When you think about innovative organizations, what comes to mind? Amazon? Facebook? Apple?
If you're a logistician, the military—yes, the people who brought us the $435 claw hammer, the $640 toilet seat, and $7,600 coffeemakers—should be on your short list. Throughout history, the defense establishment has led the way in developing and implementing crucial tools and practices that have eventually seen widespread adoption by the business world.
The Department of Defense (DOD) has been a relentless early adopter of new logistics technologies and strategies. But in many cases, it has been more than just an early adopter; it played a major role in the innovations' fundamental research and development. What follows are just a few examples.
And these are but a few examples. We could also mention the military's groundbreaking work with radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, global positioning systems (GPS), and even the Internet of Things.
As for what's next, innovations in military logistics will keep on coming, and commercial applications are sure to follow. Delivery drones are already in use at the Marine Corps. Driverless cargo trucks are being tested by the Army. Field-deployable 3-D printing capabilities went forward in Afghanistan.
More innovations—some still on the military drawing board, some in development—are now taking shape. The Army is rolling out leading-edge virtual reality combat simulators to train people in battlefield conditions without an actual battlefield. Perhaps someday we'll train truck drivers the same way.
What the military has learned over the years is that creativity by itself is insufficient, that better is sometimes not good enough. The drive for different—innovating an entirely new approach—may be what's required to win the battle, or even the war.