The acquisition workforce must come together to “tackle the tough problem sets we face in the future,” said Lt Col Kim Smith, U.S. Space Force and DAU Professor of Program Management, and host of the DAU flagship event of the summer. She introduced the closing set of speakers who would discuss how “innovation, contracting, agile learning and a closing call to action to join the Cyber Mafia” would improve readiness.
Avoiding Innovation Theater
When Gene Keselman, Executive Director, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Innovation Initiative, took the stage, he asked the audience to make some assumptions about him. One assumption he believed the audience didn’t make was that he was a refugee, specifically from what had been the Soviet Union, particularly Ukraine. “We were deaf and blind behind the Iron Curtain,” Keselman said. “It was a terrifying decision to leave. Only as an adult did I start understanding the gravity of that decision.”
Once his family arrived in America, he described the new experience. “Everything was hard,” he said. “Learning was hard. America took care of us, like only the greatest country in the world could. We made it. Everything was hard, but nothing was impossible once we made it here.”
This proved to be a formative experience for Keselman’s family. The experience gave him what he calls his “super power… I like change. I seek it out in my professional life.”
After completing his active duty Air Force career, he learned that there was another group of people that go through a similar experience to his refugee experience. The people are entrepreneurs. “They too have to build from scratch,” Keselman said. “What is this common lived experience between refugees and entrepreneurs called? I call it the Innovator’s Mindset.” The experience included going through something different, new and surviving. That provides innovators with a “lasting and novel perspective change required to innovate. Anyone can do it,” Keselman said.
He explained that his current work allows people to change their perspective all the time. He refers to the process as quitting your job for one week out of the year. He described the people he works with as company men who learn to be entrepreneurs. “Some of them do a really bad job,” he said. “But this is where the shift starts to happen. Ah hah, I could do this. Some quit for jobs for real, and they go and work on the start-up full time. That’s what I actually did and how I ended up working at MIT.”
Those who attend the week long innovation camp begin to go through that mindset shift. The DoD, Keselman said, must give our people life changing experiences and shift their mindsets. “My job is to define innovation,” Keselman said. Innovation is “the process of taking ideas from inception to impact,” Keselman said. “This is a process. It’s not an endpoint or destination, you have to go through it and do it.”
Still, Keselman believes that “what’s going on there in most organizations isn’t actually Innovation, it’s Innovation Theater.” Innovation Theater simply puts on the appearance of innovation at the cost of actual innovation and progress. One of the most important things Keselman helps people do is to shift from Innovation Theater to true innovation. He identified areas that an organization needs to address to ensure true innovation can happen, such as improving risk and failure tolerance, ensuring that employees have sufficient skills and tools, and to provide adequate resources and budget. “There’s a general kind of malaise around innovation as a buzz word,” Keselman said. But, he remains optimistic, saying, innovation “can happen inside DoD, inside the government.”
Gene praised innovators doing hard things without budget, resources or authority. “You’re not alone,” he said. “The responsibility falls on you to create coalitions of the willing” by adding value. Adding value is one way to tell the difference between true innovation and innovation theater. “Do something with people who want to continue,” Keselman said. “Fund it. Mentor them. Transition it. Scale it. All those things take a lot of work, effort, oversight.”
“We need to create new innovations,” Keselman said. “Let your people quit their job for a week. Let them do something really hard and fail, and it will be OK. I refuse to believe the DoD can’t innovate. The future of our warfare and national security depends on it.”
Contracting Super Power
“Did you know that every piece of equipment or service that is essential to our war fighters is available, thanks to contracting,” said Kameke Mitchell, Chief of Contracts, U.S. Space Force. She cited the U.S. Government Accountability Office in fiscal year 2020 spent more than $665 billion on contracts.
She likened contracting’s ingenuity to the Infinity Stones, granting the ability to “change reality, speed up time, create new portals of opportunity and manipulate the acquisition process for the Department of Defense’s fight against our near peer threats.”
“When united [contracting’s powers], can destroy people, planets, solar systems, and, yes, destroy planets, because readiness is even required in space!” Contracting has great power with individual skillsets, but combined, contracting represents the tools used to fortify DoD’s capabilities. Mitchell said that “Contracting… is the most lethal member of the acquisition team.”
She asked for those listening to see contracting as more than “the sayer of no.” Her goal was to change the listener’s reality and realize that “contracting developed and fostered the initial relationship with industry for not only the Air Force, but for the Department of Defense.”
“Contracting needs to be there from the beginning,” Mitchell said, praising DAU for how well it presents the basics of contracting. She said that DAU should look into creating cross functional training to see people truly collaborate and “teaching people how to solve those problems together.” DAU President Jim Woolsey later said DAU was taking that as an action.
She acknowledged that the acquisition system “is complex and has led to technology breakthroughs and socioeconomic benefits,” with public contracting being one reason for these successes. Contracting “requires collaboration, special knowledge and years of training,” she said. Mitchell said that contracting experts were “mission-focused business leaders,” and asked for the audience to “reimagine your contracting team; with our power, we can change our reality and enhance our capabilities.”
“The 2022 National Defense Strategy highlights how the Department of Defense will advance our goals through three primary ways: integrated deterrence, campaigning, and actions that build enduring advantages,” Mitchell said. “You need experts who understand the environment and can compete with our adversaries. [Contracting has] faster access to our innovation ecosystems to deliver warfighting capabilities at the speed of relevance.”
“We are at a place in history where we must be brave to try new things and access both traditional and non-traditional capabilities,” Mitchell said.
The Last Mile of Learning
“I’ve found is that the teams that learn the fastest, win,” said Andrew Powell, cofounder and CEO, Learn to Win. He related one story where he assisted the Rams on their way to their Super Bowl win. “I’ve spent years working with football teams to optimize how they train their players,” Powell said, and now he was taking what he learned from that to reimagine readiness. He remembered results from his work being written up in the New York Times and being excited for “how technology would transform higher education.”
When he got a call from a football coach instead of a college professor, he realized the different dynamics facing academics and football coaches, who have to publicly perform in front of millions, where success and failure are clearly delineated. “The context we’re in make incentives,” Powell said. These incentives “either encourage us to innovate or not. Does the DoD have the right institutional power to promote innovation?”
While Agile normally has an association with software or technology, Powell said that many of the terms used with Agile have an origin in sports. “Scrum, huddle, sprint – all sports terms,” he said. “Elite sports teams use the principles of agile to develop their people. That’s what Coach McVey [coach of the Rams] did in the final week [leading to the Super Bowl], he ran an agile sprint.”
“The best way to us reimagine readiness in the DoD is to apply the principles of Agile to how we develop the people,” he said. The DoD needs to “break out of the faculty senate mold and prepare for the future fight with the intensity of a team preparing for the Super Bowl.” He outlined three principles to achieve this.
First, he called for a focus on last mile knowledge. “Most training energy goes to general knowledge,” he said. “Last mile makes difference between success/failure.” General knowledge is how to play football, he explained. By the time a team is at the Super Bowl, it should be assumed that every player already does this at a high level. Instead, the focus should be on last mile knowledge, which in the analogy would be mastering a specific playbook.
“Last mile knowledge is really essential to all of our teams,” he said. “What’s the last mile knowledge essential for our team?” One example of last mile knowledge in his work with the Rams was a questionnaire, where it turned out, most players couldn’t answer question nine correctly. This gave a key insight into the team’s ability to perform and let the coach weigh whether to abandon that play or to drill further on it to improve performance.
The second principle is to focus on one concept at a time, “You can’t cover everything, not all at once,” he said. Therefore, training needs to determine where to focus, like a football team watching prior games to analyze what went well and what didn’t. This provides objective performance data to decide training plans to fill gaps for the next game. He asked attendees to figure out where to find objective performance data, how to spot the gaps and what the most important thing is to solve first.
The third principle is to find how to loop or iterate training as fast as possible. “Learning is not a linear process. It’s a loop,” he said. Faster loops allow for more effective training. This principle sets a “good precedent for the need for speed in warfighting.” Completing loops faster than competitors ensures the DoD could train their teams to learn more skills as needed.
He recommended daily agile learning loops. He likened this to a team meeting or game film review to practice and reprioritize objectives. While sports teams might be able to make updates multiple times a day, DoD may never reach loops that quickly due to the scope of warfighting and acquisition. “Imagine if it took [sports teams] months or years to develop training on a new play,” he said. Warfighting is more high stakes than the Super Bowl, and the DoD still has “months or years of training cycles, and by the time [training is] published [it is] out of date.”
Finally, Powell asked attendees to determine “what are the question nines in the department of Defense? Do we know what they are? If we don’t, we should try and find them. [Question nines] exist in every organization.”
Cyber Attack, Cyber Attack, Cyber Attack
“Cyber is a confusing world, and not a lot of people have full understanding of it,” explained Chris Cleary, Principal Cyber Advisor, Department of the Navy. He compared the confusion of how to respond to cyber attacks with the clarity of how to respond to a warning for an inbound anti-ship missile that he learned during his time in the Navy.
The Navy has a “readiness model that establishes” how to respond, Cleary said. The response to this attack can be mapped back to this model: People Equipment Supplies Training Ordnance Networks and Information.
He then said that no one sees the call of a cyber attack the same. “That cyber call could be relevant to any person, industry, technology, or military,” Cleary said. Competitors and adversaries have already began to embrace cyber as a method and means of warfare.
First, Cleary said the DoD must “acknowledge cyber as a warfighting domain.” DoD must fully integrate cyber into how it does business. The last disruption Cleary saw on this scale was the invention of gunpowder. “We’ve improved our ability to deliver lethality, up to and including nuclear weapons,” Cleary said. Cyber though, was changing the world at a far greater rate. “Hypersonics, artificial intelligence and autonomous systems – even [Carl von Clausewitz, the author of “On War”] couldn’t envision the rapid investment of this.”
If the DoD is to reimagine readiness, they must rethink how to do business, and Cleary stated “our business is one of delivering lethality.”
“Where’s cyber on this,” he asked. “Cyber can be anywhere on the planet at any time.” Precision delivery and changes in how warfare is conducted has led to combat and mortality rates coming down over time. “Embracing cyber as a means and methods, we can potentially drive mortality rates further down,” Cleary said.
He told the story of the “Bomber Mafia,” pilots from Montgomery, Ala., who hoped to use precision bombing and the invention of the aircraft to make warfare more humane. “They believed they could reinvent warfare,” he said. “Precise, quick – bloodless.” It would be another 20 years before the B-29 was invented, which changed the face of war. Still, bombs weren’t precise enough to achieve the dream of a bloodless conflict.
Cleary believes that cyber is a new means and methods of warfare that the DoD must move to adopt. The group pushing this realization and new way forward are the Cyber Mafia, which Cleary acknowledges is a “loaded term” with “lots of negative connotations.” He outlined a few core traits: membership, teamwork, specialization of skillsets, secrecy and violence.
“If you look at communities developing [cyber], we all live behind closed doors,” Cleary said. “We keep our secrets; we don’t trust people, we have ideas we don’t want to share.” But, Cleary believes that cyber is “no longer a secret,” and is going to become a more and more apparent mean or method of warfare. “Stealth was a secret for a long time, but we talk about it openly now,” Cleary said. “We have to do the same with cyber.”
“One of the most defining characteristics of a mafia is violence,” Cleary said. “We call it lethality.” Cleary wants to move cyber to be seen in a more professional light with clearer, precise language, with specific definitions. “Embrace cyber as a means and methods of warfare for military professionals,” he said while defining a cyber attack as a cyber operation expected to cause damage or death to persons or equipment/object.
There’s a credibility gap in cyber space, Cleary said, and one of his solutions was to “talk about these things openly… let’s define cyber weapons.”
There are three principles that Cleary says should be the North Star for the Cyber Mafia. The first principle is credibility. This credibility is that cyber professionals can do what they say they’re going to do and deliver effects that can be counted on. Second, cyber capabilities need to be “synchronized and part and parcel of larger objectives that must work alongside all domains,” he said. Finally, cyber has to be on call with tools that are ready when the warfighter needs them.
“Cyber, as a means/method of warfare, must be fully incorporated into DoD,” Cleary said. To achieve this, the Cyber Mafia must work with the Services to embrace cyber as a core competency.
Cleary said he hoped he had made believers out of the audience, and that the next step was for them to “make believers out of everybody else.”
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