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Hacking for Defense & Hacking for Diplomacy – Educator/Sponsor Class

General Jeff Smith

There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come
Victor Hugo

On September 7th – 9th we are holding our first Hacking for Defense & Diplomacy – class for Educators and Sponsors, training educators how to teach these classes in their universities and sponsors how to select problem sets and manage their teams.

hacking classesSign up here.

An Idea Whose Time Has Come
Our first Hacking for Defense class was a series of experiments. And like all good experiments we tested a set of hypotheses. Surprisingly the results blew past our expectations – and we had set a pretty high bar. (see the final Hacking for Defense class presentations here). Based on those results we believe that we can do the same with Diplomacy so working with the State Department’s innovation cell in Silicon Valley we will prototype the Hacking for Diplomacy course at Stanford this fall.

A few of the student and sponsor comments about the class:

Absolutely amazing class. Experiential learning is very effective to really grasp what we claim to know intellectually.”  – computer science grad student

 “One of the best classes I’ve ever taken, and it turned me onto a whole new career path.”  – MBA student

 “We’re still blown away what students who knew nothing about our agency could learn and deliver in such a short period of time.”  – sponsor

First, would students to sign up for a class that engaged them in national service with the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community?

Result: I’ll admit my hesitancy was because I brought my memories of U.S. college campuses circa the Vietnam War (and the riots and student protests at Stanford). So I was astonished how ready and eager students were for a class that combines the toughest problems in national security, with learning Lean Innovation methods. We had more applicants (70+) for the 32 seats in this class than we usually get in our Lean LaunchPad entrepreneurship class. And early indications are that Hacking for Diplomacy will be at least as popular.

Second, could we find islands of innovation inside the DOD, the Intelligence Community and State Department willing to engage students to work on real problems? And could those sponsors work with us to scrub those problems so they were unclassified but valuable to the sponsors and the students?

Result: We solicited 8 problems for the students to work on and had to shut down the submission process after we reached 24 from the DOD.  We’ve now built a national clearing house for DOD/Intel problems that other schools can use. The Department of State has already given us 15 problems for our upcoming Diplomacy class.

Third, would students be turned off by working problems that weren’t theirs, in particular from the DOD and Intel community?

Result: We surveyed student motivations before and after the class and were surprised to find that a large percentage became more interested and engaged in national service. Over half the student teams have decided to continue working on national security projects. At the end of class two teams were funded by SOCOM (U.S. Special Operations Command) to continue prototyping over the summer. One team closed a $200k seed round in the middle of the class. Multiple teams have been engaged by government, prime contractor and VC firms for follow-on discussions/engagements.

Fourth, would the same Lean Startup methodology (business model design, customer development and agile engineering) used in the Lean LaunchPad and NSF I-Corps class work here?

Result: Hell yes.

Fifth, would other schools be interested in offering this class?

Result: Seven schools have already added Hacking for Defense classes: UC San Diego, University of Pittsburg, University of Southern California, Stanford, University of Rochester, Georgia Tech and Georgetown University. 15 more schools are in the pipeline. NDU (the National Defense University) National Security Accelerator (NSTA), the Stanford University Hacking 4 Defense Project and JIDA (the Joint Improvised-threat Defeat Agency) have all teamed up to fund the expansion of theHacking for Defense class to other universities. The Department of Energy Advanced Manufacturing Office has also lent its support to the expansion. If our Hacking for Diplomacy goes well this fall, we intend to scale it as well.

The Educator/Sponsor Class
We learned a lot developing the Hacking for Defense class, and even more as we taught it and worked with the problem sponsors in the DOD/Intel community. Now we’ve created a ton of course materials for educators (syllabus, slides, videos) and have written a detailed educator’s guide with suggestions on how to set up and run a class along with best practices and detailed sample lessons plans for each class session. And for sponsors we have an equally robust set of tools on how to get the most out of the student teams and the university. And we’re excited it to share it all with other educators and sponsors in the DOD/Intel community.

So on September 7 through 9th at Stanford we will hold our first 2.5-day Hacking for Defense & Diplomacy Educator and Sponsor Class.

We’ll provide you all the course materials (syllabus, slides, videos) along with an educator’s guide with suggestions on how to set up and run a class along with detailed sample lessons plans for each class session. You’ll also

  • Meet with other instructors and problem sponsors and experience the Hacking for Defense/Diplomacy methodology first hand
  • Learn how to build H4D teaching teams and recruit student teams to participate
  • Learn what makes a good student problem and how problem sponsors can increase their Return On Investment for supporting the course
  • Engage with the original Stanford Hacking For Defense course authors (Pete Newell, Joe Felter and I) and students from the original H4D cohort
  • Engage directly with potential government problem sponsors

Life is series of unplanned paths and unintended consequences – Hacking For Defense
A year ago as I started helping government agencies put innovation programs in place, a student in my Stanford class who had served in the special forces pointed out that the Lean methodologies I was teaching sounded identical to what the U.S. Army had done with the Rapid Equipping Force (REF) commanded by then Colonel Pete Newell.

The REFs goal was to get out of the building and into the field to get a deep understanding of soldiers’ problems, then get technology solutions to these problems into the hands of front-line soldiers in days and weeks, instead of the military’s traditional months and years. The REF had permission to shortcut the detailed 100+ page requirements documents used by the defense acquisition process and could use existing government equipment or buy or commercial-off-the-shelf technologies purchased with a government credit card or its own budget.

When Pete Newell retired to Silicon Valley he teamed up with Joe Felter, another retired colonel, who had a career as a Special Forces and foreign area officer (among other things, Joe led the Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team (CAAT) in Afghanistan) and was now teaching at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). Together Pete and Joe had formed BMNT to create an “insurgency” in Silicon Valley to help accelerate the way the Department of Defense acquires new technology and ideas and integrates cutting-edge innovation into the organizations defending our country.

The Hacking for Defense & Diplomacy classes were born from the intersection of BMNTs work with the Department of Defense in Silicon Valley and my work in Lean Innovation.

We had five goals for the class:

  1. Teach students Lean Innovation – the mindset, reflexes, agility and resilience an entrepreneur needs to make decisions at speed and with urgency in a chaotic and uncertain world.
  2. Offer students an opportunity to engage in a national public service. Today if college students want to give back to their country they think of Teach for America, the Peace Corps, or Americorps or perhaps the US Digital Service or the GSA’s 18F. Few consider opportunities to make the world safer with the Department of Defense, Intelligence Community, State Department or other government agencies.
  3. Teach our sponsors (the innovators inside the Department of Defense (DOD), Intelligence Community (IC) and State Department) there was a methodology that could help them understand and better respond to rapidly evolving asymmetric threats. (By rapidly discovering the real problems in the field using Lean methods, and then articulating the requirements to solve them, defense acquisition programs operate at speed and urgency to deliver timely and needed solutions.)
  4. Show our DOD/IC/State sponsors that civilian students can make a meaningful contribution to problem understanding and rapid prototyping of solutions.
  5. Create the 21st Century version of Tech ROTC by having Hacking for Defenseand Hacking for Diplomacy taught by a national network of 50 colleges and universities. This would give the Department of Defense (DOD), Intelligence Community (IC) and State Department access to a pool of previously untapped technically sophisticated talent, trained in Lean and Agile methodologies, and unencumbered by dogma and doctrine.

It looks like we’re on our way to achieving all of these goals.  Join us.

Lessons Learned

Phil Randazzo


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