MARCH 1, 2016, MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. – The Marine Corps wants to be more innovative. Yes, the organization that has a rich history of innovation is trying to strengthen its culture of innovation across the force and not just on the battlefield or in a crisis. Marine Corps leaders recognize that in order to meet the challenges of future operating environments and face enemies that don’t follow the traditional rules of warfare the Corps must find a way to harness the untapped cognitive and creative abilities of its Marines, Sailors, and civilians.
Nearly 200 innovative and disruptive thinkers from the private sector, across the Department of Defense and academia came together at the Marine Corps’ Force Development 25 Innovation Symposium to help the Corps jump start the change.
The symposium brought inventors, authors, historians, academicians, and leaders to share their knowledge, experiences, and advice on growing a greater culture of innovation.
Dean Kamen, a noted and prolific inventor talked about the challenges he faced creating new and innovative technologies and about the difficulties in affecting change.
As a sobering reminder of how difficult innovation is, he outlined some “Rude Reminders” he learned the hard way. Among them is the idea that “Great technology alone rarely constitutes innovation.” This sentiment was reinforced by the symposium co-lead.
“If we’re going to become more innovative and if we’re going to innovate for what’s next, the discussions that we have are typically not technology focused,” said Capt. Chris Wood, the co-lead for 3D printing for Deputy Commandant, Installations and Logistics. “They are focused on having the right culture so that people are more comfortable with change.”
To remove barriers to open discussion and collaboration participants attended in civilian attire and were encouraged to “leave their rank at the door” so that they could work more easily with each other and on the same level.
The importance of this innovation cultural change across the service is that it is not limited to a specific unit or paygrade.
“When you show people that change doesn’t have to happen at the higher levels or even necessarily in the commandant’s office, but happens between a couple folks, it doesn’t matter what rank they are as long as they are willing to step out of the box,” said Wood. “That to me is a big impact on the Marine Corps.”
One of the invited keynote speakers, Petty Officer First Class Richard Walsh, is an example of this. As an avionics technician AT1 Walsh developed an innovative software program that has greatly improved readiness of F/A-18s at Naval Air Station Oceana. Walsh is also a member of the Chief of Naval Operations’ Rapid Innovation Cell.
In addition to harnessing the cognitive and creative abilities from across the force, the symposium was also designed to get participants to approach the challenges from unique perspectives.
“We’re trying to get people to think beyond the box and beyond the constraints that our system has today,” said Cmdr. Donald Brant Brockett, the unmanned systems military director at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division.
Events like this demonstrate how Marines who are not usually in positions of power can provide insight and a fresh perspective, according to Wood. The symposium also demonstrated how change and innovation depend on the inventiveness of both individuals and units.
“Eighteen-year-olds understand the implications of technology and what’s needed for the future to a much deeper and richer extent than the current generation of people that are making the decisions,” said Wood. “That requires that the people that make the decisions be directly engaging with the people that know what decisions need to be made for the future force.”
The Warfighting Lab is not stopping with this symposium. Follow-on workshops, additional symposiums, and a collaborative portal are being developed and planned even now. The initial gathering at the Force Development 25 Innovation Symposium is intended to be the genesis of a much larger and active network of innovative and disruptive thinkers across the force.