Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Marine Corps Innovation: It's Simple. It's About Leadership.

By BGen Dave Reist (USMC, Ret.) and Capt Chris Wood (USMC)

There is an almost endless discussion today regarding innovation. Countless books provide blueprints for organizations to innovate, to routinely turn ideas into increased value and profits. This discussion is mirrored in the Marine Corps and across the greater Department of Defense. But one must ask the basic question: “Are we lacking innovation, and if so, why?” More specific to the Marine Corps’ emphasis on leadership, is our leadership falling short in setting the environment for innovation to flourish?

History is rich with examples of points in time and space that not only encouraged innovation, but also enabled mankind to reap tremendous benefits.  Ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy and Silicon Valley are just three to consider.  But what were the conditions that made these instances possible?  Was it the rival governments of Athens and Sparta that enabled the Golden Age of Greece … or was it Pericles’s vision for arts and literature?  Was it the beauty of Florence that inspired da Vinci, Michelangelo, and so many others … or was it the Medici family’s financial and political backing that empowered these artists to create?  Was it the venture capital business model that fostered the Silicon Valley culture of innovation … or was it leaders such as Steve Jobs that delivered a higher vision and then ruthlessly removed barriers to that vision?  Innovation is complex and not easily replicated, but there is a single constant: leaders that set the conditions for innovation to occur by recognizing talent and allowing it to flourish.