Intellect and innovation for warfighing capability.


December 10th, 2017 by Chris Elles

What the future of ADF innovation looks like and our journey to get there.

“It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.” Iterated quote attributed to Charles Darwin


In Part 1 The Need for Change, we used the literary Red Queen and evolutionary biology examples, outlined the ADF’s existential necessity to accelerate its innovation capacity and capability.

In Part 2 A Case Study of Change, we presented a highly successful ADF case study utilising a senior leadership led and supported systems approach to change for aviation safety as a very successful example for us to both emulate and iterate.

In Part 3 Our Vision for Change, we will explore our shared vision for change, what our ADF innovation system will look like, and the journey of how we will get there.

A combination of Moore’s Law based technological acceleration combined with the inversion of military and commercial R&D investment is acting as a forcing function that will compel the ADF to accelerate its organisational OODA loop velocity.

Cold War era predictability against known adversaries while possessing sustainable technological dominance is over. Our decisive advantage faces attrition from disruptive threats and increasingly agile adversaries.

The gravitational pull of continuous disruption on our existing decisive advantage demands continuous innovation for us to achieve relativistic escape velocity as a solution to the Red Queen race.

Vision of the future:

Our shared vision of the near future is an innovation discovery, development, and deployment ecosystem, organic to the ADF that possesses a genetically embedded “H-Hour sense of urgency”.

An innovation ecosystem within a military context is a rough analog to SOF assessment, selection, and reinforcement cycle. They respectively consist of a high quantity of ideas or people continuously flowing through a series of filters to produce high quality deployed innovations or SOF operators for sustained decisive advantage.

An innovation ecosystem provides the capability Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen and Airwomen want and need by challenging, encouraging, guiding, supporting, and training them to all actively participate in the ADF innovation ecosystem in order to sustain decisive advantage and to disrupt or destroy near future adversaries.

Road Map:


0-3 months: Planning & Preparation
3-9 months: Design and deploy innovation training course curriculum
9-12 months: Design and deploy distributed innovation activities across 3-6 key ADF locations
12-15 months: Innovation Ideation and pre-accelerator development
15-18 months: Design and deploy a single fixed location ADF innovation accelerator
18-24 months: Design and deploy an innovation integration & deployment system

First Steps:

Innovation Training & Education(Network):

We would never expect soldiers to operate their weapons without training in weapon handling drills and principles of marksmanship; so how can the ADF expect its members to innovate without training them in the tools of innovation?

Both classroom education and experiential firearms training on the range are conducted to ensure not only safe operation of firearms, but the successful employment of them to achieve the mission to deter, disrupt, defeat, or destroy our adversaries.

Image courtesy of Department of Defence

Our innovation ecosystem recommendations are a mix of both classroom and hands on experiential innovation learning by doing.

Image sourced from public domain

Innovation Training Courses (Network): designed to be relentlessly direct and deployment focused with an “H-Hour sense of urgency” as a cultural cardinal direction:
Innovating in Small Team: (3 days) A course designed to quickly instill the experiential skills required to discover solutions to complex problems, exploit existing capabilities, extend existing capabilities, and explore new capabilities within the arcs of the problem focus as well as provide a learnings feedback loop back into the learning organisation.
Leading Small Team Innovation: (2-3 days) Leading innovation requires a different approach to leadership.
Problem Sponsorship: (1 Day) The process by which subunit, unit, and formation commanders can submit problems for teams for exploitation, exploration and experimentation.
Innovation Art for Senior Leadership: (1 Day) How senior leadership can leverage the iterative development flow of a cross functional and cross service innovation ecosystem to “get to” innovation deployment.
Mentorship: (1 Day + OJT) The indoctrination of innovation ecosystem community mentors to align with iterative innovation process flow.
Facilitation: (1 Day + OJT) The development of innovation ecosystem support personnel to align with iterative innovation process flow.
Ambassadorship: (Brief) For select ADF innovation ecosystem influencers/champions both within and external to the ADF.

Image sourced from public domain

Dedicated experiential short courses in innovation provide the strong foundation upon which an entire innovation ecosystem is built. They also provide the initial building blocks upon which cross-functional and cross-service networks are built and instilled with an aligning command narrative to ensure we embed the appropriate innovation behaviours, habits, and culture desired to both execute and inform strategy.

Distributed Activities (Network/Platform): (2-3 days) similar to Startup Weekends at major ADF locations in order to:
● Formally build out the ADF innovation network
● Create “pop-up” innovation embassies
● Provide further experiential innovation learning
● Refine ideas
● Filter/select ideas for pre-acceleration

Peter Jennings wrote recently that:

“We (Defence) need to get smart. Let’s hand some seed funding to young, lateral thinkers to develop low-cost drones, swarm technology, 3D-printed technology, offensive cyber strategies – in other words all the areas in which the Canberra establishment is too risk-averse to see the potential. Defence needs permission to think unconventionally.”

We couldn’t agree more. A key aspect of the proposed innovation ecosystem is the Innovation Accelerator, which will not only provide our young innovators with seed funding; but connections, facilitation, mentoring and support in order to develop their idea into cumulative decisive advantage deployed on operations.

Innovation Accelerator (Platform/Pipeline): (10-12 weeks including pre-accelerator)
● Single physical/central location
● Multiple “gates” of entry and progress “tiers” with associated facilitation, support and metered funding

Deployment (Pipeline): collaborative ADF capability integration & deployment process

People (Network): Our proposed ADF innovation ecosystem is a people centric network designed to exploit the value creation potential of the organisation as per Metcalfe’s Law, while remaining cognizant of, and faithful to, the strengths of the existing organisational hierarchy. Increasing the connections between existing ADF personnel creates quadratic growth value evolving into a hybrid organisational model consisting of highly connected interpersonal networks based on reputational power layered on top of the robust skeletal system of our existing ADF hierarchical power structure.

Problem Targeting: 3 Horizons of Innovation
● Exploitation(tactical) of existing models
● Extension(operational) of existing models and core capabilities
● Exploration(strategic) of new capability and disruptive threats/opportunities

Vi²(Velocity of implemented Innovation = “Flow”):

The Velocity of Implemented Innovation is the time from idea (“flash!”) to deployment (“bang!”). We believe this will become a key performance indicator (KPI) of organisational adaptability and agility and when combined with KPIs for (Quantity and Quality of deployed innovation) will provide an effective return on investment (ROI) performance dashboard for our proposed ADF Innovation Ecosystem.

Innovation Art:

Our Innovation Ecosystem vision is incorporated into the concept of Innovation Art. Innovation Art is the process driven application of innovation resources to achieve strategic objectives. It is the skillful design of the innovation environment designed to reduce friction and increase flow. Innovation Art is the vision that links innovation tenets, behaviours, habits, and culture to support Operational Art and inform strategy.


It’s time to expand our military lexicon to include “outadapt” and “outinnovate” alongside the long existing outmanoeuvre.

20 years ago Chris’ old boss Jeff Bezos at Amazon said it’s “always Day 1”.

In the commercial sector, the consequences of a failure to continuously innovate are insolvency and irrelevancy, hence the “always Day 1” sense of urgency. In sovereign defence, failure to continuously innovate equals defeat.

Image courtesy of Lucas Gilman

We will see massive disruptive waves in the coming years. So we need to develop an “H-Hour sense of urgency” aligning cultural narrative within an innovation network, platform, and pipeline ecosystem in order to exploit and extend existing capability, as well as explore future capability.

Now is the time to develop and deploy a fully integrated and strategically aligned ADF innovation ecosystem. A network that leverages the value creation potential of our underutilised human capital. A platform to aggressively and proactively innovate. And a pipeline to capture the created value by deploying needed and wanted capability at high velocity in order to disrupt, destroy and defeat near future adversaries.

Let’s teach our people how to proactively seek out and successfully ride the coming waves of disruptive change.

Our people create value demonstrating their ideas, the ADF captures value deploying them. An ADF Innovation Ecosystem with a H-Hour sense of urgency is how we execute it.

The next H-Hour is approaching, and if history is anything to go by, it will arrive unexpectedly. Let’s get started.

About the author

Chris Elles is a member of the New Zealand Army (Reserve). He is currently serving as a Company Weapons Sergeant in 2/4 RNZIR and as a member of the Aumangea Assessment Program Training Team. He is an entrepreneur and an alumnus of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Chris is certified in Hacking 4 Defence(H4D) Lean StartUp methodology and has earned certificates from MIT in New Venture Leadership and the Harvard JFK School in Leading Movements for Social Change. Before emigrating to NZ, Chris was an early stage employee of

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