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CHIPS Articles: Innovation needed to maintain overmatch

Innovation needed to maintain overmatch
By David Vergun - January 2, 2018
WASHINGTON --- The Army must build a culture of innovation or risk obsolescence, said Lt. Gen. Edward C. Cardon.

"We're slowly losing our overmatch and we're losing our competitive advantage, becoming outgunned, outranged, etc.," he said. "What that means is over time, readiness will degrade."

Cardon, director of the Office of Business Transformation, spoke at the 2017 Association of the U.S. Army's Annual Meeting and Exposition.

There are two types of innovation, incremental and disruptive, he said. For years, the Army has incrementally improved upon its existing equipment with upgrades.

However, that approach has come against the law of diminishing returns, he said, referencing that to vehicles and aircraft.

What's needed is a shot of disruptive innovation, he said.

An example of disruptive innovation, Cardon illustrated, would be "a 10-times rifle [with] 10 times the stopping power, 10 times the range, 10 times the ammunition."

Imagine the firepower of an attack helicopter wielded by an infantry Soldier, he continued.

In other words, disruptive innovation is a completely different way of thinking about something, he said.

The Army has always been an innovative organization, he said. Most notably have been innovations that have come out of the wars. And, a lot of that innovation has come from the lower ranks, when innovation has been measured in lives saved.

How to unleash all of that innovation today?

Robin Swan, Cardon's deputy, explained that there's no shortage of great ideas. "But if you can't share them with decision makers, they die on the vine."

The entire Army culture needs to change in order for innovation to take hold, Swan said.

The current culture is risk averse, he said. "The Army doesn't prize failure."

For instance, a program manager is not rewarded for delivering a failed program so the PM acts in a risk-averse manner, avoiding what might be a promising approach with high rewards but high risk, he said.

An approach might be to set aside a portion of the budget toward high reward, high risk strategies in certain critical areas, he said. Even failed attempts can be learning experiences with new ideas built upon them.

Another approach to fostering innovation is through talent management --- getting the right team in the right place at the right time — combined with an incentive program, he said.

The reward doesn't necessarily have to be monetary, although that could be effective. An innovator, he said, could receive recognition from top Army leaders, perhaps at a large event like the Army birthday or AUSA.

Finally, he said Soldiers and Army civilians need encouragement from their leaders. Encouragement to try something even if it means failure.

Swan said that everyone can get involved in innovation, even if they don't work in a research lab.

When people think about innovation in the Army, they think of materiel solutions, he said. But innovation can also be in such areas as information technology, leader development, doctrine and organizational structure.

Cardon added that too many people think that innovation means saving money or cutting jobs. He said the Army chief of staff said innovation should be measured in improved lethality and overmatch.

The general concluded that leaders often are not as proficient as the people they're leading. Getting the right leaders who realize they might not have all the answers to create an environment of innovation is what's needed, he said. Otherwise, these talented men and women will leave the Army and go to industry or academia where they're ideas are valued.

Recent Innovation Efforts

The Army launched three efforts to innovate within the past year.

In October, the Office of Business Transformation released its "Army Innovation Strategy 2017-2021."

Jennifer Mootz, a strategist with the office, said the strategy is a five year plan designed to change the culture by increasing tolerance for failure by rewarding experimentation, prudent risk taking and learning from mistakes.

The strategy also will target the way the Army plans and programs resources to better support innovation, and look for ways to generate ideas from the total force, she said.

About a year ago, the Army launched Army Ideas for Innovation, or AI2, a digital crowdsourcing program that solicits ideas for how the Army can become more innovative.

Any member of the Department of Defense community with a Common Access Card can participate. AI2 is located at

Once posted, the idea is crowdsourced for a period of two weeks, she said. During that period, participants can add their inputs and vote up or down on the idea.

At the end of that period, the idea goes to a functional moderator at the headquarters level. For example, if the idea involves logistics, it goes to the logistics moderator. The same holds true for finance, human resources, installations, training, security, communications and other communities. But an idea can sometimes cross communities, Mootz said, and in such a case, the communities will approach the idea collaboratively.

Finally, the new U.S. Army Futures Command with its eight cross-functional teams, or CFTs, will provide the unity of effort and command needed to reduce the requirements development process from 60 months down to around 12, Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper told lawmakers during a Senate Armed Services Committee, Dec. 7.

The process for getting requirements met will be streamlined, he said, consisting of an iterative process including prototype development; demonstration and testing; and evaluation.

If the evaluation results in failure, then that three-step cycle will be repeated until a successful outcome is obtained, followed by production and fielding decisions, he said.

Success, he added, could just be getting to the 80 percent solution.

For more information, visit:
Army Research Lab
Army News Service

A Soldier cuts a sheet of steel for up-armoring vehicles in Kuwait early in the war in Iraq. Lt. Gen. Edward C. Cardon said innovations like this often come from the lower ranks and war has been an incubator of innovation. Photo Credit: Army
Lt. Gen. Edward C. Cardon, director of the Office of Business Transformation, addresses innovation at the Association of the U.S. Army's 2017 Annual Meeting and Exposition. Photo Credit: screen capture
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