Fellow innovators, thank you all for another great year of disrupting the status quo in the defense enterprise. Your efforts and passion over the last 12 months have grown DEF far beyond the initial concepts that brought 100 innovators together back in 2013. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on just how far we’ve come. Along the way, I truly want to point out and thank the many members who make grassroots innovation possible. At it’s core, DEF is a people-centric organization. Anyone can step forward and lead a project and these passionate DEF members have done just that. They are the true champions of innovation. What project will you be leading in 2017?
In January, the leadership team made some major changes for the first time in 3 years. Founding members Ben Kohlmann and Micah Murphy moved to the board of directors and passed the torch to a new cohort of emerging leaders. Our team of volunteers tripled in size and became better organized as more members assumed new roles to create a more resilient team. (Even more new faces will join our team in 2017.) We also updated our website from SquareSpace to the current Drupal design which is lightning fast and elegant thanks to Mike and Joe Michalak.
The new team hit the ground running as DEF kicked off 2016 with two fantastic events. The first was dubbed DEFxQuantico. 30 DEF members were invited to serve as outside perspectives at the Marine Corps’ Force Development 2025 2-day seminar thanks to Chris Wood and Rich Walsh. Our second event was DEFxW&M at the the University of William & Mary. Nick Kesler led a team that pulled off an amazing workshop with keynotes from author Ori Brafman and for Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy Dan Chiu. (Click the link above for the full agenda!)
In May, Jeff Boldt was the lead planner for our second annual DEFxDC at Georgetown University and he knocked it out of the park. The agenda featured an inimitable mix of junior and senior leaders that resonated with our founding ideas better than ever before. The day began with a discussion of personnel reform between LTG David Barno and Brad Carson moderated by Josh Marcuse which also highlighted the release of our F5 report (“The Force of the Future from the Future Force“). Kevin Kleber, Lauren Fish, and Kate Kidder then shared the stage to dive into the problems that the Goldwater-Nichols Act presents to future policy recommendations before Dr. Tim Kane humbly moderated a panel of emerging leaders featuring Roger Misso, Miriam Krieger, and Chris Wood. And that wasn’t even half of DEFxDC in 2016.
A week later, long-time DEF member, Gary Klein (also our Agora Director) teamed up with James Welch to host our first ever DEFxColumbus at Fort Benning, GA which put DEF on the map in the southeast. The day-long conference had speakers and activities addressing a range of topics from servant leadership, the future of professional development, and cyber strategy. We’re proud of this new DEFx event and excited to see it again in 2017.
With a new leadership team came the opportunity to rethink our mission and strategy through fresh eyes. We did precisely that during our first leadership workshop in June. Thanks to the generous support of the Atlantic Council, our team came together for a day in Washington, DC to swarm on new projects and do some deep thinking about the future of the organization. The Atlantic Council has been one of our most generous sponsors and has incubated us through the Veterans Take Point Initiative. The result of that day bore out in our clearer understanding of our mission to inspire, connect, and empower emerging leaders from across the defense enterprise to have out-sized impact through innovation. More people get involved every day as we accelerate our impact.
After years of being all-volunteer and running on a shoestring budget, the workshop and expanded leadership team has created opportunities for DEF to become even more stable. 2016 saw more sponsors than before thanks to Mikhail Grinberg, our CFO, and Matt Driskill, and the prospectus that they created. While DEF is still far from a traditional non-profit, even an insurgency needs stable funding. With more stability, we can create more opportunities for members to have impact through events and programming and that’s how we can create a culture of innovation.
In 2016, an array of new Agoras from Colorado Springs to Boston to Lejeune and more have stood up to keep the passion alive at the grassroots level. Gary Klein also hosted our first Agora Webinar to share the tools and best practices so that more communities of practice can grow and flourish.
Our main event every year has gotten better with each iteration and (like every startup) our team was genuinely worried that we might fail. Leading this year’s event were Max Brown, Suneal Chandran, and Jen Walsh and DEF2016 was an absolutely success thanks to their relentless creativity and problem solving (along with support from UChicago, the Armed Forces Group, the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and the Pearson Institute for the Study of and Resolution of Global Conflicts. The quantity and quality of plenary DEF Talks from emerging leaders is simply extraordinary: Chris O’Keefe, Morgan Plummer, Kevin Kenny, Jon Gillis, Kristen Hajduk, Tyson Weinert, Miriam Krieger, and Ryan Evans all demonstrated the passion and inspiration that draw participants to DEF events. Building on DEF2015, our consultancies for the Air Force, MOAA, and the Army Cyber Institute offered three one-of-a-kind opportunities for DEF participants to have impact. And, of course, the weekend closed with our perennial innovation competition hosted at The Bunker Labs. Chad Manifold ran the entire competition from soliciting pitches to narrowing the list from over 30 to just 10 finalists until Jason Ray and Sightline Maps took home the top prize.
Finally, we closed out 2016 on the same note that we started it: two amazing DEFx events. Coming on the heels of Hacking 4 Defense, Val Rivera and her team pulled off an incredible DEFxSV at Stanford University. Just like DEFxDC, we know that this will become one of our anchor events that creates a permanent bridge to disparate networks of defense innovation. The final event for the year was in Canberra, Australia. The Australian Defence (they’re not great at spelling) Forces have fully embraced emerging leader driven innovation efforts. DEFxAus was a 2-day whirlwind led by Clare O’Neil and her team. Well done, Val and Clare! It is absolutely amazing to see the innovation insurgency spread.
Thanks for reading all the way through. It’s important to take the time to recognize everyone who has helped to build this amazing network. If you’d like to learn what else DEF is up do, you can check out the interviews in War on the Rocks and CNAS and this great column from Dave Barno and Nora Bensahel.
See you in 2017!