Military Appreciation Month and Design Thinking

Why use Design Thinking, rather than one of the many other process or product improvement approaches out there?

May is Military Appreciation Month and many people use this annual reminder to express gratitude for the service of military members.

As a retired Air Force officer, one of the things I’ve come to appreciate about the military lately is our current focus on innovation.  We’ve realized as an organization (granted, a huge bureaucratic organization that is still slow to change in many ways) that we need to become more flexible, entrepreneurial and innovative. 

To help with that, we’ve established innovation-focused organizations while also trying to instill an innovative spirit into our culture. I was fortunate to be able to help establish the Air Force’s cyber innovation center (AF CyberWorx) at the US Air Force Academy, where we focused on using Design Thinking to tackle the Air Force’s toughest challenges in cyber. Design Thinking is a human-centered, collaborative, iterative approach to taking on organizations’ toughest problems and opportunities for innovation.

Why use Design Thinking, rather than one of the many other process or product improvement approaches out there?

Because the most critical and greatest challenges organizations face involve people, so when you’re looking to solve those, you need to center your approach around people.

Design Thinking is based on the idea that you must first determine what experience people need and desire, then figure out what services, processes, product, or technologies are needed to satisfy those needs and desires. If you start with existing services, processes, products, or technologies, rather than people, you can make iterative changes or improvements (and that may be enough) but it will be difficult to make true leaps forward. In cybersecurity, for example, we tend to look for technical answers to our challenges in cyberspace, yet study after study indicates that 90 percent to 95 percent of the issues in cybersecurity are the results of humans…so it makes sense to put the humans at the center of your solution and then figure out what technology or processes are needed to make those changes happen.

AF CyberWorx’s Design Thinking-focused program is just one of the organizations injecting an innovative spirit into the military. The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) is a network of emerging defense leaders, civilian innovators, and social entrepreneurs who promote a culture of innovation and act upon transformational ideas that address national security challenges.

We have a chapter here in Denver (and there’s one in Colorado Springs) that meets for monthly “Drink & Think” gatherings where conversations about innovative ideas are devoid of judgment, and focus on leveraging “Yes, and…” thinking. Great innovations gain steam in coffee houses, bars and conference rooms over pizza. This fall, Denver will be hosting the three-day national DEF Conference, bringing in innovative military thinkers from around the country to exchange ideas aimed at improving America’s defense through innovation.

Design Thinking, entrepreneurial forums, and other innovative approaches to the military’s challenges will be necessary for us to continue to excel in providing for our nation’s security. I am proud to be a part of these conversations, and to take advantage of Military Appreciation Month to highlight our efforts to ‘move out’ in these areas.

Keep moving forward!

Joe "Hark" Herold is the CEO of DesignThinkingDenver and the community lead for Denver WeWork's Veterans in Residence program. He served in the U.S. Air Force.

Categories: Community News, Companies