Steve BlankTechnology, Innovation, and Modern War – Class 17 – Organizational Design – Safi Bahcall


Story by: steve blank Steve Blank | Entrepreneurship and Innovation

We have just held our seventeenth session of our new national security class, Technology, Innovation and Modern Warfare. Joe Felter, Raj Shah, and I designed a class to explore the new military systems, concepts of operation, and lessons that will emerge from 21st century technologies – space, cyber, AI, and machine learning and autonomy.

Today's topic was organizational design and modern war . and Finals Prep .

Read our summaries of the previous 16 classes here to familiarize yourself with the class.

This was our penultimate grade. While this course focused on the impact of new technology and operational concepts, as well as modern war, we felt it was important that our students understand the organizational and cognitive barriers that make it difficult to adopt new technology. Our guest speaker was Safi Bahcall, author of Loonshots.

The task before class was to watch Safi's video about Loonshots.

In addition to our speaker, today was the day we prepared the presentation for our students' theses. We met with all of the teams and checked their final summaries. (A description of their ultimate task follows the summary of Safi's presentation.)

I have extracted and paraphrased some of Safi's key findings and encourage you to read the entire transcript here and watch his video.

Invention versus Innovation
Sitting in the back of the class for the past few months, I've seen great speakers about strategy, technology and invention. I use the word invention on purpose – not innovation – because invention and innovation are different things. This point is at the heart of the innovation problem in so many organizations.

Invention has an idea. For example, when Robert Goddard showed in the 1920s that we could propel metal pipes by exploding liquid fuel inside them, he invented the jet propulsion. That was a great invention. It only became an innovation when it was developed and used on a large scale. When it comes to jet propulsion, it wasn't the US that innovated. It was Nazi Germany with the V1 and V2 rockets and the Messerschmitt 262, the first jet aircraft.

So what is the core of the problem for national security organizations? What is preventing them from innovating faster and better? It's not a strategy. The 2018 National Defense Strategy was very clear and effective in explaining what needs to be done. It's not technology. The military has 76 innovation laboratories. It is not a guide. Executives in all services beat the table on innovation.

Organizational Design
The military has three of the four pieces of the puzzle you need: strategy, access to technology, leadership. The fourth is missing, however. And that is organizational design. Good teams will kill great ideas no matter how smart the strategy is, how enticing the technology is, or how insistent leaders are on innovation. Why this is the case is a long story I've written about, but the bottom line is that we need to design our organizations to solve this problem – the adoption problem. If we don't, we will lose.

I'll give you an example. For almost 60 years, IBM dominated the IT industry. The industry was known as IBM and the Seven Dwarfs because IBM's competitors lagged so far. If there was a superpower in any industry, it was IBM in IT. There were a few small competitors in the 80s that didn't seem like much. A small company in Seattle called Microsoft. When it first partnered with IBM, it only had 32 employees. There was another small company in Santa Clara called Intel. They ran out of money. Small competitors that IBM ignored.

Does the story of a superpower ignoring distant threats from seemingly weak competitors sound familiar from class discussions about China? For IBM, strategy wasn't the problem. Invention wasn't the problem. Just like the DOD, IBM has innumerable innovation laboratories. Many popular technologies come from IBM. Leadership wasn't the problem. IBM has been on the cutting edge of innovation for years. If you look at IBM today, it's 1/10 the value of Microsoft, it's half the value of Intel. Strategy, technology, leadership – that was fine. But good teams always kill great ideas. That is the adoption problem.

So what can we do? There are a couple of options. You are not obvious. They are not what you read about in glossy magazines. They have nothing to do with fuzzy words like culture.

It's about creating the structure for adoption
It's about structure. How do you create the right structure to help with adoption? One of the things that I've found very encouraging over the past few years when speaking to executives in the military or intelligence agencies has been their curiosity about what's going on in the private sector outside of their usual sandpit.

When I sat down with Admiral Selby, we were talking about Google. At that time, Google was redesigning the backend of its search engine. They built their search engine 20 years ago. And they had to fix the courage because it was out of date. No different from large legacy systems in the military. Google completed this task in six month blocks. Selby pointed out that in six months' time in the military, something like this would no longer be possible. It can take six years, if not 60 years. How will Google do it in six months? And what can the military learn from this?

We don't have time to go into all of the details we've discussed, but I'll give you a taste.

Five patterns that hinder adoption
I'll start with five patterns that I observed in the service industries and what we could do about them.

The first is a preference for big versus small. Many of the previous speakers have spoken about it. Bigger jets, bigger engines, bigger ships as opposed to the small changes that can make a huge difference.
The second is a preference for product over strategy. A preference for things you can touch – ships, weapons, planes. Contrasted with new strategies that are less obvious and less glamorous but can make a huge difference. For example, the tank was invented in the mid-1910s. And it was used in World War I. But it wasn't the tank as a technology in itself that allowed Nazi Germany to take over Western Europe in a matter of weeks. It was her strategy, the lightning bolt. It is a common trap of just focusing on the technology, immersing oneself in the glitz of the technology, and neglecting the less glamorous strategies for using those technologies creatively. Not just in the military, but also in Silicon Valley, where otherwise successful companies are doomed to failure.
The third focus is on technology versus transfer. In other words, a big investment in sexy new technology acquisition. With much less energy and attention in identifying and navigating the internal barriers to adoption. Assuming good ideas and technology will win the day, and the often hidden sources of internal resistance, agendas, misaligned incentives, and legacies are neglected. You can spend billions on great technology and dozens of innovation labs, but unless you put energy and creativity into winning these internal battles, technologies will die.
The fourth focus is on prototyping as opposed to pretotyping. Pretotyping is about what to do in front of the product with minimal viability. How to test hypotheses incredibly quickly. One day for $ 100. When done well, hypotheses are preferred to opinions. quick experiments instead of big plans; and testing ideas and strategies, not just products and technologies.
And the fifth pattern focuses on minimizing as opposed to maximizing risk. By that I mean maximizing the smart risk taking that you need to discover key breakthroughs. I see this all the time in mission-driven as opposed to for-profit organizations. When lives are at stake, there is tremendous focus on reducing risk. In the military, you don't want a lot of risk in your parachutes or in your nuclear silos. However, if you want to discover a new technology before your competitor does, you want to take a risk. You want to fail. Much. If you just try things that don't fail, you won't discover the really important breakthroughs where everyone gave up because they didn't think it was possible. And who will discover them? Your opponent, who takes these risks, who works through the nine mistakes to get to the 10th iteration that works. And you'll see that 10th iteration when it's too late when a bullet hits your head.

Three Solutions
I'm not going to talk about the reform of the acquisition process that many of your class representatives have mentioned and that needs to be done. Doing this is like turning an aircraft carrier. It's incredibly slow because of all the stakeholders. I'm going to talk about some things that are easier to do. More like a surgical blow.

1 is measurement. If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. Conversely, with easy-to-understand and visible metrics, the things you measure well will improve without much added pressure. How do you do that with innovation? Follow the money is the bottom line. But the fact that we don't do that at all is a real problem. I remember speaking with a senior executive on the Joint Chiefs of Staff who said, "We have no concrete way of knowing how we're innovating in the service industries." Absolutely no idea. “If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.
2, rewards. A quote from an Air Force major: “You will get promoted in the Air Force if you don't screw it up. Trying something new means risking failure, scaring those around you, and risking progress. Do what the guy did before you and train those below you to do what you do. “A common way of thinking in DoD is that Priority # 1 will not get fired. What does this mindset mean? How much risk will people take? I mean among the people you want to take smart risks, those you want to discover new technologies and strategies in front of your adversaries? Would you like the # 1 priority on these people's minds to be how to play it safe?
The need for "special forces" for innovation. Not another innovation lab, but a new commando for functional fighters from program champions who can identify the internal barriers to the introduction of new technology, find solutions, and get the job done. With representatives of the individual service branches. A joint surgical blow to innovation instead of an unrelated massive attack.

It is common not to understand that a good inventor and a good champion are very different abilities. The idea of ​​radar was discovered by two scientists in the Naval Research Labs 18 years before the start of World War II. They were great inventors, but lousy champions. The idea lingered for a decade, until a naval officer named Deak Parsons spotted it, went to each office manager and pounded on the table why it mattered, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, until he got them to close one cough Look for $ 5,000 to fund the project. Robert Goddard was another great inventor, a lousy champion. Because there was no good advocate for this idea here in the United States, the Nazis – who got the idea from Goddard's papers – first developed rockets and jet planes.

You heard in General Shanahan's previous class about a bull-headed colonel named Drew Cukor banging the table to set up Project Maven and JAIC and bring AI to the military. Cukor is the youngest in a long line of internal champions such as Deak Parsons or Vannevar Bush or Schreiver with ICBMs or Moffett with aircraft carriers or Rickover with the nuclear navy. They were all great champions. No inventors.

What we need is a new functional combat squad to attract, train and deploy great champions. To develop the next generation of Drew Cukors or Deak Parsons or Bernard Schrievers instead of hoping and praying that we might be lucky and that another disruptor will come along in time and modernize the military. We no longer have that luxury. We can't afford to start our conflicts with yesterday's technology and hope we catch up. Not in the age of data and algorithms. Chris Brose quoted John McCain as saying, "Hope is not a strategy."

We need a separate order for the same reason that we need cyber or special operations as a separate order. The problem is endemic to all branches of service, and not just one. And there is a unique skill that needs to be developed. Good champions have to act as intermediaries, buffers between technologists and soldiers. You must be bilingual to be fluent in the language of each side. You need to understand the fit of the product market: why some ideas catch on and others don't. You need to identify hidden organizational obstacles and find solutions. You need to understand the horizontal influence: how to influence people over whom they have no direct authority. All of these are special skills, with best practices and useful lessons that can be drawn from years of examples in various industries. Such training does not yet exist today.

Google does it. Microsoft does it. They understood the importance of having a special unit for innovation champions and they did well. You create a career ladder to keep people in the role, build experience and skills, instill prestige and respect. You keep the role neutral, like Switzerland, neither on the research side nor on the operational side, but in between, as a mediator has to be.

When you create a joint special unit for innovation Sherpas for program champions, you not only get the ability to innovate faster and better as an organization. You will improve your ability to attract, retain, and motivate talent. When I first published this article on War on the Rocks, I was receiving emails from very formidable entrepreneurial minds who had left the military but clearly wanted to contribute. They said, "If that department was there, sign me up." You put a purple rope around it, you make it difficult to get into that command, you do it as cool as SOCOM.

Read the minutes of Safi's entire talk and watch the following video.

If you can't see the video, click here.

Final task – Technological innovation and modern war

During this course you received a call to action from leading voices in the military, government and industry. If we want to face the challenges of the renewed great power competition, new technologies, new strategies and, above all, new approaches to problem solving must be used.

In your graduation project, you will address the operational challenges and strategic dilemmas that arise from the changing nature of warfare. This assignment draws on your creativity, critical thinking skills, and individual experience to provide actionable recommendations to real decision-makers.

Your final assignment
In groups of 3 to 4 people, develop plans for addressing national security challenges based on real trends.

Groups will provide a 15-minute presentation and a 10-page written report (<2500 words without attachments).

Step 1 : Read the following scenario and prompts. The scenario shows escalating confrontations between the US and China in the short, medium and long term.

The prompts represent discrete operational or strategic problems that the US military has faced that we encountered in class readings and lectures. The prompts ask you to consider the implications of this in each of the situations presented in the scenario.

Step 2 : Develop a proposal to address your problem. Suppose your findings are communicated to the US President during a cabinet meeting specially convened on these issues.

Style your approach however you want, but your plan should take into account:

Specific actions to be taken including investments or divestments in certain technologies / capabilities, shifts in operations / doctrine, budget / acquisition effects, and other policy changes
The timeframe for these measures: How can these measures differ in the short, medium and long-term situations described in the scenarios?
Compromise your proposed solutions. For example, how can you fix a skill deficiency when you eliminate a weapon system in the short term?
Important barriers to adoption of your proposed solution
An assessment of the relative impact. Which of these measures would China impose the most cost in implementing them? What could influence China's decision making the most?

For example: A response to the C4ISR request could define key weaknesses in US communications networks and then identify how China could openly exploit these weaknesses in the short and long term during Taiwan's political coercion. Students would then present possible solutions and discuss how they might differ from each other.

Groups are also assigned military mentors who can serve as a resource for developing realistic, actionable recommendations.

Background: China is committed to peaceful reunification with Taiwan, but has yet to officially renounce the use of military force as a means of solving the problem. In addition, the PRC has developed a number of options to force Taipei based on increasing capabilities in several areas. The following three scenarios show a gradual escalation of Chinese actions towards Taiwan in the short, medium and long term.

Short-term constraint: The year is 2022 and the US has passed a law that pressures Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and other Taiwanese companies that make advanced microchips to purchase their products no longer sell any Chinese units. This move effectively restricts China's access to a critical resource – custom chips, which are vital to products that fuel China's domestic and export growth. Taiwan announces its intention to comply with US law and causes China to take revenge by trying to force Taiwan to restore access to chips. China is launching intense influence operations and targeted non-kinetic attacks (i.e. cyber and disinformation) to influence popular opinion and reduce support for the Taiwanese government's decision.

Medium-term, limited use of force: It is the year 2025, Taiwan has not yet moved in terms of sales of microchips. In addition, China's coercive tactics have sparked a backlash in Taiwan and only helped fuel anti-Chinese sentiment. To demonstrate military capabilities and discourage any thought of Taiwan's independence, China is invading Taiping Island (Itu Aba) and Zhongzhou Reef, small Taiwan-occupied islands in the South China Sea. Unmanned, autonomous aircraft and ships play an important role in this operation.

Long-term, high-intensity conflict: The year is 2030. Five years of simmering resentment against Chinese actions lead to the election of a number of independent-minded politicians, some of whom openly plan to make formal declarations of Taiwan independence in the next 12 months. China launches a full invasion of Taiwan, accompanied by a blockade, and tries to secure the first chain of islands. The United States is trying to intervene to deter China's advances and restore the status quo. Both sides appear to be focused on open hostilities and high-intensity conflict. At the same time, China is beginning major cyber and disinformation attacks on the United States to influence American sentiment by causing pain by disrupting utilities, travel, and banking infrastructures.


Misinformation War : Disinformation campaigns aimed at influencing large numbers of people in subtle ways are likely to be a mainstay of future conflicts. States can use subversive and disruptive messaging on social media and other platforms to sow discord and confusion within an adversary's borders.

How could China use influence campaigns to support its goals in each of the scenarios outlined above?
How could the US help defend Taiwan and the American people against these threats?

Your answer could be addressed to


Important risks and vulnerabilities that China wants to exploit
Tools / technology / skills required to counter these tactics and how these skills can be extended to allies in the US
The policies and strategies needed to coordinate responses between public and private entities

C4ISR: The Department of Defense relies on command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance networks (C4ISR) to form the central nervous system of the US military. However, these centralized networks move information slowly and run the risk of being immediately disabled in the first few days of a conflict with a technologically advanced competitor.

How could China exploit weaknesses in the C4ISR networks used by Taiwan or the US to facilitate the measures described in the scenarios above?
How could the US ensure that C4ISR capabilities are robust enough to withstand the full spectrum of potential confrontations with China?

Your reply could be addressing

Major vulnerabilities (e.g. excessive reliance on communications satellites or centralized nodes)
The architecture / skills required to build a more stable communications network
Current barriers to building more viable networks

Forward Deployed Forces : The US has long relied on military assets pre-positioned in the Asia-Pacific region to act as a deterrent and first line of reaction. However, over the past twenty years, China has developed the ability to accurately target thousands of ballistic missiles and cruise missiles at fixed infrastructure in Japan, Guam, and elsewhere. The closest U.S. forces to conflict at INDOPACOM could be destroyed before they ever leave base.

How might China see the willingness and ability of forward deployed US forces to respond to each of the scenarios outlined above?
In any scenario, how can the US ensure that forward-facing forces pose a more believable and viable threat?

Your reply could be addressing

The right types of skills / platforms for pre-positioning in Asia Pacific
Defensive skills required to protect forward-provisioned assets
How can it be determined when / how these forces would react to events in the region?

Logistics : For the past 30 years, the US has enjoyed the luxury of taking months to collect and move personnel, platforms and supplies to different parts of the world Fighting with overwhelming force. In the future, if they begin to mobilize and may never make it to the theater, these critical resources could be attacked immediately.

In each of the above scenarios, how could the US's perceived ability to amass a critical mass of combat strength in the INDOPACOM AOR influence China's decision-making?
What could the US do in the short, medium, and long term to better leverage assets outside the area and get a timely response?

Your answer could be:

The best way to position resources around the world
Important limitation of logistical weak points (fuel, spare parts, etc.)
The impact of advances in manufacturing / production (e.g., localized 3D printing)
Technologies / capabilities that could "hide" the movement of ships, aircraft and ground forces

Nonkinetic attacks : Cyber ​​and electronic war attacks against military and civilian units can prove to be just as damaging in the future as rocket volleys. States can potentially open a second front in conflict by targeting physical and electronic infrastructure, commercial businesses, individuals and their personal networks.

How could the PRC use cyber and electronic attacks against the US and Taiwan in each of the scenarios described above?
What short, medium, and long-term steps could the US take to better defend itself against these threats?

Your reply could be addressing

The most critical risks and vulnerabilities in each scenario
The basic tools, skills and processes required to counter these risks
How can a flexible response between military and civil sectors be coordinated?

Operation in contested areas : Between missile forces and more conventional platforms, China is actively building the ability to attack and attack US military units operating almost everywhere in the Asia-Pacific region. In a future conflict, the nation's primary expeditionary force, the U.S. Marine Corps, must operate across the AOR while staying within range of Chinese weapons.

What short, medium, and long-term steps could the USMC take to successfully fend off lower-level aggression or engage Chinese forces in open conflict?

Your reply could be addressing

Offensive skills required to fight effectively with Chinese armed forces
Defense skills required to avoid detection or to defend against precise missile attacks
Required shifts to USMC, Navy, and Joint Force doctrines

The Role of High-End Platforms : The US military has invested billions of dollars in a small number of high-end weapon systems to keep the tide of future conflicts turn. However, as we have heard repeatedly throughout this course, the Chinese military has deliberately acquired skills to attack and defeat these platforms long before they get within range of the attacking Chinese armed forces.

Welchen Wert würde der aktuelle US-Bestand an High-End-Schiffen, Flugzeugen und anderen Plattformen in jedem der oben beschriebenen Szenarien hinzufügen?
Wie könnten die USA langfristig sicherstellen, dass sie die Art von Offensivkraft projizieren können, die erforderlich ist, um die chinesischen Streitkräfte zurückzudrängen?

Ihre Antwort könnte adressieren

Neue Plattformen / Angriffsfunktionen, die möglicherweise erforderlich sind
Änderungen an Betriebslehren oder -taktiken
Möglichkeiten, vorhandene Plattformen anders zu nutzen oder überlebensfähiger zu machen

Allianzen: Jeder Konflikt mit China würde auch langjährige US-Verbündete im asiatisch-pazifischen Raum und anderswo betreffen. Die Partnerländer könnten sehen, dass ihre eigenen Militärs und Heimatländer denselben Bedrohungen und Herausforderungen ausgesetzt sind, denen sich die Vereinigten Staaten gegenübersehen würden.

Wie könnten die USA in jedem der oben genannten Szenarien regionale Allianzen und Partnerschaften nutzen?
Wie könnten die USA sicherstellen, dass Verbündete und Partner in INDOPACOM und anderswo die chinesische Macht und ihre Ambitionen besser in Einklang bringen können?

Ihre Antwort könnte adressieren

Die verschiedenen offensiven oder defensiven Fähigkeiten, die wichtige Verbündete und Partner erwerben müssten, um der chinesischen Militärmacht wirksam entgegenzuwirken
Die operative Rolle der wichtigsten Verbündeten und Partner sollte bereit sein, in zukünftigen Konflikten eine Rolle zu spielen
Wie man Verbündete und Partner von der dringenden Notwendigkeit überzeugt, sich an das aktuelle strategische Umfeld anzupassen

Soft Power PRC-Initiativen wie One Belt One Road nutzen den diplomatischen und wirtschaftlichen Einfluss auf der ganzen Welt, um militärische und sicherheitspolitische Interessen zu fördern. Jeder Streit mit den Vereinigten Staaten im asiatisch-pazifischen Raum würde wahrscheinlich auf andere Bereiche des Wettbewerbs übergreifen.

Wie könnte die VR China in jedem der oben genannten Szenarien den Zugang zu globaler Infrastruktur, kommerziellen Märkten und Finanzressourcen nutzen?
Wie könnten die USA dieser Taktik entgegenwirken?

Ihre Antwort könnte adressieren

Wie China wichtige wirtschaftliche, finanzielle und diplomatische Schwachstellen ausnutzen kann, mit denen die USA in einem globalen, miteinander verbundenen System konfrontiert sind
Wie Technologie in diplomatischen, Informations- und Wirtschaftsbereichen eingesetzt werden könnte, um chinesischen Bemühungen entgegenzuwirken
Erforderliche Partnerschaften mit dem privaten Sektor oder zwischen dem Verteidigungsministerium und anderen Regierungsbehörden

Abschreckung: Ein zentrales Thema dieses Kurses war die Notwendigkeit, in die richtigen Fähigkeiten zu investieren, um zukünftige Konflikte abzuschrecken und zu verhindern. Angesichts der Tatsache, dass die künftige Kriegsführung Aktivitäten umfassen kann, die von Cyberangriffen bis hin zu konventionellen Streiks gegen das US-Heimatland reichen, kann die Verhinderung von Konflikten ein grundlegend neues Verständnis der Abschreckung erfordern.

Könnten die USA Chinas Entscheidungskalkül in jedem der drei oben genannten Szenarien grundlegend geändert haben?
Was könnten die USA kurz-, mittel- und langfristig tun, um ein Verständnis von Abschreckung wirksam zum Ausdruck zu bringen?

Ihre Antwort könnte sich an


Die spezifischen Fähigkeiten und Beschäftigungsstrategien, die erforderlich sind, um gegenseitige Zwangslagen für die chinesischen Streitkräfte zu schaffen
Wie kann die Art und Weise und die Bedingungen, unter denen die USA bereit wären zu reagieren, klar zum Ausdruck gebracht werden (d. H. Wie würden die USA auf einen staatlich geförderten Cyberangriff reagieren?)
Richtlinien zur Klärung von Fähigkeiten mit ethischen Auswirkungen, wie künstliche Intelligenz oder autonome Systeme

Lessons Learned

Erfindung und Innovation sind verschiedene Dinge

Erfindung hat eine Idee
Es wird erst dann zu einer Innovation, wenn es in großem Maßstab entwickelt und eingesetzt wird

Das Hindernis für Innovation und Akzeptanz ist die Gestaltung von Organisationen

Wir brauchen eine andere Organisation, um eine schnelle Einführung zu ermöglichen

Diese neue Organisation muss:

Innovation messen
Innovation belohnen
Schaffen Sie eine spezielle Innovationstruppe, um die Akzeptanz zu fördern und zu erleichtern


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Source References: Steve Blank | Entrepreneurship and Innovation