|Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter in April 2015 standing in front of the Facebook wall during his visit to the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Clydell Kinchen/ Army)|
On May 12, Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter announced the reorganization of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx). Part of the reorganization was new leadership that included a “flat” leadership structure of partners. Partners are Raj Shah, Vishaal Hariprasad, Chris Kirchhoff, and Isaac Taylor. I encourage the reader to click on the links. It is a diverse and distinguished group. This group leads DIUx 2.0, the Department of Defense’s largest pivot back into the private sector since World War II. But that’s not all… they are also opening an office in Boston.
DIUx came out of a convergence of multiple independent, but concurrent efforts.
First was a report to the Secretary of Defense that recommended increased engagement with civilian centers of innovation written in response to SECDEF Hagel’s announcement of the Defense Innovation Initiative (DII) established November 15, 2014 (study link not available).
Second, a USCYBERCOM reserve unit stationed in Silicon Valley was building a USCYBERCOM Point of Presence to observe and report on behalf of USCYBERCOM interests. Their goal was to put multiple points of presence in different tech centers, corresponding with various reserve units in places like Boston, Austin, Research Triangle in North Carolina, and Chicago.
The third group that contributed to the development of DIUx was the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), now defunded and disbanded. In 2014, CRIC members visited Silicon Valley and visited BMNT Partners, Google X, Palantir, SailDrone and Naval Postgraduate School (CRUSER, Cebrowski) among others. The overwhelming response CRIC received when we asked about DoD’s engagement with Silicon Valley was that the DoD conducted a series of “junkets” that didn’t result in any real investment. The CRIC asked Silicon Valley executives, “What does DoD need to do in order to fix this?” The answer was verified independently with multiple executives – DoD needs a permanent presence in Silicon Valley.
So, the CRIC drafted up a white paper for a Silicon Valley Beachhead located physically in Silicon Valley to conduct liaison with the valley. A major selling point was, the Navy has a liaison office in Hollywood manned by an O-6, but not one in Silicon Valley. An Intel Lieutenant and a Cryptologic Warfare Lieutenant set off to shop the Silicon Valley Beachhead concept to the Navy.
Along the way, they also shared the idea with a Cryptologic Warfare Captain at USCYBERCOM who made them aware of the USCYBERCOM Reserve Point of Presence effort. The two ideas were combined and eventually pitched to the Deputy Secretary of Defense and Vice Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff during a visit to USCYBERCOM.
From there, the concept took off under SECDEF Carter’s leadership, informed by the research done on behalf of the Defense Innovation Inititative. The initial DIUx office was established at Moffett Field with personnel and a mission that made up DIUx 1.0 in May, 2015. Only one year later, the decision to continue DIUx efforts was defended by the White House against budget pressure from Congress.
Within the Navy, the idea was supported, but in the end, no initial investment from the Navy was put into DIUx. LT Josh Steinman, the primary author of the CRIC white paper was highlighted by Adam Grant in “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.” (CRIC founder LCDR Ben Kohlmann is also featured). In Originals, LT Steinman demonstrates how he used a Trojan horse strategy in order to pitch the concept to former Chief of Naval Operations, ADM Jonathan Greenert. At the time, getting an idea as radical as building a completely new office in the middle of Silicon Valley was having trouble getting through the many tiers of approval. Josh used a routine meeting with the CNO on a lower level topic to bridge into a discussion about the need for a Navy Point of Presence in Silicon Valley.
Note, the Navy does have the Naval Innovation Advisory Council (NIAC) co-located with DIUx, but reporting to the Secretary of the Navy. NIAC collaborates with, but is not a part of, DIUx. This effort came out of Secretary of the Navy’s Task Force Innovation (TFI). TFI was aware of the Silicon Valley Point of Presence white paper and incorporated some of the concepts into NIAC. Check out TFI’s Innovation Plan for more info.
In the end, it was collaboration, hard work, perseverence and the combination of ideas from executives in Silicon Valley, CRIC junior officers and enlisted members, USCYBERCOM reservists, Navy personnel assigned to USCYBERCOM, SECDEF Staff, and the members of DIUx 1.0 and DIUx 2.0 that lead to the establishment of the DoD’s first Silicon Valley startup. And soon, DoD’s first modern Boston startup.
To sell the idea, the original concept had to be pitched hundreds of times to many different stakeholders until one was found that had the means and drive to go all in and make it happen. The first iteration of DIUx was not exactly right, so the Secretary of Defense took what had been learned and pivoted. In the end, the false starts, dead ends, and webbed nature of the DIUx effort is one of its greatest strengths.
The lesson here is threefold:
– Innovation occurs when we look outside of our normal circles and ask questions in order to discover those things you didn’t know you needed to discover.
– Most projects aren’t the product of a single mind. It takes a Team of Teams to tackle big projects. Credit should be spread out. Still, key individual contributions should be highlighted and celebrated.
– Even the biggest ideas can be implemented with persistence and partnership. Don’t accept the status quo. Make a difference.
I will leave you with a video from Steve Blank, founder of the Lean Startup Method to describe the impact of DIUx on Silicon Valley, DoD, and the world. Check out his Hacking 4 Defense class he is currently teaching in coordination with DIUx.