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A full replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton stands in the entrance of Google Corporation's headquarters in Mountain View, California. Its jaw is open as it leans forward, stretching 36 feet from tail to nose. It looks every bit the hunter that we know from the movies. As intimidating as the T-Rex is, though, the joke’s on him. Google uses the extinct animal as a reminder that we must “innovate or die.”
Innovation is a skill that service members and veterans can develop with training. It’s not genius, luck, or unique to Silicon Valley. It’s something at which we can each get better, whether we’re adapting to the 21st century security environment or the global economy.
In the same way that service members and veterans train to become better soldiers, sailors, airmen, or Marines, they can train to become better innovators. Innovation is not a flash of brilliance, doesn’t have to be expensive, and it’s not the secret sauce of select companies in Silicon Valley. Innovation is a skill that anyone can develop. It’s the activity of rapid experimentation with a clear measure of improvement.
In his 1967 work “Inside Bureaucracy,” Anthony Downs gives the Law of Increasing Conserverism, which states, “In every bureau, there is an inherent pressure upon the vast majority of officials to become conservers in the long run… conservers tend to be biased against any change in the status quo.”
In a May interview with the Washington Post, retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal recommended the military place corporate superstars into military positions of authority. Similar ideas have been presented that apply this disruption to the lower ranks as well. Carl Forsling recommended giving junior officers the opportunity to take a sabbatical. These plans are good, but they don’t address how these scenarios would play out in the real world. For instance, would these business superstars leave after achieving what they came to do and take all of their expertise with them? How would you ensure that the junior officers would add value after their sabbatical?
It seems almost everyone thinks they’re the smartest and most innovative person in the room. Oftentimes, the same people who claim to have the best ideas are the same ones who complain about how nothing ever changes. As with everything in life, in the military there’s a big difference between saying something and actually doing something.