The Nuclear Option: Military Organizations, Leadership, and the Entrepreneurial Spirit


On October 24th I had the good fortune to be invited by the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum to address their 2014 conference at the Booth School of Business, University of Chicago. I delivered the opening talk to a room of 150 men and women from the U.S. armed forces, defense industry, and academia who are interested in defense innovation. The conference’s three-day schedule was filled with experienced innovators, both in and out of uniform, who were teed up to tell their stories and help illuminate the challenges they have faced. I was there to offer something a little bit different.

At the DEF Conference in 2013, and at DEFx events held in between, historical lessons we have drawn came from individual innovators who rebelled against the military bureaucracy. By way of comparison today’s defense entrepreneurs tend to use examples from Silicon Valley. We are told that the military culture is just too stove-piped, too conservative, too top-down, to really innovate. The bureaucracy is just too much. In this talk, I offer a different view.

The top leadership of the Department of Defense has called for a broad-based innovation initiative in the defense community. I offer this video as a starting point for us to begin talking about the kinds of leadership and organizations we might need if defense innovation is truly going to take root today.



BJ Armstrong is a naval officer and PhD Candidate with the Department of War Studies, King’s College, London. His second book, 21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education and Leadership for the Modern Era, will be released in February. The opinions expressed here are his own and are presented in his personal capacity and do not reflect positions of any governmental organizations or individuals.