Early one morning while drinking coffee and surfing through LinkedIn, I found an article posted by a friend of a friend, describing a veteran founded organization that I hadn’t heard of before. I discovered that the Military Leadership Circle (MLC) is dedicated to bridging the growing civ-mil divide in the United States by expanding the professional networks of their members. Each year they hold a DoD-wide competition to select and sponsor a handful of talented military officers to become members of the MLC and attend its flagship event, the prestigious Milken Institute Global Conference. I applied to be a member of the Military Leadership Circle and attend the Milken Conference to expand my professional network outside the military, stimulate my intellectual curiosity, and improve my performance as a junior Army Strategist.
A few years ago I heard a Congressional staffer refer to the DoD as a “military snow globe” that only cares about activities inside its own glass bubble. Unfortunately, as more military family members choose to follow their kin into service and only 1% of graduates from elite academic institutions choose to serve in uniform, the snow globe will continue to populate itself with little outside influence.1 Attending the Milken Institute Conference is one way military leaders can escape the snow globe, even if only for a few days, to meet and talk with an impressive array of cross-industry, senior decision-makers from 50 countries and hundreds of companies.
The diversity of this forum is an especially welcome respite from the military’s relatively homogenous workforce (especially amongst senior leaders). Past conference speakers included entertainers, professional athletes, Ambassadors, elected officials, academics, influential business leaders, and a spectrum of other prominent professionals. Business know increased experiential diversity can lead to improved decision making and organizational success, and it is important that the military becomes more willing to embrace diverse ideas that stimulate creative thinking as it seeks to increase innovation.
Approximately 3,500 people attended last year’s conference to listen to and participate in discussions about topics including global finance, medical research, cyber resilience, Latin American economics, and the forces shaping Europe and Asia. As an Army Strategist, I must remain attuned to the non-military elements of national power (diplomatic, information, and economics), which are often not as sexy as a fighter jet or a tank, but can be more effective at maintaining stability, increasing prosperity, and decreasing armed conflict.
Being accepted as a member of the Military Leadership Circle and attending the Milken Conference is a unique opportunity for articulate and engaged military officers to exchange ideas with some of the brightest minds in a range of fields from across the globe. My middle school gym teacher, who was infamous for the Yogi Berra-esque bits of wisdom he’d throw our way, was fond of saying, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got”. Try something new. Step outside the snow globe and become intellectually uncomfortable as you wrestle with new ideas. I can’t wait to see who I meet, the conversations we hold, and the relationships we form.
1 Benjamin Luzemberg, “If inequality is our problem, military service is the answer”. http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-oe-luxenberg-military-service-as-asset-20150107-story.html