Monday, August 12, 2013

Innovation and Lean Startups in the World’s Largest Bureaucracy: DEF2013

In his 2011 work The Lean Startup, serial entrepreneur Eric Ries describes a method for successful entrepreneurship that stresses the importance of rapid iteration over extensive planning, adaptive learning over causal logic, and getting an idea into the hands of end users well before it is completely validated.  While this technique was considered innovative and ground breaking in the business world, Ries’s approach to problem solving should seem very familiar to Marine leaders. 

The oft quoted mantra “the 80% solution executed violently and on time is better than the 100% solution executed too late” is Reis’s theory in action.  The best planners and leaders understand that while a well thought out scheme of maneuver is the first step to any operation, no plan survives contact with the enemy.  The ability to adapt to a changing situation (or in business speak to “iterate and learn”) is just as important as the ability to create the “perfect plan”.  The business world and the Marine Corps are closer than both would like to admit, and we can certainly learn from each other.

It is with that in mind that we invite all interested Marines, Sailors, and like-minded individuals to the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (, a conference to be held at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business over Columbus Day Weekend. The conference will bring together individuals who want to explore and accelerate their ideas with the assistance of business school faculty, seasoned entrepreneurs, successful investors, and senior military officers.

While Ries’s methodology is just one example of the wave of entrepreneurial thought that the emerging generation of civilian private sector leaders has embraced, most Marines would agree that we have used this adaptive learning philosophy throughout our Corps’ history.  Examples of recent Marine innovations include the development of Female Engagement Team (FET), which became an official Marine Corps program and was adopted by the Army. The Harvest HAWK, a cargo plane with a payload of missiles bolted onto its wing, is an instance of developing an inexpensive close air support platform quickly to provide support to ground forces.  Another example would be squadron pilots inventing a system to use iPads to view the over 1000 paper map sheets covering the Helmand Valley, all for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars less than a contractor would charge.  These and hundreds of other innovations, both technical and non-technical in nature, are key to our success as an organization, especially considering that fiscal cutbacks are likely to eviscerate our operational budgets over the next decade.     

A member of a USMC Female Engagement Team (FET)

We are organizing DEF2013 with other junior and former military officers from across the services because we have seen the utility of innovation at the unit level and its outsized impact on our organization as a whole. Results such as FETs and the Harvest HAWK must become more of a standard than an exception. We are not seeking to disrupt the military, but rather trying to figure out how we can foster best practices, like the lean startup methodology, from the civilian sector to our military units. This is particularly critical as we shift away from twelve years of sustained combat operations into a peacetime setting with significant budget cuts and manpower drawdowns.  As Winston Churchill is alleged to have said, “Gentlemen we have run out of money; now we have to think.

The weapons station on a KC-130J configured as a Harvest HAWK

As is tradition, the Marine Corps will likely be hit hardest by these cuts, and more agile thinking will be needed from the service that already does more with less. Lessons learned and ideas from the private sector and in academia have been used extensively throughout the military, to include the creation of the Counterinsurgency Manual. We believe that there is also opportunity to also bring in thoughts on innovation, and are creating a community to not only share ideas, but to ensure that we are applying those ideas in real time. 

So come join us from October 12-14th in Chicago to accelerate your ideas or learn how to accelerate them in the future.  Leaders who have already committed to supporting DEF include Brigadier General William Mullen, Kevin Willer, former CEO of the startup incubator 1871, and Chicago Booth Professor of Entrepreneurship Waverly Deutsch.  If you are interested in taking part in the discussion, we are already generating topics for our innovation sessions and discussing important ideas for entrepreneurship in the military on our forum at .

Marine Corps Captains Michael “Squirrel” Christman, Tony “STORQ” Hatala, and Lindsay Rodman all currently serve on active duty. Former Marine Corps Captain Evan Johnson is now an MBA candidate at Chicago Booth. All serve on the board of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum.


  1. It's really a shame that the USMC is going to see some big cuts as well in the next few years. "Doing more with less" has become the motto these days in the U.S. military and I hope our effectiveness as a protecting force does not suffer because that's what the military was put into place to do.

  2. Absolutely correct "The business world and the Marine Corps are closer...and we can certainly learn from each other". Fiscal restraints creates leaders to think before acting out a plan for training. In business the bottom line is the most important aspect of the business model. In the USMC at the company level cost cutting starts with proper planning before execution. Tip for saving resources unplug the printer and require justification to leadership before hitting print. Once again a process requiring more thought than hitting print.

  3. Quickly this site will indisputably be famous among all blogging people, because of its fastidious articles or reviews.mark curry