuous-aim firing, no one would have taken him seriously. If you’re “ideating” without tests, research, prototyping, and probing the solution, you’re not “innovating”, you’re just talking.

Fighting a Loyal Insurgency Inside the System: Peter Munson’s speech was summed up by the delightful peregrine falcon, Dora. Be credible in the system (like dora moves stealthily through the clouds) and aggressively attack when opportunity arises (poor, stupid duck). If Dora flew around squawking all day and making a mess without that focused action, too many leaf-eaters would be alerted and defend their steaming piles of process.

Building an Army: Howard R. Lieberman’s reminded us that finding the meaning of your idea for others is what inspires people to sacrifice their time and resources to see your idea through to the end. Some of those stakeholders may provide top-cover. The ground-forces are great for “taking the hill” of an idea, but close-air-support flying high in the chain of command can really change the equation. No man is an island, and no innovation is a one-man mission.

Execution, Execution, Execution: The second day of private-sector entrepreneur presentations was a wall-to-wall show of how the ability to find market-demand while developing the necessary supply is the center of the innovation universe. The difference between a real-life innovator and the chatting classes is action.

Don’t Get Killed in a Good Battle: Dan Moore’s presentation revealed a new detail to a Boyd amateur like me: his disastrous personal life. “To be or to do,” should never overwhelm “being” things like a good father, husband, or just healthy individual. In repairing the system, “don’t get killed in a good battle,” you’re needed in far more than the one fight you might be in now.

What would an Entrepreneurs conference be without some actual innovating? The afternoons at DEF were dedicated to breakout sessions intended to building actionable solutions to real-world problems.

Great innovations were produced, from the PME group’s real-time lesson evaluation using twitter to the Emotional Vitality Assitant (EVA) to create a hand-held link directly to mental health professionals to the DEF X-prize, rewarding military members for great ideas or great execution of ideas (we hadn’t decided yet). 

The dream of pushing half the acquisition system into the sea and replacing it with a 100 page paper was quite the utopian ideal, but no knives yet exist that are long enough to penetrate to the heart of the procurement beast.

The quiet center-piece of the presentations was the integration of the twitter-wall. The constant discussion of presentation quotes, disagreements with speakers, and collaboration on emergent problems created an active audience engaging in a quiet track-two ice-breaker. In the break sessions, I “met” forum members I’d already had extensive conversation with. I’ve long incredibly skeptical of twitter, but I found its use in this context a rather redeeming and collaborative experience!

The real reward of DEF2013 was meeting the people A closing speaker said it best, “people don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.” We didn’t seek innovation for innovation sake, but we sought mission victories, safety and effectiveness for our fellow warfighters, and good stewardship of the resources in which we were entrusted. DEF2013 didn’t create innovations, it bolstered the community that is going to build them together.