The National Security State is Missing the Revolution in Work

Zachery Tyson Brown
9 min readJun 30, 2021
Photo by Minh Pham on Unsplash

Wharton organizational psychologist Adam Grant caused a stir when giving testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said the “Department of Defense’s culture is a threat to national security.” Grant went on to describe that culture as one simultaneously overconfident and risk-averse, whose entrenched habits, values, and practices stifle the very innovation successive Secretaries of Defense have said the Department so urgently needs. And it’s true; from talent management to budget building and program execution, DoD’s organizational structures and administrative procedures have hardly changed in the past half-century, a fact that has inhered an organizational culture wholly unsuited for competition in the digital age.

It is as if Robert McNamara’s Pentagon had been sealed in amber when he resigned way back in 1968, leaving behind a living museum to the workplace culture and processes of the Mad Men era. The department remains rigidly hierarchical, where modern organizations have long embraced flatter organizational structures that facilitate faster — and often, better — decisions. It remains obsessed with protocol, where modern organizations have become not only more casual, but more diverse, inclusive, and dynamic — all of which facilitates creativity instead of dampening it. It remains burdened by the strict adherence to slow, sequential processes, while more contemporary workplaces have learned that parallel, simultaneous, and asynchronous methods dramatically speed their delivery of value to customers. The bottom line is that while military strategists can argue all day long about whether or not the nature of war is changing, there’s no doubt the nature of work is — and the Pentagon’s turgid bureaucracy is falling farther behind every day.

In fact, there is a workplace revolution of sorts underway, one that’s overturning more than a century of management theory and transforming both workplaces and the very way in which work itself gets done. Partisans of this revolution call it by many names; agile, lean, and design-thinking, are just a few. They can be found in nearly every sector of the burgeoning knowledge economy — from the usual suspects in Silicon Valley startups to newer converts you might not expect, including stalwarts of the manufacturing, finance, information technology