“Through tours in Iraq focused on helping quell sectarian violence and in Afghanistan supporting the creation of an indigenous defense institution, the greatest lesson I learned was that intellectual flexibility and operational innovation were paramount for success in war. This flexibility and innovation developed in our military personnel over the last decade should not be lost as we re-adjust our strategic and institutional postures post-Iraq and Afghanistan; to continue to improve and drive our Services forward, we will need new ways of thinking and operating…even when the changes are uncomfortable or painful. This is particularly true when the ideas come from emerging leaders that have spent the last decade essentially “making it up” on the ground.
When I was approached to support the planning of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, I jumped at the chance. The vision for the conference fit perfectly with my desires and approach to supporting a wider influence by emerging military leaders. I can think of no better structure for facilitating open and innovative solutions to many of out challenges than what have been created for the DEF. I encourage any and all service members and veterans interested in making an impact on their Services through innovative solutions to sign up and join us in Chicago this October!”
- Nate Finney, US Army Harvard Strategist Fellow
“When Tony [Hatala] and I started DEF four months ago over a phone call, we had no idea who it would attract. We just wanted to bring together some of the smartest military veterans we knew. As we put together a board of passionate, intelligent emerging leaders, it became apparent we had a brilliant and dedicated team. We also came to realized that our board is representative of the caliber of emerging leaders in the services at large – there are incredible, untapped resources waiting to be unleashed with innovative solutions to our most pressing needs.
I see DEF as a place to meet fellow innovators from across the services, and perhaps meet some friends that will become lifelong partners. At DEF, not only will you build your ideas, but your networks as well. In an increasingly interconnected world, face-to-face interaction is more important than ever. I can’t wait to see what unforeseen collaborative ventures emerge from the disparate talents DEF will bring together.”
- Ben Kohlmann, member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell
“I have noticed two themes during my nine years in the military. The first is that we successfully recruit and train some of the best minds that our country has to offer. Our volunteer military is smart, persistent, innovative, and fully capable of overcoming obstacles in the tactical environment. There is a will and we always find a way. The second is that despite good efforts we have some embarrassingly inefficient systems and processes in place that are ripe for disruption – especially in garrison. Against a backdrop of commercial services with seamless user-interfaces that require no training to use, many of our applications appear clunky, outdated, and completely foreign to the current generation entering military service. Even simple tasks like routing paperwork around base, sending in promotion photos (in the Navy), or reading long administrative messages that have been published on the web in all capital letters can highlight ways we are not always streamlining even the simple things that are free to fix. There are problems and we have emerging leaders that are aware of them and eager to build and implement solutions for them – that’s why I’m thrilled to be a part of DEF.
Rather than complain about the problems we see or satisfy ourselves with articles lamenting inefficiencies, we’re excited to try a different approach. We’ll be meeting and collaborating with dozens of self-motivated active duty service members, veterans, entrepreneurs, professors, and senior military leaders in a nontraditional setting. Over the course of the conference we’ll rapidly identify areas that can be improved, develop ideas for solutions, propose paths toward achieving those goals, and then generate plans for implementing the fixes. At best we’ll walk away with specific answers. At worst, we’ll have strengthened our networks, learned from world-class professors and leaders, and practiced the entrepreneurial process of taking good organizations and making them even better.”
- Anthony Hatala, USMC AV-8B Harrier Pilot, Harvest HAWK FCO
“During my time as a Rifle Platoon Leader serving overseas, I often felt that my peers and I serving on the ground had implementable ideas, both tactical and strategic, that would benefit our mission but weren’t being listened to. Over the years, I’ve learned that good ideas are a commodity: everyone has them, and no organization can implement them all. The edge will go to those who can convince others, generate buy-in from senior leaders, and sell their ideas effectively. When the Disruptive Thinkers approached me about the DEF, I immediately knew that this could be an answer to helping current and future JMO’s add to their toolkit the skills and experience to generate a more flexible, adaptable, innovative military, accomplished through connecting idea generators with experienced, influential senior officers.”
- Jeff Stine, Former Infantry Officer, MBA in Analytic Finance, Economics and Entrepreneurship
“I’ve always loved strategic thinking and innovation. I’ve been fortunate to be a member of a number of teams that have made significant improvements to Air Force policies and operations. Each time though, the process to innovate has always been excruciatingly frustrating, much more than need be. While innovation may be the buzzword of the day in the DoD today, the truth is that there lacks a simple, sustainable path for ideas to rapidly flow through the military’s complex bureaucratic channels.
Our nation and our military face enormous fiscal challenges and emerging strategic threats that can’t be underestimated. The brainpower of our innovators is one of the greatest tools we have at our disposal. I know from experience that there are brilliant, overlooked innovators in our military who possess real, sometimes brilliant solutions to the myriad of difficult problems we face. It is paramount that we have effective mechanisms to harness the game-changing ideas that our military professionals can offer regardless of age, rank or position. I believe that DEF as an organization is a tool that will spark dialogue towards meaningful improvements in how we capitalize on the many innovative solutions our troops possess.”
- Jeff Gilmore, C-17 Instructor and Air Mobility Liaison Officer
“I joined the DEF board because I think there is huge potential among officers and soldiers, but that the bureaucracy does not always harness it. Instead of just lamenting the lack of innovation and creativity in the military, I want to help build a forum that can connect leaders with peers, resources, and senior leaders, to help them translate their ideas to action.
“In my own (short) career, I saw a group of junior officers innovate and it made me believe that change is possible, even if it’s a slow and difficult process. Many units in Afghanistan were struggling to engage with the women in their AOs, and they were losing out on crucial information that these women had. In short, “population-centric” counterinsurgency was missing half the population. A group of officers came together, and began creating what became known as Female Engagement Teams (Marines) and Cultural Support Teams (Army). This process showed me that many good innovations could come from the ground level, but only with senior leaders’ support. The DEF is hoping to bring these two groups together in a more structured way, with the hope that many more good innovations can come from these connections.”
- Roxanne Bras, Rhodes Scholar, currently in the US Army Civil Affairs Qualification Course
“To fight and win the nation’s wars, our military must be innovative and adaptable. This isn’t primarily a matter of adopting new technology; it’s a matter of developing the right organizational structures, processes, and values. Innovation is about people and culture.
That’s why I have been following the “Disruptive Thinkers” series on Small Wars Journal with keen interest over the past year. The defense community is engaged in a vibrant discussion about how to create a culture that values innovation. What’s so impressive is that this movement has emerged organically from the bottom up. Thanks to the power of social media, emerging leaders are finding each other, building relationships, and brainstorming how they can create positive change.
DEF2013 is a remarkable next step. We are planning a one-of-a-kind forum where young military innovators can meet face-to-face and collaborate in problem solving. Many emerging leaders want to create change, but aren’t always sure how. DEF2013 will equip these leaders with the knowledge and the relationships they need to succeed. By matching attendees with senior leaders who are eager to capitalize on their ideas, we hope to change the entire discussion about “Disruptive Thinking” and facilitate a positive and cooperative culture of innovation. I’m honored to be a part of DEF2013, and am excited to see what the conference produces.”
- Mark Jacobsen, C-17 Instructor, Middle East Specialist, Writer
“I’m taking part in DEF because I firmly believe that innovation and good ideas can come from a wide variety of people and are often drawn from unexpected experiences and places. Bringing together a cross-section of emerging leaders–in and out of the uniformed service–can be a catalyst for cultural and pragmatic change. I love connecting people, passion and ideas; DEF gives me a chance to do that and expand networks and relationships beyond traditional military confines.”
- Micah Murphy, Former Commanding Officer USS Dextrous, EA for Navy Office of Legislative Affairs