HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — More than 7,000 military and industry attendees converged on the Von Braun Center here to discuss Army priorities, exchange ideas and showcase new technologies during this week’s Global Force Symposium and Exposition.
Hosted by the Association of the United States Army, the three-day event consisted of numerous panels and presentations focused on the future force and how it will fight and “Win in a Complex World,” according to the Army Operating Concept.
But winning requires innovation, and the panel, “Increasing the Rate of Innovation,” brought five subject matter experts together to offer their thoughts on increasing and improving Army innovation.
The focus is clear
“I have never seen – in my long history of observing the Army and how it thinks – a more overt focus on this topic,” said retired Maj. Gen. David Fastabend, panel moderator. “As a tenet of the Army Operating Concept, innovation is absolutely deemed critical for leaders, Soldiers and the teams they lead to succeed.”
Fastabend said the “persistent and protracted campaign of events focused on innovation,” is apparent in the consistent efforts.
There’s good and there’s better
“Given the Army that we’ve had and the successes that we’ve had, we’ve always been a fairly innovative Army,” said Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center’s Capabilities Developments Directorate. “So the real question is – how do we improve or increase the rate of innovation?”
Wins, who has been on the front line for a number of requirements that have come through U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command throughout the past two years, shared his thoughts on how Army can improve.
“The collaboration that occurs can always be better,” he said, explaining that instead of repeating industry efforts, the Army has to understand how to try, how to fail, how to try again and then adopt what works.
“We have to be able to accept that as the Army, and as we define our requirements, we’re never going to be the experts at designing, building and fielding the perfect solution,” Wins said. “It’s through iterations that we’ve gotten the capabilities that we have, such as the Bradley, such as the Abrams tank.”
The right environment
Innovation also requires the right people, the right place and the right timing, according to Robert W. Kocher Jr., president and CEO of Ideal Innovations Inc. Previously, Kocher formed the Army Quick Response Office, which provided technologies in counterterrorism and peacekeeping to Soldiers and peacekeepers.
There are two key components to accelerating innovation: having the right environment and quickly getting ahead of the problem that needs to be solved, he said.
Kocher added that the right environment for innovation includes a senior visionary who sets the priorities; an informed inventor who comes up with ideas, and the technology subject matter experts, who can determine whether the inventor’s ideas are feasible.
Working together for the warfighter
Director of the Army Research Lab Dr. Thomas P. Russell proposed that the way to address the rate of innovation would be for industry, academia and the government to work together with a synergy focused on the warfighter.
“How do we bring these entities together and a fourth entity – the warfighter – so we create the ecosystem where we rapidly develop together, focused on outcomes and what we can produce for the warfighter?” Russell asked.
In moving forward, Russell suggested that these communities consider ways to work together more effectively to develop technologies and innovate to get ahead of adversaries.
There are good ways, and there are bad ways
There generally are four ways people tend to approach innovation, said Gen. David G. Perkins, TRADOC commanding general, with the first being adjusting the structure of an organization.
“A lot of times, the desire is to change the structural flow,” Perkins said. “Of the four, that has historically proven to be the worst way to increase innovation.” This is followed closely by the second worst way to increase innovation: motivational incentives.
“Now that we’ve changed all the structure, we’ve got to motivate people to innovate, so we’ll have bonuses, or you get a parking spots right in front of the commissary if you come up with a good idea.”
Perkins said the number one way – at a rate of two to three times greater than the previous options – is to increase the flow of information. Within the Army, he noted that there is a greater degree of collaboration within the warfighting functions, which is critical to increasing the current rate of innovation.
The fourth way, to increase innovation is through decision rights, Perkins said.
“What can we do within TRADOC … to put the decision rights where they have to be, and then what are the key decisions at each one of those levels that are worth spending time on?”
Success is measured not by the number, but by the value
The commanding general said he spends a lot of time on making sure (the Army) designs a strategy to achieve an endstate versus coming up with a plan to spend money.
“When we take a look at rate of innovation, we put together a strategy to deliver an endstate as defined by increasing the rate of innovation to produce valued outcomes,” Perkins said, “as H.R. (McMaster) was saying – not just random good ideas – valued outcomes that put us in a position of relative advantage.”
He added that one of the successes in innovation is not only to be able to innovate quickly, but also to be able to stop quickly when it’s no longer value-added.
“One of the problems is once something becomes a program of record, even if you don’t need it anymore, it is very hard to stop doing it.”
Start from the beginning
From the very beginning of each Soldier’s Army career, Perkins said the goal is to have them understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and to help them see the bigger picture. This not only helps Soldiers focus on critical thinking, but it will also prepare them to innovate for the future.
“What we are doing extensively now is working (critical thinking) into all levels of professional military education,” Perkins said. “It is inadequate to say ‘Well, we’re going to have the critical thinking elective at the War College.’ Literally – from the very beginning at basic training, we’re working that into the curriculum.”
The general gave an example from his recent visit to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where he described how impressed he was during a lunchtime conversation with a Soldier about basic rifle marksmanship.
“This (Soldier) has been in the Army three weeks, and he’s giving me a detailed analysis of why he didn’t fire expert – because he figures he has a trigger problem, but he’s thought through what he’s going to do better next time. That is critical thinking,” Perkins said. “So we have to start at the very beginning – it’s not the elective at CGSC or War College.”