Written by Christin Young
on January 02, 2019

With mission challenges and threats evolving as rapidly as technology, the expertise and methods that worked well in the past can no longer keep pace with today’s customer demands. At OGSystems (OGS), we understand that new mindsets must be leveraged to address these challenges.

On December 4, we welcomed nearly 100 guests to our Chantilly headquarters for an Integrated Problem-Solving Forum, bringing together some of the brightest minds in the business of collaborative, entrepreneurial and systems thinking for a panel discussion to learn how these mindsets can be aligned and applied together to drive the transformation our national security community needs. Defense industry leaders Jackie Space (co-founder of BMNT), John Thomas (past president of INCOSE), Andy Howell (LUMA Institute human-centered design instructor) and Major General (Ret.) Spider Marks, US Army, served as panelists. Ben Levitan, OGS Board Director, kept the dialogue lively as our moderator.  

The prevailing theme of the discussion centered around how to bring innovation into government and what it takes to successfully implement it. As it turns out, sometimes the greatest challenge is simply defining the right problem. According to Space, the first step in any innovation program is setting up an organization that knows how to look at problems.

We look at the world from an innovation pipeline approach, which is not just problem solving, it’s the building of ideas: the experimentation, incubation and transition back into programs,” Space said. “When it’s been successful, it’s when the front end is done – determining the right problem and getting the people inside your organization on board. Then when you’re finally looking at transition back into contracts, it’s a seamless process.”

According to Thomas, the key to remember is that problems aren’t linear. Natural systems innovate, and it will force stakeholders to stop approaching problems the way they always have in the past.

“The pressure is continuing to grow,” Thomas said. “Timelines on mission problems are shortening, lives are being put at risk, budgets at the government level cannot sustain the things they’re doing. The pressure will force people to use what they have in a different way.”

To keep pace with innovation, we must embrace industry. Historically, government stakeholders rarely had to collaborate with anyone outside their program. The new paradigm is that you must learn how to talk to companies that have capabilities that may be helpful, and that can be difficult to do.

“That translation is the crux of the whole problem of why we have things shoved in closets because we didn’t know any better because they didn’t know how to look at market research to learn what’s happening within industry,” Space said. “It’s still a problem because people rely on classification as a reason not to talk to industry, and the more we do that, the more people are going to kick our butt in AI and in other areas.”

While the perception is often that the next generation of college students in STEM programs don’t want to engage with government problems, Space found the opposite to be true with Hacking for Defense.

“After taking it to several universities, the resounding feedback we get from the students is that these problems are really interesting,” Space said. They could use their skills to go develop the next one-hour delivery app around food or go work on nuclear security or prevent the next cyber-attack or do something cool with data analytics – saving people’s lives in theater. The nature of the problems we’re dealing with from a national defense and security perspective that we forget within the community is how cool they actually are because we don’t know how to talk about them.”

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