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IC Conference emphasizes mainstreaming innovation as a habit


 Aug. 18, 2016

 Cliff Shelton
 NGA CIO-T Communications

NGA’s Enterprise Innovation Office hosted the inaugural 2016 Intelligence Community Innovation Conference July 6-7. Approximately 500 people from the public, IC, DOD, private and academic sectors attended the conference at the agency’s East campus in Springfield, Virginia.

The event featured an array of speeches, panels and workshops, delivered by NGA experts, distinguished guests and leaders of industry, including Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva; NGA Deputy Director Susan Gordon; Lean Startup Co. CEO Eric Ries; NSA I-Corps’ Matt Fante; Pivotal Innovation Inc.’s director, Janice Fraser; IBM Design Company’s Phil Gilber; and GE Global Research Chief Marketing Officer Rakesh Sahay.

Gordon kicked-off day one of the event with a confession. “I am addicted to innovation.” A vocal and longtime advocate of innovation, from establishing CIA’s industry-focused In-Q-Tel to leading NGA’s migration to a cloud-native enterprise, Gordon said that, in overcoming obstacles and reimagining processes, there is a solution for any problem.

NGA’s deputy director outlined three characteristics needed for successfully implementing innovative practices; quest -- “Have something worthwhile.” Timing -- “Conditions should be right for something different to occur.” And leadership -- “Behave in a way that gets it done.”

Gordon cited innovators across NGA – including personnel from Analysis’ spectral sciences branch; Xperience’s big-data and machine-learning component; International Affairs; Source; and the nascent and fully unclassified GEOINT Pathfinder initiative – as examples among the workforce who have turned an idea into an action.

“Creativity is about ideas. Innovation is about doing,” said Gordon, before introducing Selva to deliver the keynote address.

Selva, having flown more than 3,000 flights, is no stranger to piloting large vessels, and so he began his speech with an apropos metaphor.

“Implementing innovation [in the government and large organizations] is like a turning battleship," said Selva, "You may have an upset crew with cooks having to clean up spilled food and sailors falling out of beds but that ship can turn with effort. The end result is often that change can happen but it is going to come at the cost of disruption and difficulty.”

Selva reminded the audience that when they “turn that battleship,” it's not the time to slow down or slack off. Take personal and professional risks, he said, and continue to focus on needs and solutions to ensure that the innovative process doesn't wane.

He also stressed the importance of an environment that encourages ideas, especially in the absence of certainty.

“You can’t be silent if you hear a good idea and Susan and I have to create the environment,” said Selva. “Not every idea is a good idea, but every good idea deserves to be tested; good ideas are what got us here today. “Make your voice heard, allowing [your] ideas to be tested guarantees we will move forward with this enterprise."

The conference also featured a pre-recorded video chat with Eric Ries, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and author of The New York Times bestseller, “The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Business.” He is most recognized for pioneering the lean startup movement, a methodology which directs startup companies and large corporations to allocate and integrate their resources as efficiently as possible. Conference attendees were given a firsthand overview of how lean startup is intended to work.

“The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup, how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere and grow a business with maximum acceleration,” said Ries. “It is fundamentally driven by thinking big, starting small and scaling fast.”

Ries advised the audience to use this mindset to tell the story of a team or individual in NGA successfully using the lean startup method. “Be accountable for small results,” he said. “Start small and push big.”

The two-day conference included dual-track breakout sessions with panel discussions and workshops focused on innovative and agile acquisition; lean startup techniques and workforce culture; human-centered design; hackathons - prize-based engagements with the public to crowd-source software development; and innovation trends within the IC.

The event concluded with closing remarks from the director of the innovation office, Dave Cacner.

“We will succeed in mainstreaming innovation as a habit,” he said. “Remember to strive to adopt the best ideas wherever they are, continue to build on momentum, and find someone to say yes [to your ideas].”