Military Review English Edition July-August 2014 - Page 50

Much of our time as military professionals is taken up with our jobs. Nonetheless, some of us seek ways to look beyond today’s activities and toward understanding the true nature of war. We look for ways to develop ourselves so we can play our part in meeting the needs of our Nation. Mechanisms such as the Militärische Gesellschaft and the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum provide an outlet for such self-development. At the same time, they tie us closer to networks of people who can help us along the path of development, helping us improve our profession and ourselves. Overcoming the Antibody Response to Innovation In 1902, a young U.S. Naval officer serving in the Far East came across a British technique for providing continuously aimed naval gunfire onboard a rolling ship deck.12 His name was Lt. William Sims. Before this, U.S. naval gunners would wait for the sea to readjust the elevation of the guns, and they would time the firing of the guns as well as they could. Recognizing the importance of a continuous-fire capability, Sims learned all he could about the British technique. He sent the findings back to the Navy leadership, ultimately providing 13 written reports as he gradually refined his technique. After his final report, the Bureau of Ordnance responded with a terse message saying that it had shown conclusively that his techniques were unworkable. Not to be deterred, Sims persisted, eventually sending a letter to President Theodore Roosevelt. Fortunately for Lt. Sims, Roosevelt was a naval enthusiast and was actively seeking ways to promote U.S. sea power abroad. Saving the impetuous Lt. Sims from almost certain court martial at the hands of the Navy, President Roosevelt demanded an objective test of the Navy’s long-range gunnery skills. In short order the test revealed the necessity of adopting Lt. Sims’ technique, and the young officer was appointed the “inspector of target practice” for the Naval Gunnery School. Through a shrewd use of competition during training, over several years Lt. Sims instituted the practice of “continuous aim firing” throughout the U.S. Navy—which no doubt had a tremendous influence on its ability to confront the German Navy in the North Atlantic at the start of World War I. Lieutenants corresponding directly with their commander in chief about service-related problems 48 certainly would not represent a desirable method of institutional reform. Nonetheless, the example of Lt. Sims demonstrates that our best ideas often are found at the lowest echelons of the organization, where junior professionals see the consequences of inefficiency on a daily basis. The bureaucracy, despite the best intentions of well-meaning people, often will react to these disruptive innovations with a sort of “antibody response” because the innovations naturally threaten the specialization and efficiencies that make that bureaucracy stable and successful. The solution then is not letters to the President but peripheral networks such as the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum where ideas can be developed, refined, critiqued—and sometimes discarded—until the very best thinking emerges in a competitive marketplace of ideas. Sufficiently incubated, proposals arising in this way can then inform programmatic decisions within the institution. Unlike Silicon Valley, where the marketplace would provide developmental support for innovative startups, no similar support exists for military innovation. To continue to thrive in a complex world, the military needs to retain dedicated professionals who can promote change from within the organization. The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum seeks to be one of many forums committed to this effort. Created, funded, and run completely by junior officers outside their official duties, this organization aims to support its members’ desires to innovate within their areas of expertise, not to network for access to government contracts or advocate for parochial interests within the DOD budget. For example, some of the solutions from the weekend in Chicago included the development of a suicide prevention application, a social media assessment tool for professional military education, and an innovative approach to certifying military nurses in patient care. While not all of these ideas ma 䁉