Editors note: Scott Capps is a technical sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. He has twelve years of service, five with the intelligence community. Thomas Pochedly is a Seaman with the U.S. Navy with two years of service. As leaders in the U.S. military’s innovation initiatives, Scott and Thomas were selected to intern with Fieldwire for six weeks. Their goal was to immerse themselves in the startup culture, and think of ways the startup culture can be used to improve the military. As their time with Fieldwire came to a close, they wrote a brief post outlining how their time with Fieldwire will benefit the U.S. military.
Turning the spotlight on innovation
Across the Department of Defense there is recognition that innovation will be key to our future success. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, at a recent briefing held in Silicon Valley, said “the impact of innovation from high-tech companies will continue to grow at the Defense Department,” and a recent Foreign Policy article points out that, “Only this summer is the U.S. Navy expected to upgrade from Windows XP, an operating system long since scrubbed from home computers.” The point is not lost on those of us in the service. The push towards innovation, and a better relationship with innovators in Silicon Valley, is long overdue.
Bridging the gap
An increased focus on innovation and commitment to creating a culture of innovation within the service is working. In partnership with technology accelerators, such as MD5, the Department of Defense (DoD) is starting to see results in their efforts to build a culture of innovation.
MD5, a national security technology accelerator for defence innovation, works with branches of the U.S. military to connect service members with the tools and skills they need to bring innovation to their Command. MD5 acts as a bridge between the military and their partners in the private sector, including startups and academia. MD5 bridges a gap between the private sector and the military, and this is crucial in helping to build the innovation culture. While MD5 administers several other innovation initiatives, it was their Innovation Fellowship that brought us to Fieldwire.
Innovation Fellowship creates culture of innovation
The purpose of the Innovation Fellowship is to place service members into startup companies for a six week fellowship. Service members are immersed in the startup culture, they learn what makes a startup successful, and they can take those lessons back to their Command to grow the culture of innovation. For six weeks, Scott and I worked within the marketing department of Fieldwire. Scott, with his background in software, focused on front-end web development and content management. I focused on event marketing and content management. While we both considered ourselves innovators prior to attending the fellowship, we definitely learned new things by immersing ourselves in Fieldwire. Without a doubt, we both left the fellowship with a plethora of new ideas and best practices to take back to our Commands. In that way, MD5 brought a lot of value.
While we are pleased with the progress the DoD has made so far in its innovation initiatives, we know that we still have a long way to go before innovation is fully ingrained in our culture. Cultural shifts take time and persistent, consistent effort from many people, but it will happen. In the Navy, one area that I am particularly interested in looking at is the Chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell. At the Command level, I believe that we could make Rapid Innovation Cell a collateral duty — in other words, creating time within the work week specifically for sailors to focus on innovation . We already have collateral duties for Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions (CSADD), Diversity Committee, Seabee Ball Committee, and many others. Why not create a collateral to encourage innovation?
The Air Force has been extremely open-minded when it comes to considering change to existing processes or innovative ways to solve problems. I believe we need to invest more into our task management processes such as documenting and tracking what has been accomplished and items that need to be completed, similar to how Fieldwire’s platform works to streamline task management for the construction industry. Most of my mission partners are outside of my organization and I cannot simply walk to their office or drive to their building; this makes it really difficult to convey exact specifications in a timely manner. Upon returning to my unit I am going to take a look in how we share our tasks and subsequently, the thought processes that coincide with each task.
Collaboration with the Military
Fieldwire was proud to partner with MD5 on this program, and look forward to similar initiatives in the future. As always, if you’re a veteran, especially with construction or software experience, we’re always hiring, and all proceeds from the Fieldwire online store go directly to Hire Heroes, a non-profit with the mission of “Transforming Military Service into Civilian Success”.