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Move, Shoot, Communicate, Innovate #4: The ‘No Duff’ example

On 12 February, 2016 a prior service RNZIR Veteran went missing and was known to be in a difficult mental state.

On that night, No Duff was informally created.

We didn’t wait until we had a perfect plan. It was H-Hour. You go with what you’ve got. As a small, informal “bro net” we built the parachute after we jumped out of the plane. And on the way we continue to iterate now as a large, professional, adaptive cloud network.

1) We quickly identified a problem
2) We identified the “customer” in need
3) We developed an MVP (Minimum Viable Prototype) service model and continue to iterate

In this first initial informal case, several No Duff founding members managed to locate and support our veteran in need. It was experiential learning and our first MVP for virtual distributed veteran support services in NZ.

Innovation requires implementation, so an article series on innovation must include a relevant and recent example of successfully implemented innovation for professional credibility. This particular No Duff example has not only been an evidence based success, but still retains plenty of remaining “runway” for continued disruption to enhance and scale “better, faster, cheaper” support for veterans in need.

I do not write this article to take personal credit. At the time of No Duff’s inception, I was but one of ten founders. I am just the storyteller for No Duff. Today I am a faceless one out of many hundreds of active, vetted and diverse volunteers across a robust national network committed to exploiting COTS (commercial off the shelf) technology to dramatically improve our ability to rapidly identify and support veterans. This article is an informal After Action Report example of how a small, resource constrained, but highly motivated team of current and prior service infantry NCOs is disrupting a 100+ year old organisational model.

In our analysis we discovered that legacy veteran support communities and services continue to utilise an organisational model originally implemented 100 years ago. The advent of the internet and the ubiquity of smartphones has left them vulnerable to disruption in a Moore’s Law world.

From the perspective of legacy organisations, disruptive threats are a frustrating paradox. Those best suited to explore new models and are willing to experiment aggressively and take calculated risks are typically not the same personality types best suited as effective caretakers of long established legacy organisations.

Much like counter-insurgency theory, conditions that allow and encourage the creation of an insurgency play an overwhelming role in the ability of a new external actor to innovate and disrupt a legacy organisational model. While the environment has changed dramatically (internet, smartphones, social engagement), many organisations have failed to adapt, which includes the veteran support space.

No Duff was not built to compete with RSA chapters. We have successfully collaborated with several individual high performing chapters and we continue to maintain excellent working relations with the professional RSA National Welfare team receptive to change. No Duff was crowdsourced to solve a significant “pain point” with the under-served and proportionally growing contemporary veteran community. Staid hub and spoke physical retailers have been disrupted by the likes of my former employer Amazon. Hub and spoke video rental stores have completely succumbed to Netflix’s cloud distribution model. Veteran support organisations have been thus far exempt from technological change and culturally immune from evidence based critique of an organisational model that has lost efficacy. As we accelerate into the exponential technology curve, the only constant is change and organisations must adapt to community, cultural, societal, and technological change or perish.

It has been a challenging, chaotic, crazy, failing, frugal, frustrating, fulfilling, messy, and outrageously successful 19 month long roller coaster ride. One thing it hasn’t been is easy. The personal cost of this journey has been very high for some of our founding members and too high for others. But we have managed to start building a positive, innovative and resilient network to better support our veterans. And that is what innovation and disruption looks like. A roller coaster ride into and through the “trough of sorrow” is the lowest common denominator that binds nearly all innovation and disruption endeavours together.

In building No Duff, we observed the strengths of hierarchical bureaucracies akin to the skeletal systems or “bones” of a system, while also observing the strengths of fluid networks such as the global Occupy Movement to connect individually, quickly, and collaboratively as an analog to the circulatory system of a body. We also observed their relative weaknesses, which for hierarchical bureaucracies include quite limited flexibility and adaptability and for fluid networks like the Occupy Movement those weaknesses include a lack of central, strategic direction, command and control. The books “Team of Teams” and “One Mission” have been excellent resources during our journey in building No Duff into the hybrid, cloud based network it is today.

So No Duff was built to leverage the authority of solid line hierarchy with the reputational power of dotted line interpersonal networks guided by a shared narrative of delivering support. It’s narrative is aligned and reinforced through a triangle consisting of the veterans we support; external partners such as the Veterans Affairs Minister, NZDF, RSA, VANZ; and the extended No Duff command, vetted volunteer and support networks.

No Duff is an agile, adaptive, data driven network that continues to scale. But in “no BS soldier terms” we are still “building the parachute as we fall from the airplane”. We are much further along in the process and we have many more like-minded partners helping to carry the workload on this shared journey. It is also what international collaboration looks like, based on the considerable support received from our Aussie brothers and sisters at Overwatch Australia. No Duff would not exist as it is today if it were not for Marc Kerwin and Kemp James helping us launch and sharing the lessons learned from their earlier founding. Despite the occasional political and media bickering over the current state of our trans Tasman relationship, tangible proof of the durable existence of the ‘ANZAC Spirit’ is found here….Thanks ANZACS

But the greatest lesson learned is the most costly lesson learned by far. Military Innovation Maxims 4: It’s always H-Hour. Implement “good enough” today, then iterate towards excellence tomorrow.

On the very day No Duff officially launched, having shifted from informal “bro net” to formal prototyping, a serving soldier took their own life.

We were too late to help that soldier. That’s why it is always H-Hour for No Duff.


Since its inception No Duff has conducted:
138 veteran support responses
921 volunteer hours logged

Consisting of:
11% Female
89% Male

83% referred by someone other than self.

1% Brit Army
2% RNZAF
3% ADF
6% RNZN
88% NZ Army


About the author: Chris Elles is a member of the New Zealand Army (Reserve) who is focused on developing innovative training. He is currently serving as a Company Weapons Sergeant in 2/4 RNZIR and as a member of the Aumangea Assessment Program Training Team. He is also a small business entrepreneur and an alumnus of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

2 thoughts on “Move, Shoot, Communicate, Innovate #4: The ‘No Duff’ example

  1. Well done to the ‘No Duff” and “Overwatch Australia” team. Chris your article is very informative thanks for that. It is satisfying to see us looking after our own.

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