Different Individuals and Varying Experiences Resulting in Superior Endeavors (DIVERSE)

David A. Bray
7 min readMar 9


All pictures CC0 from Pexels.com

I have previously written about the need for Adapting, Building, and Cultivating a Defense-Focused Workforce for the Challenges of 2025 and Beyond — and outlined how this could be done holistically; specifically (1) have DoD operate with some discretionary part of its budget, say 5%, on spotlight efforts that did transform at scale how the DoD workforce and processes operated. We also made a proposal (2) that a DoD component, potentially DARPA, could incubate new approaches to analytics so that the DoD could answer how many and which of their personnel know a specific language, a specific skill set, and have the requisite experience for a tailored mission in less than 3 hours instead of 3–4 weeks.

This follow-up post now looks an at important element of modernizing the Department of Defense — specifically an activity dubbed Different Individuals and Varying Experiences Resulting in Superior Endeavors (DIVERSE).

Goal: Ensure a representative, diverse participation in national security decision-making that broadens perspective and yields superior outcomes, especially with regard to the defense workforce

Background: The United States must explicitly promote ideals that result in greater diversity of people and thought processes involved in national security. Without such results, decision-making biases may lead to incorrect analyses, incorrect combat decisions by teams, and incorrect defense policy choices. Without transforming how the DoD recruits talent to national security fields, we will continue to make decisions driven by individual biases and anecdotal heuristics that lack reasoned and validated approaches to combat bias in national security decision-making. We must recruit and promote the diversity of talent and background necessary to overcome biases that develop in a non-diverse defense workforce. Diverse threats require a diverse workforce to counter them.

Modernizing the DoD Workforce: To succeed in the decade ahead and beyond, the DoD must recognize the need for (1) a diverse workforce, (2) a workforce that works together well as both informal and formal teams, and (3) a workforce with a focus on delivering missions through their combined talents in a rapidly accelerated timeline. Achieving these results requires a scientific basis for restructuring, acquiring, and incentivizing members of the future workforce. The DIVERSE Activity will conduct the research, development, and implementation necessary to instrument, predict, monitor, and improve the effectiveness of organizational interventions by reducing biases and expanding perspective as needed by a strong national security and defense workforce.

Approach: Achieving a workforce that is diverse, collaborates well both formally and informally, and employs differing talents towards mission together must draw on natural experimental events that occur continually in-situ, within current activities of the DoD workforce. Such activities must be identified and pursued with rigorous formative analyses, rapid iteration, and continuity over time. The rapid emergence of national-level threats requires that we adapt our organizations and talent with more agility and speed than we now exhibit. Our research, development, and assessment must be organized to rapidly capitalize on results, bridging basic and applied domains in a manner that is feasible through cooperative blending of research and acquisition but not presently characteristic of DoD.

Preliminary results in 9–10 months will demonstrate the ability of the DIVERSE Activity and its tenets to fully support Force of the Future initiatives. This demonstration requires an institution that can rapidly assemble resources and personnel to bring scientific rigor, experimental prototyping, and in-situ advances in technology and formative assessment that can instrument and ensure solutions. Such a scientifically-based, in-situ approach is both novel and groundbreaking.

The accelerated requirements for this Activity suggest establishment of a joint DARPA-SECDEF Coordinating Office of Future Force Ventures, as championed by the SECDEF, the Director/DARPA, and the USD(P&R). DARPA ensures scientific excellence and rigor; the SECDEF and USD(P&R) provide the leadership direction, guidance, and continuity for the Activity. Such an effort will require a talented and multifaceted force of experts and analysts focused on results from across the nation.

DIVERSE requires experts in big data analytics, organizational science, experimental psychology, human factors design, management science, and behavioral economics. This Activity will follow an unprecedented agile approach empowered by an accelerated flow of information between research, personnel management, and acquisition involving an iterative approach that will:

  • solicit and select workforce designs as organizational interventions that promote acquisition and retention of unbiased workforce populations
  • instrument, implement, and monitor select organizational interventions both naturally occurring and grounded in scientific methods
  • iteratively evaluate and identify interventions most likely to succeed and yield major operational impact.

While initially focused on reducing biases and increasing the diversity of force commands and commander selection, future elements of this Activity will emphasized unbiased selection, recognition, and promotion reviews for both female and male officers; selection, recognition, and promotion reviews for non-traditional cyber experts working with DoD; and continued identification and pursuit of Force of the Future issues and initiatives that call for scientific rigor and implementation. Though this proposal is for a joint DARPA-SECDEF Activity (vs. a pure Program or Office), the following answers the DARPA Heilmeier Questions:

1. What are you trying to do?

Achieve representative, diverse participation in national security missions, actions, and decision-making.

2. How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?

All Volunteer Force. Declining ability to recruit and retain highly sought individuals with essential and diverse areas of expertise, especially at officer levels.

Civilian Senior Executive Service, which provides long-term continuity across administrations, but with cumbersome hiring approaches that are slow to reflect changing demographics.

Civilian R&D leadership that is declining due to monetary incentives to work elsewhere.

3. What’s new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?

Employing both randomized, controlled field trials and natural experiments, implementing changes to organizational structures and incentives that promote rapid development of a diverse workforce.

  • Parallel investigations to enable rapid identification and development of promising strategies.
  • Acceleration of the flow of information between research and acquisition activities.
  • Promotion and fostering of diversity to meet and counter the increasingly diverse challenges to defending the nation.

Example: Esther Duflo, who received her PhD from MIT’s Department of Economics in 1999, has pursued economic studies that emphasize controlled field experiments as a way of determining what types of foreign aid and investment are most effective. Such studies address the long-running, difficult questions of how money for humanitarian aid can be used efficiently as well as what kinds of programs have long-term positive effects in the developing world. Her approach has immediate application to the development of a diverse, agile defense workforce.

4. Who cares? If you’re successful, what difference will it make? What are the risks and the payoffs?

SECDEF must ensure the nation maintains the best possible military force. Loss of diversity, agility, and full spectrum perspective in military leadership puts at risk the effectiveness and competitiveness of our national defense and the ability to sustain our way of life. Enhanced diversity in DoD will substantially reduce this risk and helps ensure maximum return on investment in Defense

Reduced congressional and military service support may inhibit our need to enhance diversity in DoD

Increased diversity in decision-making leadership increases perspective, creativity, and innovation, brings an enhanced range of talent to bear on an increasingly diverse set of Defense, and national, problems.

5. How much will it cost? How long will it take? What are the midterm and final “exams” for success?

Year 1: Implement DoD personnel data analytics with long term continuity of operation. Determine recruitment, retention strategies through rapid field studies. Estimated at $39M (exact $TBD)

Year 2: Military workforce trials. Design trials for civilian workforce. Estimated at $45M ($TBD)

Year 3: Civilian DoD trials. Studies of private industry workforce sectors needed for national security. Estimated at $45M ($TBD) — the high figures are a result of the rapidly accelerated time scale

Closing Thoughts

I’ll reiterate that part of larger challenge for an DoD transformation efforts is risk-taking is rarely rewarded. If something does not work, pioneers risk being shunned and rebuked or called before Congress. Yet in 2015, the DoD was spending $11 billion or more on HR functions — any workforce recruitment, training, and retention process improvements could literally pay for this entire effort if Congress was willing to apply pressure to be efficient with regards to HR activities and recognize some incumbent contractors might not like that but others would be motivated to deliver results differently and better.

This effort is expected to be less than $150M for three years, which if it can move the need in reducing that $11 billion price-tag while simultaneously yielding superior results for the U.S. Department of Defense necessary to succeed in the decade ahead — the effort would both pay for itself and represent a wise investment for the future. Comments, thoughts, and feedback (as always) welcomed!



David A. Bray

Championing People-Centered Ventures & #ChangeAgents. Reflecting on How Our World Is Changing. Leadership is Passion to Improve Our World.