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Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Updated: 5 days 23 hours ago

Technology, Innovation, and Modern War

Thursday 10th September 2020

I’m teaching my first non-lean start up class in a decade at Stanford next week; Technology, Innovation and Modern War: Keeping America’s Edge in an Era of Great Power Competition. The class is joint listed in Stanford’s International Policy department as well as in the Engineering School, in the department of Management Science and Engineering.

Why This Course?

Five years ago, Joe Felter, Pete Newell and I realized that few of our students considered careers in the Department of Defense or Intelligence Community. In response we developed the Hacking for Defense class where students could learn about the nation’s emerging threats and security challenges while working with innovators inside the Department of Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Community to solve real national security problems. Today there is a national network of 40 colleges and universities teaching Hacking for Defense. We’ve created a network of entrepreneurial students who understand the security threats facing the country and engaged them in partnership with islands of innovation in the DOD/IC. The output of these classes is providing hundreds of solutions to critical national security problems every year. This was our first step in fostering a more agile, responsive and resilient, approach to national security in the 21st century.

Fast forward to today. For the first time since the start of the Cold War, Americans face the prospect of being unable to win in a future conflict. In 2017, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff gave a prescient warning that “In just a few years, if we do not change the trajectory, we will lose our qualitative and quantitative competitive advantage.” Those few years are now, and this warning is coming to fruition.

New emerging technologies will radically change how countries will be able to fight and deter threats across air, land, sea, space, and cyber. But winning future conflicts requires more than just adopting new technology; it requires a revolution in thinking about how this technology can be integrated into weapons systems to drive new operational and organizational concepts that change the way we fight.

Early in 2020, Joe Felter (previously Assistant Secretary of Defense for South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania and Hacking for Defense co-creator) and I began to talk about the need for a new class that gave students an overview of the new technologies and explored how new technologies turn into weapons, and how new concepts to use them will emerge. We recruited Raj Shah (previously the managing director of the Defense Innovation Unit that was responsible for contracting with commercial companies to solve national security problems) and we started designing the class. One couldn’t hope for a better set of co-instructors.

The Class
War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. Ever since someone picked up a rock and realized you could throw it, humans have embraced new technology for war. Each new generation of technology (spears, bows and arrows, guns, planes, etc.) inevitably created new types of military systems. But just picking up the rock didn’t win a conflict, it required the development of a new operational concept learning how to use it to win, i.e. what was the best way to throw a rock, how many people needed to throw rocks, the timing of when you threw it, etc. As each new technology created new military systems, new operational concepts were developed (bows and arrows were used differently than rocks, etc.). Our course will examine the new operational concepts and strategies that will emerge from 21st century technologies – Space, Cyber, AI & Machine Learning and Autonomy. We’ll describe how new military systems are acquired, funded, and fielded, and also consider the roles of Congress, incumbent contractors, lobbyists, and start-ups.

This course begins with an overview of the history of military innovation then describes the U.S. strategies developed since World War II to gain and maintain our technological competitive edge during the bipolar standoff of the Cold War. Next, we’ll discuss the challenge of our National Defense Strategy – we no longer face a single Cold War adversary but potentially five – in what are called the “2+3 threats” (China and Russia plus Iran, North Korea, and non-nation state actors.)

The course offers students the insight that for hundreds of years, innovation in military systems has followed a repeatable pattern:  technology innovation > new weapons > experimentation with new weapons/operational concepts > pushback from incumbents > first use of new operational concepts.

In the second part of course, we’ll use this framework to examine the military applications of emerging technologies in Space, Cyber, AI & Machine Learning, and Autonomy. Students will develop their own proposals for new operational concepts, defense organizations, and strategies to address these emergent technologies while heeding the funding and political hurdles to get them implemented.

The course draws on the experience and expertise of guest lecturers from industry and from across the Department of Defense and other government agencies to provide context and perspective. Bookending the class will be two past secretaries of Defense – Ash Carter and Jim Mattis.

Much like we’ve done with our past classes; – the Lean LaunchPad which became the National Science Foundation I-Corps (taught in 98 universities) and Hacking For Defense (taught in 40 schools,) – our goal is to open source this class to other universities.

As Christian Brose assesses in his prescient book “The Kill Chain”, our challenge is not the lack of money, technology, or capable and committed people in the US government, military and private industry – but of a lack of imagination. This course, like its cousin Hacking for Defense, aims to harness America’s comparative advantage in innovative thinking and the quality of its institutions of higher education, to bring imaginative and creative approaches to developing the new operational concepts we need to compete and prevail in this era of great power rivalry.

The syllabus for the class is below:

Technology, Innovation and Modern War

Part I: History, Strategy and Challenges

Sep 15: Course Introduction
Guest Speaker: Ash Carter 

Sep 17: History of Defense Innovation: From Long Bows to Nuclear Weapons and Off-Set Strategies.
Guest Speaker: Max Boot 

Sep 22: DoD 101: An Introduction to the US Department of Defense: How Military Technology is Sourced, Acquired and Deployed.

Sep 24: US Defense Strategies and Military Plans in an Era of Great Power Competition

Sep 29: Technology, Ethics and War
Guest Panel

Oct 1: Congress and the power of the purse

Part II: Military Applications, Operational Concepts, Organization and Strategy 

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Oct 6: Introduction

Oct 8: Military Applications
Guest Speaker: LTG (ret) Jack Shanahan, fmr Director Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC)

Autonomy
Oct 13: Introduction
Oct 15: Military Applications

Cyber
Oct 20: Introduction
Military Applications

Space
Oct 27: Introduction
Military Applications

Part III: Building an integrated plan for the future (Student group project)

How to build a plan for future war
Nov 3: Conops planning
Guest Speaker(s): COCOM and Joint Staff Planners

Nov 5: Budget and Innovation
Guest Speaker: OMB Defense lead

Nov 10: Team working sessions with DoD Mentors

Group Presentations and Critiques
Nov 12: Groups 1-2
Guest Critique:  US Indo-Pacom TBA

Nov 17: Groups 2-4

Course Reflections
Nov 19: Defending a Shared Vision for the Future
Guest Speaker James Mattis

Categories: Media

Hacking 4 Recovery – Time to Take A Shot

Monday 17th August 2020
Rise Up

“Let’s do something to help with the pandemic.” In April, with the economy crashing, and the East Coast in lockdown, I heard this from Stanford instructors Tom Bedecarre and Todd Basche, both on the same day. And my response to them was the same, “I can’t sew masks and I don’t know how to make ventilators.” But after thinking about it, it dawned on to me that we could contribute – by creating a class to help existing businesses recover and new ones to start.

And so, Hacking for Recovery began, starting first at Stanford and next offered by University of Hawaii for the State of Hawaii.

After teaching 70 teams – 50 at Stanford and 20 in Hawaii – 275+ entrepreneurs – we’ve proven three things: 1) people can take control of what happens to their lives/careers during and after the pandemic, 2) in five days teams can make extraordinary progress in validating a business model and, 3) this process can be replicated in other areas of the country that need to recover and rebuild businesses.

Here’s how it happened.

I realized we had the ability to rapidly launch a large number of companies on the path of validating their business models. We could offer a 5-day version of the Lean LaunchPad / Hacking For Defense / National Science Foundation I-Corps class that’s trained tens of thousands of entrepreneurs. The class already existed. I had been teaching it at Columbia University for the last seven years. Brainstorming with my Stanford co-instructor Steve Weinstein, we streamlined the material for a virtual class, and told Tom and Todd we could do it.

In two months, they recruited 200 students (50 teams) on 6 continents and in more than a dozen countries. What united the students was their belief that while the pandemic had disrupted their lives, here was an opportunity to shape their own future.

To support them we found 31 mentors, and 4 great Teaching Assistants. The entire course – from team recruitment to the actual class sessions – was hosted online through Zoom.

We ran the Stanford class three times, each in 5-day sessions. (The syllabus is here.)

The teams were able to do customer discovery via video conferencing (getting out of the building without physically getting out of the building) averaging 44 interviews in 5 days. In aggregate they interviewed 2,259 customers. But it just wasn’t the aggregate numbers that were impressive it was how much they learned in five days.

The results?

200 students will never be the same. Rather than bemoaning their circumstances, they decided to rise up and take their best shot. Immersed in a rapid-fire hands-on experience, and surrounded by mentors and subject matter experts, every team not only changed the trajectory of their company but left having learned a methodology for high-speed business model validation to help jump-start a business idea in these chaotic times and beyond.

The topics the teams worked on mirrored the opportunities created caused by the pandemic and sequestering. Over 40% were working on telemedicine, 28% in remote education or remote work. Other teams tackled problems in travel, small business, sustainability, etc. The 50 team concepts at Stanford fell into these categories:

  • 21 Health/Telemedicine
  • 9 Education
  • 5 Remote Work
  • 3 Travel
  • 3 Sustainability
  • 3 Small Business
  • 6 others

More than 15 of the teams have already committed to continue to pursue their startup ideas and are applying to accelerators and seeking funding.

When the sessions at Stanford were completed, we helped the University of Hawaii and Maui Economic Development Board STEMworks launch the Hawaii version of Hacking 4 Recovery – to rebuild the State’s economy, which has been uniquely devastated by the coronavirus lockdown. 20 teams just finished their program. With more to come. Other regions can do the same.

Take a look at a selection of the presentations below from Stanford’s cohorts. Considering some of the teams consisted of incoming freshmen, their progress is kind of mind blowing.

While we enabled 70 teams to start companies, what we really generated was hope – and a path to new opportunities.

AntiCovidAI – a novel mobile app to detect COVID-19 symptoms. Team included Stanford undergrad, Stanford alum, DCI Fellow, Stanford staff member and a graduate student taking courses at Stanford. We had 21/50 teams focused on health/telemedicine concepts

Nightingale – a telemedicine platform connecting nurses to caregivers to close the home healthcare gap.

Diffusion – led by a Stanford Ph.D, this team is developing a sensor to prevent head and neck injuries from falls, especially for seniors in nursing homes.

Edusquared– this team of 4 women who just graduated high school and are entering Stanford in September created an educational subscription box for young Special Ed students. 9 of the teams worked on Education concepts.

Work From Anywhere – the team designed a service to help people move to new locations as remote working allows employees to work from anywhere. 5 teams developed concepts related to Remote Work.

Eye-Dentify – was led by a Knight Hennessy Scholar who wants to help bring eyecare to remote underserved areas. Many of the teams focused on social impact.

Escape Homework – team developed an “Escape Room” platform to make remote learning for k-12 students  fun and engaging. (Post class, the team wrote a blog post describing their experience in the class. Worth a read here.  And they shared their page on virtual educational resources here.)

Voyage – was a global travel advisory platform for pandemic information.

Parrot – fun language app – crossing Duolingo with TikTok. Four rising Stanford sophomore women.

All 50 Stanford presentations are here: Session 1, Session 2 and Session 3.

Total Stanford participants: 200 (Men 51%, Women 49%)
Representing a broad cross-section of the Stanford Community:

  • undergrads  25%
  • graduate  14%
  • Summer Session Students  10%
  • Alumni  30%
  • Faculty/Staff  2%
  • DCI Fellows  3%
  • Other/misc.  16%

Thanks to the instructors who taught the class: Tom Bedecarre, Steve Weinstein and Pete Newell and to the guest lecturers: Mar Hershenson, Tina Seelig, and Heidi Roizen.

In addition to the instructors, each team had mentors who volunteered their time: Jim Anderson, Adi Bittan, Teresa Briggs, Rachel Costello, Phil Dillard, Freddy Dopfel, Mimi Dunne, Dave Epstein, Eleanor Haglund, Joy Fairbanks, Susan Golden, Rafi Holtzman, Pradeep Jotwani, Phillipe Jorge, Vera Kenehan, Robert Locke, Kris McCleary, Radhika Malpani, Stephanie Marrus, Allan May, Rekha Pai,Don Peppers, Alejandro Petschankar, Kevin Ray, Heather Richman, Eric Schrader, Craig Seidel, Kevin Thompson, Wendy Tsu, Lisa Wallace. Plus another 27 subject matter experts as support.

And when a class with a million moving parts appears seamless to the students it’s directly proportional to the amount of work behind the scenes. Without our teaching assistants who volunteered their time none of it would have happened: Head TA’s: Valeria Rincon / Jin Woo Yu and TA’s Nicole Orsak and Diva Sharma.

Lessons learned

  • While we enabled 70 teams to start companies, what we really generated was hope and a path to new opportunities
  • With the open source curriculum available here, it’s possible for any school or region to get a version of this class ready in 8-10 weeks
    • The 5-day format of the class works well
    • It can stand alone or complement the 10-week or 14-week courses
  • Having teaching assistants are critical to managing the admin side of marketing, recruiting, team formation, communications and overall support for the teaching team
    • Team formation requires heavy lifting of emails/team mixers/team – as well as match-making by TA’s and instructors
  • Having a large pool of mentors and subject matter experts is important in 5-day crash course, to support teams looking for interview subjects and contacts for customer discovery
Categories: Media
Steve Blank | We Are The Making

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