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Military Organizational Culture Fights Innovation

January 30, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The military needs innovation more than ever, but it is less equipped to take advantage of it by nature of its structure. Overcoming that institutional inertia will be absolutely essential for the military to meet its mission needs against the backdrop of severe budget cuts.

The importance of defense innovation was the focus of a Wednesday morning panel discussion at AFCEA/USNI West 2013 in San Diego. Rear Adm. Terry B. Kraft, USN, commander of the Navy Warfare Development Command, set the tone for his fellow panelists when he pointed out that large organizations find it difficult to embrace innovation, as they prefer stability to change.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., USMC, Marine Corps representative to the Quadrennial Defense Review, allowed that military organizations are hierarchal—and hierarchal organizations tend to punish those who challenge the hierarchy, such as innovators. He added that people innovate when they feel threatened. The Marine Corps constantly feels threatened organizationally, so it often turns to innovation.

Adm. Kraft noted that the military used to drive innovation. Now that role is performed by the private sector. The admiral called for making innovation a culture that will empower change.

Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, USN, chief of naval research/director, innovation, technology requirements and test and evaluation, called for using innovation to turn the tables on adversaries. The days of developing multimillion-dollar systems to counter adversaries with inexpensive asymmetric systems are gone, he posited. Instead, the U.S. military should counter them with inexpensive innovations.

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