In 2013 Navy LT Ben Kohlmann wrote an article titled Why The Military Needs More Disruptive Thinkers that launched a vibrant online exchange about innovation and talent management within DoD. I contributed my own article to the discussion, which led to a phone call with Ben. He was standing up a new organization called the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) to grow a network of military innovators and connect with private sector innovators.
I joined DEF’s founding board as the Director of Strategic Communications and helped plan the organization’s first national conference in Boston, MA. The event was a tremendous success, launching a grassroots innovation movement within DoD that Lt. Gen. David Barno, USA (Ret.) and Dr. Nora Bensahel later called a virtuous insurgency. DEF helped spark a culture change within the DoD, which now recognizes the urgent need for innovation, better talent management, and more mutual learning with the private sector.
DEF members have gone on to fill critical roles within organizations like the Navy CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, the Defense Innovation Unit: Experimental (DIUx, now DIU), AFWERX, and the Navy Athena Project.