Innovation is Mandatory. Yes, Ma’am!

For a lot of innovation leaders this is a simple fact. We tend to think, of course, that our current employees are innovative. Or course our company and it’s business unit leaders want to innovate! Why else would we be here if they didn’t? Our products are innovative, aren’t they? But as many of us run into during our careers, that’s not always the case. Innovation is often a fad that travels into, through, and back out of Fortune 500 and large nonprofits. When innovation is seen as a fad, that is often from a lack of discipline in the organization. As I write about in my new book, IGNITE: Setting your Organization’s Culture on Fire with Innovation, innovation is a process with detailed action steps, RACI’s, discipline, and a stage gated approach. Much akin to the same detailed process that built that B54 bomber in the photo above. That’s why it always excites us to see someone known for discipline and rigor take up the hunt for innovative people, products, process and culture.

I was excited recently to see that the DIUX was setting up shop in Austin, TX. What is the DIUX you ask? It stands for Defense Innovation Unit Experimental.

And it is just that: an “experiment.” According to their site they continuously iterate on how best to identify, contract, and prototype novel innovations through sources traditionally not available to the Department of Defense (DOD), with the ultimate goal of accelerating technology into the hands of the men and women in uniform. Sound a bit like our Test and Learn mantra, doesn’t it? Secretary of Defense Ash Carter explains it a little better:

“I created DIUx last year because one of my core goals as secretary of defense has been to build, and in some cases rebuild, the bridges between our national security endeavor at the Pentagon and America’s wonderfully innovative and open technology community.”

If you look at the history of government and private technology company partnerships (as we did with Lockheed Martin and NASA in our book) there have been some big successes. Such as the internet (yes, the actual internet), GPS and years before that, communication satellites, the jet engine, all to benefit both our society and our security. It seems that in recent years that open collaboration around innovation has been lacking. In fact according to this, Secretary Ash was the first Secretary of Defense to visit Silicon Valley in almost 20 years!

In opening the Austin branch of DIUX, the military is not only looking for talent on the East or West coast, but it tapping into the amazing innovation work done by the tech community in Austin. And as it looks across process, product, technology and culture in Austin, it’s not leaving out our people. Austin will be a hub for the Defense Digital Service, which brings in technologists ranging from large companies like Google, to startups like Shopify, for what they call a tour of duty. These are talented and innovative people who are coming into DOD just for a year or two, maybe one project. But they make a lasting contribution to the DOD mission, and also experience being part of something bigger than themselves. Sounds just like the type of thing Austinites are looking for to challenge themselves. In the meantime you can learn more here.

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