The power of innovation lies not in mere ideas or words, but action. Innovation has an impact only when men and women who have no special rank or title see a problem and run toward a solution, spending their own spare time and money to solve problems that make their daily lives cumbersome.
The Departments of Defense and the Navy have both caught the “innovation” bug, but in many ways, they exhibit more talk than action. The Force of the Future initiative, an attempt to bring 21st-century talent-management policies to an aging seniority-based personnel system, was recently excoriated by the Senate Armed Services Committee for being too disruptive to the status quo, and the silence of the services in response was deafening. The much-acclaimed Chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell, a band of emerging leaders who brought 3-D printers on warships, Google Glass, and design thinking to the Navy, despite intense institutional resistance and little funding, was killed in January after little advocacy from the admiralty following a prejudicial congressional mark that eliminated all funding for the program.