At least to me, the word 'government' brings up images of decrepit offices, musty files, endless ennui, inefficiency, corruption, obdurate stupidity, rule-oriented behavior, ... a long list of negatives Certainly nothing remotely redolent of innovation. If anything, one would imagine government departments and officials more than likely to destroy any innovation or creativity that is taking place, running all over it like a blind and drunken elephant.
- Small and flexible: DARPA has only about 140 technical professionals; some have referred to DARPA as “100 geniuses connected by a travel agent.”
- Flat organization: DARPA avoids hierarchy, essentially operating at only two management levels to ensure the free and rapid flow of information and ideas, and rapid decision-making.
- Autonomy and freedom from bureaucratic impediments: DARPA has an exemption from Title V civilian personnel specifications, which provides for a direct hiring authority to hire talent with the expediency not allowed by the standard civil service process.
- Eclectic, world-class technical staff and performers: DARPA seeks great talent and ideas from industry, universities, government laboratories, and individuals, mixing disciplines and theoretical and experimental strengths. DARPA neither owns nor operates any laboratories or facilities, and the overwhelming majority of the research it sponsors is done in industry and universities. Very little of DARPA’s research is performed at government labs.
- Teams and networks: At its very best, DARPA creates and sustains great teams of researchers from different disciplines that collaborate and share in the teams’ advances.
- Hiring continuity and change: DARPA’s technical staff is hired or assigned for four to six years. Like any strong organization, DARPA mixes experience and change. It retains a base of experienced experts – its Office Directors and support staff – who are knowledgeable about DoD. The staff is rotated to ensure fresh thinking and perspectives, and to have room to bring technical staff from new areas into DARPA. It also allows the program managers to be bold and not fear failure.
- Project-based assignments organized around a challenge model: DARPA organizes a significant part of its portfolio around specific technology challenges. It foresees new innovation-based capabilities and then works back to the fundamental breakthroughs required to make them possible. Although individual projects typically last three to five years, major technological challenges may be addressed over longer time periods, ensuring patient investment on a series of focused steps and keeping teams together for ongoing collaboration. Continued funding for DARPA projects is based on passing specific milestones, sometimes called “go/no-go’s.”
- Outsourced support personnel: DARPA extensively leverages technical, contracting, and administrative services from other DoD agencies and branches of the military. This provides DARPA the flexibility to get into and out of an area without the burden of sustaining staff, while building cooperative alliances with its “agents.” These outside agents help create a constituency in their respective organizations for adopting the technology.
- Outstanding program managers: The best DARPA program managers have always been freewheeling zealots in pursuit of their goals. The Director’s most important task is to recruit and hire very creative people with big ideas, and empower them.
- Acceptance of failure: DARPA pursues breakthrough opportunities and is very tolerant of technical failure if the payoff from success will be great enough.
- Orientation to revolutionary breakthroughs in a connected approach: DARPA historically has focused not on incremental but radical innovation. It emphasizes high-risk investment, moves from fundamental technological advances to prototyping, and then hands off the system development and production to the military services or the commercial sector.
- Mix of connected collaborators: DARPA typically builds strong teams and networks of collaborators, bringing in a range of technical expertise and applicable disciplines, and involving university researchers and technology firms that are often not significant defense contractors or beltway consultants.
But governments are increasingly wading into the innovation game, declaring innovation agendas and appointing senior innovation officials. The impetus comes from two fronts: daunting challenges in fields like energy, the environment and health care that require collaboration between the public and private sectors; and shortcomings of traditional economic development and industrial policies.
“If you make something for the rich, the poor cannot afford it,” Mr. Mashelkar said. “But if you design for the poor, everyone can afford it.”
- How can innovation be fostered most effectively at a societal level (country, region, city)?
- How can innovation be harnessed to address complex global challenges, and how should innovation stewardship work at a global level?
- How can international collaboration and alignment be encouraged in explosively growing new areas of scientific, technological and human design innovation, such as cleantech, nanotechnology and others?
- Supporting the emergence of a network of significant innovation leaders with the influence to provide a meaningful stewardship function for innovation at national and international levels.
- Developing agenda-setting intellectual capital that defines large-scale innovation and leads to the development of meaningful tools and best practices.
- Creating high quality learning experiences relevant to the next generation of innovation leaders.
- Underwriting research that documents the emerging global innovation economy, key innovation flows as well as new competitive dynamics and opportunities.
The U.S. Government created a requirement that by 2020, the majority of cars sold here must get at least 35 miles per gallon. This requires a big commitment on the part of auto makers and so the Energy Department was authorized last year to lend $25 billion dollars. The first round of financing is expected to be announced today with Ford, Nissan, and Tesla getting all getting a sizable chunk during this first round. GM and Chrysler both wanted a bunch of money too, but neither fit the criteria of being a “financial viable” so they were disqualified for this first round.