Dirty Little Wars

Truth be told, I was a little nervous about taking a month away–or even a couple of weeks away–from my Agile Acquisition blog. After all, 2018 is a fickle place and if you’re not putting out content regularly, you are quickly forgotten. I was even more nervous that I’d miss something important by taking time away, like the promised new Other Transaction guide that we were teased would be out around Thanksgiving. No joke–it’s hard to stay on top of all the changes in the world of Acquisition innovation.

And that’s a good thing if we can’t keep up because it means “stuff is happening.”

So for the last month, I took care of clients, sold my house, moved out of my house, fought with insurance companies, contractors, FEMA, and even my mom over getting her back into her house post-hurricane (still a few months out on that one), wrapped up family matters, took care of medical issues I’d put off way too long, and somewhere in there, took a deep breath, all the while eager to get back to writing about disrupting Acquisition and worrying about what I’d missed.

Well….in a world of change, some things don’t. Petty fights, for example. Dirty little wars between people. Silly, mundane, frustrating stuff.

It’s discouraging to see some very useful and grand experiments get shut down because somebody’s ego gets in the way. I’m no stranger to it, but it’s discouraging nonetheless.

There are innovators–disruptors–out there who are warriors for changing the system for the better. There are also those people who feel threatened by them, and not just the Frozen Middle. Imagine how hard it is to fight not just the bureaucracy, not just apathy about Defense, but other “innovators” as well. I’m back digging through messages, emails, articles, for less than a day and find that some promising projects–nothing advertised but in the works–are fighting not just for success but to test for success.

I’m tired of it. You should be, too.

All these dirty little ego battles are wasting resources and we are going to lose the war if we can’t work together and encourage positive change. Aw, shoot, not just encourage positive change but just merely test for improvements. You’ve got to be willing to take risks if you want to improve. Not all those tests will work out, but as my engineers always told me, you learn as much or more from a test that fails than one that succeeds. You’ve got have Acquisition petri dishes out there, and you’ve got to encourage whatever ideas can be tested. That’s our seed corn in Acquisition. It’s our R&D.

When I was a fresh-faced intern back when God was a baby, my first assignment was buying medical supplies. Another intern and I had a quiet competition going and we each completed around 50 actions a day, way outpacing the folks who had to stay behind after we’d moved to our next rotations. They weren’t exactly fans of ours. Our pace made their work harder and their lack of speed more evident. We also made occasional mistakes. Actually, around 4 a week, each. Out of 250 actions, each. Nothing serious. Mostly administrative errors. A typo. A transposed number.

But there were those who were determined, in their words to “shut them down.”

I recall a major yelling at my branch chief because she’d spent 2 hours that week correcting mistakes that Intern Barbara and I had made while blasting out 500 actions, including quick-turn, life-saving requirements that came in on a late Friday afternoon and had been executed perfectly. I think this was the first time I ever heard anyone express a need to shut someone down for finding a faster, equally adequate way than the usual process. My branch chief was scary and gruff with us interns, but I loved him for his retort to the major:

“So what if the two of them run 2% admin errors? Have you seen the volume of work they crank out? No, I’m not shutting them down.”

Instead of shutting down innovators, what if we asked ourselves where the threat really is? Is it to our own careers or self-worth? Is it to our own resources? Is it to some imaginary competition to look better and smarter than some upstart? Is it to a system that is a lumbering dinosaur when we need to move fast? Is it a threat to getting things done? Is it a threat to our adversaries?

To me, that’s the key to understanding the difference between an ego battle and a mistake we can’t afford. Sometimes shutting down people with ideas and a willingness to implement is the mistake we cannot in the long run afford.

Ya gotta try stuff. Life itself is an experiment unless you like staying in the same place year after year with no improvements.

c 2018 Lorna Tedder

Lorna Tedder


  • Rapid Acquisition Consultant
  • Recently retired Contracting Officer, unlimited AFMC warrant 1991-2018
  • Nationally recognized Innovation Thought Leader in Government acquisition
  • Rapid acquisition teacher, both FAR and non-FAR based contracting
  • Master brain-stormer and advisor to program offices across the DoD
  • Expert in developing junior and mid-level personnel to become innovators in Government acquisition
  • 3 decades of first-hand experience and success with Other Transactions, Oral Proposals, 10 USC 2373, Broad Agency Announcements, unique pricing arrangements, Price Based Acquisition, Award Without Discussion, streamlined source selections, multiple award IDIQs, UCAs, waivers, omnibus tool creation, Quick Reaction Capability teams, and strategic sourcing
  • Do you need help? Would you like me to spend a couple of days teaching your Government team how to use innovative contracting methods? Message me on LinkedIn or my contact page.
ˆ Back To Top