Innovating Innovation in the U.S. Department of Defense Looking to Large Corporations for Inspiration

Published in: Journal of Management Policy and Practice, Volume 22, No. 4 (2021). doi: 10.33423/jmpp.v22i4.4840

by John Birkler, Paul Bracken, Gordon T. Lee

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In recent years U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) leaders have become increasingly interested in identifying ways to create a culture, policies, and processes throughout the department that yield more innovation than today's environment produces. Many definitions of innovation that the policy community has used, however, have not been clear or intellectually rigorous. Common belief holds that "the bureaucracy" will take charge of the innovation process, with DoD organizing around what are effectively technologies, rather than missions or defeating the enemy. But this paper argues that this approach could hamper U.S. technological performance. The authors propose an alternative innovation framework, one that is policy-oriented, that draws from contemporary commercial practices, and that helps policymakers determine where and when to invest in innovations. In addition, the authors argue that the challenges facing the DoD are closer to those of large companies than to those faced by agile small startups. They conclude by proposing that it is to the DoD examine ways that large companies incorporate AI, IoT and analytics to obtain practical lessons.

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