Current national-level strategic documents exhort the need for creativity and innovation as a precondition of America’s continued competitive edge in the international arena. But what does that really mean in terms of personnel, processes, and culture? This paper argues that an overlooked aspect of talent management, that of cognitive diversity, must be considered when retooling military talent management systems. Going one step further, talent management models must incorporate diversity of both skill set and mindset into their calculus. Specifically, the Department of Defense (DOD) needs to recruit, retain, and utilize Servicemembers and civilians with higher than average levels of creativity and a propensity for innovative thinking. It needs “enders.”
There is an inherent tension between encouraging creativity within the Armed Forces and maintaining military discipline. Academic studies have shown that military personnel score lower on average for creativity than their civilian counterparts and that those Servicemembers with higher levels of creativity are more likely to leave than remain for a career. Furthermore, this paper argues that there is an embedded bias in favor of critical thinking at the expense of creative thinking at all levels of professional military education (PME). Finally, given that military culture is authoritarian by nature, creativity can only flourish if commanders are open to out-of-the-box suggestions. Studies of military officers indicate that “openness” among officers actually decreases as rank increases.
The mandates of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which stresses the need for innovation, require change in military culture, processes, education, and talent management if they are to be fully accomplished. To that end, the authors propose eight recommendations to leverage the creative potential of the DOD workforce. These include recognizing that cognitive diversity is multifaceted, adopting a commercial off-the-shelf instrument to test all personnel for creativity and innovation potential, determining the jobs in which highly creative individuals are most necessary, adopting industry best practices for achieving innovative outcomes, introducing design thinking and divergent thinking earlier in PME to reduce “convergence bias,” making sure leaders are exposed to the idea of cognitive diversity as part of their PME, actively recruiting personnel with high creative potential, and continuing to study small number (n) populations within DOD for high concentrations of cognitive outliers.