The USMC and Innovation


Cultural change is an ongoing challenge for organizations. In a previous article in the Marine Corp Times, Lance Bacon reported on how Commandant General Robert Neller was/is pushing for a cultural revolution within the Corp (Commandant looks to ‘disruptive thinkers’ to fix Corps’ problems, March 4, 2016). The General is looking to encourage innovative and creative thinking and challenging the status quo. Typical talk for a Fortune 500 CEO, but truly earth-shattering for an organization build on following rules, listening to superiors, and following orders without question. The admission of a problem is the first step to change.

Just like admitting to a substance problem, the General is letting the entire organization know change is critical. As the world becomes increasingly turbulent (both business and security), leaders need to develop internal agility. Focusing on developing creative and innovative abilities of all rank-and-file Marines allows a more agile and adaptable force. With the initiative starting at the top, where it needs to be, is the key first step. As the culture of innovation has faded, reemphasis on accepting and executing ideas from all levels is another critical driver for success. The General has a tall mountain to scale.


Business leaders know the challenge of cultural change. In business failure usually results in maintaining the status quo. In the military, cultural change can result in loss of life. Cultural change is a major initiative that must start at the top, consist of fundamental skill development, ongoing practice, and effective execution.

Business leaders should pay close attention to this initiative. Organizations cannot succeed without innovation. The loss of innovation within organizational culture can lead to organizational failure. Business examples from Kodak, to Blackberry, to Wang computers all demonstrate the inevitable. Innovate or die. And in the case of the Marines, this is not just a catchy phrase. This will be a very important (and interesting) initiative to watch.