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Ben Kohlmann

Smith Soc Featured Member

Questions and Answers with Adam Smith Society Members

Ben Kohlmann | Dallas Professional Chapter

Benjamin KohlmannBen is an organizational architect and entrepreneur with a passion for empowering people to reach their full potential. He’s helped high performing organizations across the globe reach new heights, including the Cleveland Clinic’s Cardiothoracic Surgery department and the South African based African Leadership Academy. His career began as an F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot, flying combat missions over Afghanistan and accruing over 360 carrier landings. He was also an F/A-18 Hornet instructor pilot with the United States Marine Corps, where he taught dogfighting and air-to-air tactics.

While in the military, he created and led three organizations to bring a culture of innovation to national security. The first, Disruptive Thinkers, linked creative military officers with entrepreneurial civilians in a unique, experiential educational setting. He was then asked to build the Chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell, a task force he led overseen by the highest ranking officer in the Navy. Ben recruited and organized this flat organization of young Navy doers despite little funding and intense institutional resistance. They successfully integrated 3D printers aboard ships, deployed Google Glass, and spearheaded talent management reform efforts, sparking what is now known as the “innovation insurgency” within the Pentagon. His work was featured in a Harvard Business Review article by NYT Bestseller Adam Grant, entitled “How to Build a Culture of Originality.”

Simultaneously, Ben formed the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, a 501c(3) dedicated to creating an enduring culture of innovation within and across national security. Now in it’s fifth year, it is the only unofficial network of national security entrepreneurs, with a membership of over 1000 individuals. Their annual Forum, held in Chicago, has been hailed as “the new incubator of innovative leaders across the national security establishment.” It was also instrumental in the creation of the Defense Innovation Unit (Experimental), formed by the Secretary of Defense in 2015. There are now DEF chapters on three continents (Europe, the US, and Australia), as foreign sought to emulate the innovation in national security.

While building these organizations in his spare time, Ben served as the speechwriter and aide-de-camp to the 4-star admiral in charge of US Fleet Forces, and later, U.S. Northern Command.

Ben is a 2017 graduate of Stanford Business School, where he led the Adam Smith Society and interviewed Marc Andreessen and Rahm Emanuel as part of the View from the Top Leadership Team. He will begin at McKinsey & Co in January 2018. He has two sons, a beautiful wife, and has avid amateur interests in astrophysics and behavioral psychology. 

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone?

I have a deep passion for astrophysics. One of my favorite classes while at Stanford Business School was actually in the Physics department, entitled "Black Holes and Extreme Astrophysics."

How do you curate your intellectual diet? What blogs, publications, etc. do you ready daily?

I am an avid reader of Hacker News. While I'm not a coder, I find it is the best crowd-sourced compendium of interesting articles on the web. I'm a voracious reader who attempts to create mini-syllabuses for myself. Recently, due to the bitcoin mania, I've done a deep dive into the history of money. I also have an ongoing study of behavioral economics and how mental models shape our reality.

Imagine you are given a million dollars to launch your best entrepreneurial idea. What is it?

Revamp the hiring process. Amazingly talented people are overlooked every day because organizations have adopted a cookie-cutter approach to hiring.

Name something you’ve gained from your membership in the Adam Smith Society that you feel like you could not have gotten elsewhere in your MBA program.

A platform to spark campus discussion by sponsoring unique speakers. Last year, we hosted an immigration debate on campus that featured opposing voices from the right. SmithSoc gave us the credibility with our speakers to make it happen.

If you had to choose a theme song for the Adam Smith Society, what would it be?

Don't Stop Believing

Who is your favorite founding father (or president) and why?

George Washington. He set the precedent for two terms in office. When basically offered the monarchy, turned down immense and ongoing power because he knew America needed to chart a different path. Without his example, we likely would have ended up like European attempts at early democracy.

NASA sends you to colonize a new planet, but you can only take 3 books: one on political & economic philosophy to help start the govt., one business book to guide entrepreneurs, & a work of fiction to keep everyone entertained. What do you take and why?

1) The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley - Despite our many challenges, humanity continues to thrive when we adopt a hands off approach to government

2) The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz - Building a business is hard. This is the most authentic and raw look at the reality of building a great organization. Plus, the rap lyrics that start each chapter are masterful.

3) Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - One of the first books I stayed up late to read

If Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for them to eat?

I'd let my wife decide. She's the master chef in our house!

You have been given the power to completely repeal one government regulation of your choice (federal, state, or local). Which one would it be and why?

The 20 year retirement for the military. It creates a toxic culture of mediocrity that promotes seniority over merit. And deeply impacts our ability to effectively execute warfare.


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