Comparing the Organizational Cultures of the Department of Defense and Silicon Valley

The ability to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and capabilities is viewed as vital to the long-term success of the U.S. military and to the future of national security. Despite the importance of making AI advances, there are concerns that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is not well positioned to engage with the private sector and recruit top AI talent from U.S. technology firms. Unlike previous eras, DoD is no longer the primary driver of research and development investment in these types of advanced technologies. Instead, large software companies that derive the bulk of their revenues from nondefense sources employ the greatest reservoirs of AI talent and invest the majority of capital into improving their AI algorithms. Consequently, DoD has sought to collaborate more effectively with the software companies of Silicon Valley. Although differences in organizational culture are often cited as one of the reasons to be concerned about a potential civil-military divide over AI, no studies have empirically explored this possibility. Accordingly, RAND researchers mapped the organizational cultures of both DoD and Silicon Valley software companies to determine where the two communities have substantial differences and where they might find common ground.

Key Findings

Differences in organizational culture are often cited as one of the reasons for the AI talent gap between the military and the private sector

  • DoD wants to take advantage of new technologies, such as AI, to preserve its technical edge.
  • DoD leadership also wants to change its culture to become more innovative and agile.
  • Analysis shows that DoD has a culture that is much more hierarchical compared with Silicon Valley technology companies.
  • However, DoD and Silicon Valley have a greater affinity along other dimensions of organizational culture, which possibly suggests that there are ways that they could find common ground.

Each community has values and traits that it aims to instill into its members

  • The researchers mapped the language used in official documents used by DoD and Silicon Valley firms to establish organizational culture on the basis five prominent, relevant, and highly researched organizational culture types: Hierarchy, Adhocracy, Market, Clan, and Sense of Duty.
  • DoD and Silicon Valley are furthest apart on the Sense of Duty culture dimension.
  • DoD and Silicon Valley are also far apart on the Hierarchy dimension of organizational culture.
  • There was a notable degree of convergence between DoD and Silicon Valley on the Adhocracy culture dimension.
  • Silicon Valley emphasizes the Market culture type more than DoD, but analysis showed a relatively small gap between the two.
  • DoD and Silicon Valley organizational cultures had the closest alignment in Clan organizational culture.

Recommendations

  • Because many AI experts currently work for U.S. technology companies and are accustomed to their organizational culture, understanding where this organizational culture maps in comparison with DoD’s should help DoD expand the range of AI talent available to it.
  • Further analysis should help DoD leaders identify change agents within the military as they seek to make DoD’s culture more innovative and adaptable.
  • Although the Hierarchy and Sense of Duty cultures are most commonly associated with the military, the researchers indicate that other cultural dimensions, such as the Adhocracy culture, may have had a greater impact on DoD’s organizational culture than previous research has recognized.
  • Identifying suborganizations within DoD that promote concepts associated with this organizational culture or identifying individual officers and other DoD personnel who embrace these concepts should help DoD place individuals more compatible with an Adhocracy culture in the DoD suborganizations intended to promote innovation and agility.
  • Examining changes in culture over time would be crucial to better understanding whether DoD leadership is succeeding in altering DoD’s culture in the ways intended. 

Research: Comparing the Organizational Cultures of the Department of Defense and Silicon Valley

– Nathan Voss, James Ryseff 

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