As a family and though not as leisurely as any of us would have liked, we spent the last week driving across our beautiful country. We started in Chesapeake, Virginia and finished in Mountain View, California. It was my 7th cross country trek, my wife’s 3rd, and the first for my son (his 1st was at 3 months-old so that doesn’t really count). Driving two cars filled with as many of our belongings as responsible, my son and I shared one vehicle and my wife piloted the other. Though I wouldn’t consider it an unhurried drive, it gave us ample time to converse, admire the scenery, and consider the world around us. It was a chance remind ourselves how differently, yet similar, our fellow Americans live, and for my son to see evidence of the same. As we migrated west, each day introduced a different landscape, different weather, different foods, different accents, and different ways of living. At each stop, we made it a point to both engage with locals and enjoy their cuisine. As the push for globalism and sameness becomes more evident at the surface level, it was wonderful to see that beyond the strip malls, restaurant chains, and cookie-cutter houses, there remains an element of meaningful differentiation across our country.

Unfortunately, too many of us live at the surface level: a level where competition rules the day, the drive for sameness trumps the deliberate cultivation of differences, and a quest for familiarity shrinks our respective comfort zones.

I just left a team where we were committed to meaningful differentiation. We weren’t in the business of operating like every other command in the Navy and we didn’t see us as being in competition with other organizations doing similar work; we were far more interested in complementary partnerships. And we most certainly didn’t see individuals across our team as interchangeable; we leveraged their unique attributes. My first day on my new team made it abundantly clear that they are equally committed to the same philosophy. So much so, that the reason for my assignment to this particular team finally became clear to me. I was not assigned to this team because they wanted a Navy Captain. Though I am a Navy Captain, I am assigned to this team because I do not represent the status quo and I am meaningfully different, just as each of the current members are. We all have been called to Silicon Valley because we are different. Where the rest of the military seems committed to developing interchangeable human beings and unintentionally driving out the very thought diversity that we claim to value, members of this team share a common commitment to inspiring change across the Department of Defense. Normally, I join a team and find a culture in need of change. This time, my charge is to leverage the power of a team who is already there culturally speaking. And by leverage, I mean scale both horizontally and vertically.

As this drive made abundantly clear, each state through which we traversed was different from the ones they border. Yes, all are part of our great nation and each is committed to the inalienable rights of their respective citizenry. In each state we witnessed attributes that made it clear we remained in the USA, yet as we crossed each state line we saw visible differences. It was the subtle differentiation that we enjoyed most. And it is the (not so) subtle differentiation that excites me about being a part of Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx). It is the (not so) subtle differentiation that excites our son to be attending the Khan Lab School. And it is the (not so) differentiation of life in Silicon Valley that excites our family about this chapter in our adventure. A commitment to common values makes a team strong and it is the meaningful differentiation within that separates the exceptional from the ordinary. There ought be nothing ordinary about any of our adventures.

  • How interchangeable are you and your teammates?
  • How are you making sure your adventure is extraordinary?
  • Are you more interested in competition of meaningful differentiation?