Disrupting Acquisition Blog

Anonymous Innovator Series: Be Innovative or Get Promoted, Pick One.

by Aug 6, 2019Anonymous Innovator, Mindset4 comments

In the fantasy lands of Disney and HBO, normal citizens regularly rise above their lowly positions to rule kingdoms and don regal crowns. In the real world known as the Department of Defense, this Ned Stark is truly more rare than Cinderella’s glass slipper. Not for his thoughts and experience, but that his innovative and outside-of-the-box actions were actually rewarded.

 

We know there are others out there who are also being proactive, challenging the status-quo, and bringing fresh ideas and actions to their organizations. Sadly, we also know that there are too many good people who are being punished or driven away, and that their passion is being extinguished by bad managers and the Frozen Middle. This is not only unfortunate for the individual, but truly devastating to the entire Department and mission as our competitors gain edge.

 

This prompted our team to consider: How can we help keep the fire alive? What other voices need to be heard? What other efforts to launch innovation are being squashed before they see the light of day? Who else is struggling in isolation without realizing they are one of many in a much larger (seemingly invisible) population?

 

Today we are launching the Anonymous Innovators Series! This series features guest blogs from those of you in the front lines who are courageous enough to share what it’s really like in the trenches. To protect their careers, identities will be anonymous and identifying details will be removed.

 

Interested in sharing your story? Contact us at accelerate@mitre.org!

Submitted by: The Traveler

Photo courtesy of Skitterphoto

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could”
– Robert Frost

 As the famous poem by Robert Frost suggests, I too am at a crossroads.

I am a member of a ‘rank and file’ institution. I am a service member in a world of hierarchical structure and traditional values. I am also an innovator and a disruptor.

This dichotomy of personality has served me well in my 16 year career; however, as I seek to move forward, I am confronted with two paths.

The worn path leads me back to operations. It presents an opportunity to lead other members of my organization through daily mission objectives in the traditional environment. For those before me who have realized military career success by walking the traditional path, they urge me in that direction. These mentors and leaders want what’s best for me. They see my potential to do great things and want to set me up for promotion and a larger scope of influence in order to have greater impact. They are operators in an operation-centric environment. This path is familiar and they know this path for it is how they achieved success.

Through their lens, this is THE path.

But as the poem goes, I have looked down that path as far as I could…and cannot see a future for me there.

As grateful as I am for their guidance, I can’t help but be drawn to the path less traveled by.

As our service leaders become more aware of our growing need for faster acquisition and better capabilities to retain our global superiority, they have called for deliberate innovative efforts from the force. For the last 2 years, I have run an office to address that call and it has changed me and what I value. I have built networks and gained friendships that I would have never had the opportunity to do if I had followed the traditional path. I have learned skills, like lean methodology and human-centered design, that have influenced how I look at the world. These skills have enabled me to teach others how to think differently and how to apply those lessons to find better solutions to their problems.

The innovation path is still new and has been met with some trepidation throughout the services; however, I am positive that the great things and larger impact my mentors and leaders want for me can be achieved down this path as well.  This path will be difficult and is filled with extreme uncertainty. It will require me to be more vocal about the vision and more convincing that they trust my instincts. It means frustration, fear, and dogged determination that in the end I know is worth it.

I am an outlier in an organization that values tradition and mission. That’s not to say I don’t value those things, but there are many who are willing to follow the known path; it is well-traveled after all.

There are few who are willing to bypass “sure success” to follow a vision at the risk of being called quixotic or foolish. I am willing to do so in order to pursue change that our services desperately need to stay on the cutting edge and ahead of our adversaries. For me, the reward of realizing that vision far outweighs the risk.  It is imperative to our success as a force that we achieve the vision, and I am ready for the challenges that lie ahead. In my heart I know this is MY path.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
Hoping to make all the difference.”

4 Comments

  1. The Adapter

    Truly accurate depictions of our services as a whole today, despite the numerous calls to “embrace innovation”. I believe the DoD is on the path to culture change, but unfortunately the extensive amount of time it will take for this culture change to fully go into effect causes higher risks.

    • Jennifer Choi

      @The Adapter, thanks for commenting and agreed that culture change does take time…

  2. denpobedy

    I’m on this path, but coming from the outside, banging on doors, trying to wake people up, to no avail.

    • Jennifer Choi

      Hi @denpobedy! Interested in sharing more of your experience?

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