Col. Peter Newell (USA Ret.), former director of the US Army Rapid Equipping Force and Managing Partner at BMNT, discusses the Navy’s new program to foster innovation, and how to identify problems that need solving.
The Office of Naval Research is looking to bring cutting edge technologies and innovative solutions to sailors faster. Through their Naval Innovation Process Adoption program, the Navy is using a method called H4X to bring some private sector problem-solving strategies into the Department of Defense. “We started out with a problem curation that I did on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. [I used some methodologies] to find emerging problems before they were apparent to people, and then built teams of people around them who had the potential to solve them,” said Col. Peter Newell (USA Ret.), former director of the U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force and Managing Partner at BMNT. “When I retired and moved to Silicon Valley, I met the guru of the Lean start-up movement, Steve Blank. Over a series of dry-erase board sessions, Steve and I realized that largely what I was doing in problem curation and what he was doing with Lean were almost identical. I started with a problem and delivered a solution, he started with an idea and delivered a product. H4X combined those two strategies…” Newell believes that it’s important to make sure you’re solving the right problem before moving forward with a solution. “You find that in many cases we are… very quick to leap to write the requirement for the solution to deliver without adequately understanding who the beneficiaries to the solutions were. There’s a very specific nuance there of the difference between who is a customer in the government, contractor officer, acquisition officer, [people who] buy things and the beneficiary of the solution, the person who actually uses it and does something with it,” Newell told Government Matters. “With problem curation as part of H4X, we have pulled everybody back to identify the beneficiary and ensure that they understand the value proposition to them of applying a new technology or discovering what the real problem they face is.”