Leadership: Using Innovators For Target Practice


One thing many junior American military officers still complain about is the resistance of their superiors (most of them) to innovation and change. This was particularly notable in the last decade, with lots of combat operations (where innovation and change can save your life) and reservists (who can’t help but bring in new ideas) mobilized for active duty to force change on reluctant commanders and bureaucrats. In many cases the reluctant superiors were forced to accept change and innovation, because there was a war going on and to do otherwise they could be accused of getting their own troops killed through inaction. But in peacetime, which is most of the time, the senior officers have no incentive to change, and even greater incentives (the desire to get promoted) to conform and resist change.

A good example of this is the enormous growth of UAV technology in the last decade. It wasn’t until after September 11, 2001 that senior aviation officers were forced to accept a wave of UAV innovation, including arming these remotely operated aircraft with missiles. Many could see these changes coming, but the senior aviation generals were pilots, and had an inborn resistance to putting a lot of pilots out of work.

The peacetime military tends to create an atmosphere that is hostile to innovation. That’s because history has shown that many peacetime innovations prove to be disastrous in combat. Bad decisions like that can get a lot of the innovator’s people killed. Thus the peacetime imperative is to cover-your-ass and hope that the next war is like that last one, because you are ready for another round of the recent past.

Leadership: Using Innovators For Target Practice


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