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4 Lessons Learned Through Pentagon Innovations

In terms of creating “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” (BHAGs) and developing an indisputable culture, there are few organizations that rival Pentagon innovations. Since the Department of Defense’s (DoD) innovations are the difference between life and death for servicemen and women, the creative process b

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
4 min read
Pentagon innovations and DOD innovations are important
Pentagon innovations and DOD innovations are important

In terms of creating “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” (BHAGs) and developing an indisputable culture, there are few organizations that rival Pentagon innovations. Since the Department of Defense's (DoD) innovations are the difference between life and death for servicemen and women, the creative process becomes important. As a result, this high-pressure creative environment produces some incredible innovations at an astounding rate. With its reputation as a world leader in forwarding progress and military technology, there are several valuable lessons to be learned through this example.

Below, we’ll examine four of the DoD’s recent innovations to improve our own creative processes.

Pentagon Innovations Independent Research

Recently, the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) partnered with Harvard Biodesign Lab to work on soft robotic suits. Although civilian uses are still theoretical, the medical uses for soft robotics have proven to be many. They use soft robotics in the medical field to treat joint and muscular issues, as well as neurological disorders while using the patient’s body as naturally as possible. The soft exosuits are on the cutting-edge of innovative tech: providing wearable devices that improve the lives of those who use them.

The takeaway, of course, is that innovations can greatly benefit from the partnership of institutions and independent research labs. While the DoD focused on designing exoskeletons for soldiers in urban warfare, the smaller lab found and exploited a way to use the same technological concepts in the medical industry. Sharing research and allowing another set of eyes to consider further possibilities for their tech is one of the innovative concepts used by the Pentagon. Private research pushed Pentagon innovations even further simply because they invited fresh minds to apply their own creative processes to the technology in question.

Setting Audacious Goals

Another example of the DoD’s commitment to improving technology is the effort they funded the advanced robotics consortium founded by Carnegie-Mellon University of Pittsburgh, PA. With the help of the Pentagon, state governments, and private partners, the robotics innovation think tank received $172 Million in assorted funding, plus $80 Million in federal funds.

This kind of funding allows researchers to pursue their BHAGs with genuine hopes of making progress. Thus, the Pentagon has ensured a commitment to further innovation in robotics and robotics manufacturing. Some goals that have been set include reducing the capital costs of robotics, repurposing robotics on a more efficient scale, and increasing the safety of robotics so that human operators can work with them. These goals are far from fruition in the world of modern robotics, but with the help of the Pentagon and other backers, these BHAGs are pursued freely.

The government’s belief in research consortiums like this is a great example of the law of leadership in action. It contrasts with the attitude that MBA-styled leadership portrays and allows researchers to think in big, broad, audacious terms of success. *For more on the attitude of thinking small and how it kills innovation, check out Killer Innovations.

Repurposing Technology

The drone is one of the most well-known battlefield innovations of the last 20 years. Not only is it an indispensable tool for the military, however. Commercial drones have become an innovation of the private sector, building upon the military technology to provide services and tools used in construction, building inspections, search and rescue, and more.

Many innovations to this technology have occurred beyond the military's research and development facilities. Civilian markets require different capabilities and so the private market has stretched the technology, adding useful abilities like automated object avoidance and target following. Of course, the military has found its own uses for these improvements and looks to the private sector for small innovations they can repurpose for military operations.

This is one of the key benefits of significant innovation systems. While the Pentagon innovates high-tech pilotless flight technology, the private market adds to them in order to create commercial products. Pentagon innovations further the product for improved military success. Innovation requires active processes involving more than one group of people. The growth of drone technology shows how the government and private corporations can work together. And finally, businesses can learn that repurposing an innovation often helps refine it for its original intent.

Partnering with Educational Institutions

Colleges are an important part of military culture. Each branch has a great university that trains officers and other specialized members of the armed services. But, one school showcases the power of partnership between businesses and educational institutions. This institution is the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC).

While other institutions create officers within a branch, the DLIFLC is a cross-branch junior college. It was founded as a result of America's need for Japanese-speaking military members during WWII. The language institute provides language learning for all the branches of the armed service, as well as for other government and law enforcement agencies. It employs 1,800 instructors, is accredited as a junior college, and grants Associates Degrees.

Beyond its impressive curriculum, the DLIFLC shows cooperation between branches of the government and educational establishments. Initializing similar relationships is a great idea for innovation in the private sector. Seek out long-term connections with educational institutions and utilize the highly-educated people that come out of the system. These new employees will be trained in specific skill sets and possess the kind of mindset necessary to pursue further innovation.

In short, use independent research to increase creativity, set the highest goals you can base on the resources you have, repurpose old innovative products with new processes, and collaborate with educational and nonprofit organizations to provide training. These tools will push your innovative process over the edge, helping you aim high while taking advantage of the wider world of innovation around you.

What are some of your processes of innovation? For information on innovation audits, consulting, and creative collaboration, contact me today.

CultureLeadershipbhagCarnegie-Mellon UniversityDepartment of DefenseDLIFLCeducation governmentInnovationinspirationkiller innovation

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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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