#11 The Strategic Millennial

The other day I was surfing around the Army website and came across an article by members of Booze/Allen/Hamilton, a government "think tank" type contractor. The authors had been asked by the U.S Air Force to look at a concern about the proliferation of social networking sites and the impact on command and control within the organization. Unfortunately, I printed the article and cannot find the link to it, or I would add it here.

There are a ton of sections that ended up under my yellow highlighter. I'll start with a few that - although I was latently aware of - had not really paid much attention to. "Few members of this generation (Millennials), born after 1978 can recall a time when the Internet was not at their disposal." Another, "...those born after Desert Storm in 1992 are currently in High School. Within the next 10-20 years, the members of this generation will become the majors, colonels and Navy captains with similar progress through the enlisted ranks."

I was a 24 year old Specialist in the Army in 1992. The Internet didn't really exist then. Digital media equaled Cd's, and most of us still had cassette players in our cars and not everyone had cable TV. I actually remember when MTV played music videos and Nina Blackwood was a VJ. The cell phone was 3 times the size of some current models and looked a lot like your home phone does now -for those of you who still have a land line phone. I can recall when CNN first broadcast and people wondered if there was enough news to fill a 24 hour news program. Consider that question - Will there be enough news to fill a 24 hour news cycle? Wow! Today, information happens in 30 minute cycles which equals 48 distinct cycles within a 24 hour period. Almost anything in the world can be covered in real time if necessary. In '92, we were in the last throws of the analog world. We just didn't know it. Many who read this blog were less than 6 years old at the time. Only 17 years ago and yet in many ways, it may as well have been the stone age.

Obviously, I have become almost consumed lately with the idea that within the context of the military and more pointedly within the context of the current war, I believe that generational shifts in motivations, behaviors, expectations and priorities is an area that we must start paying a lot of attention to. The explosion of technology that has occurred since the Millennials were born has lead them to live in an extremely different world than I grew up in. And in order for me to reach them, I must start listening and understanding them. Another important part of the equation is that it's not our world of today, per say, that matters but the world that we grew up in as children and young adults that has a major 'shaping' effect on our adult views, values, priorities and actions. Take that 'shaping' add to it the 'military culture' and the generational understanding gaps become even more acute. The people at the top of many organizations have failed to keep pace with the technological world that their subordinates live in.

As an example, the driving force behind the Booze/Allen/Hamilton document was that junior officers in the Air force were using Facebook to organize their units. What a genius idea. Instant communication of information to hundreds of people within the organization, using a medium that they are already addicted to and can't live without. Beats the hell out of the old phone tree! However, the use of a public social networking site to organize an official DoD unit was frightening to senior leaders and filled them with concerns regarding security and command and control issues. A generational and technological rift. They, (the seniors) simply couldn't process the idea of the equal sharing of information i.e., if I can get my information directly from my company commander, why do I need a squad leader or platoon sergeant? By god, we've gotta have structure. There'll be anarchy!

Facebook and other social networking sites 'flatten' an organization and allow for instant communication across an entire spectrum at once. This allows people to communicate in near real time. The military, and many private organizations and corporations are top down, hierarchical, and work at compartmentalization rather than cross-pollination. Structurally, even without the human element the two are very much at odds. Flat organizations are more likely to share information broadly and work collaboratively to achieve a common goal or objective, whereas top-down organizations are much more inclined to information hording and stove pipe chains of command. Information is a commodity to be closely held and distributed as necessary in the top-down world. Information is to be shared and mutually acted upon in the flattened world.

The paper goes on to suggest that the 'flatter', interconnected, and technologically advanced Millenials may run into a problem when confronted with their 'top-down', compartmentalized, and hierarchical organizations. Or, more accurately, their bosses in the top-down organizations will likely struggle to maintain control over the Millenial - if they cannot find a way to retain some form of control of either the message or the messenger either by restricting it or possibly by embracing it.

This point is evidenced by a blog that is run by General Campbell http://usacac.leavenworth.army.mil/blog/blogs/why_i_serve/archive/2009/09/02/what-s-the-hubbub-about-strategic-communication.aspx. Campbell posed the question, "What's all the hubbub about Strategic Communication?" Commenting on another post by Adm Mullen, CJCS, who put forth that Strategic Communication is a process, not a thing. It's a way of thinking about how we communicate our message to the rest of the world, not the message itself. The manner is as important as the message. Follow the General Campbell post and you'll see some very interesting comments. There is a claim by one responder, that Strategic Communication is the purview of 3 star generals or higher. That only they can have the wisdom, understanding, and broad reach to understand the global impacts of the message intent. I almost laughed out loud. I weighed in that the Army has done an extremely poor job of explaining the Strategic Message to Soldiers, let alone to foreigners that it doesn't culturally understand, so when a young Soldier or Airmen or Marine takes an action (good or bad), that Soldier in our present world, can have a strategic impact - almost immediately. As evidence, I presented a broad overview of the events that occurred within my platoon in Iraq. Yet another poster posited that we have the means to win the Strategic communication aspect of this war, but we are not paying close enough attention to it, thereby allowing the enemy - who is making maximum use of his Strategic capabilities - to work inside of our decision cycle. In effect, we are continually sending a message that is defensive in nature because it is reactionary, too late to be of any use because the top-down bureaucracy requires too many levels of approval, and therefore worthless. Just another example of the opposition using Boyd's Law extremely efficiently. I wonder, just how many satellites does Osama bin Laden own? The US owns a bunch, and yet bin Laden can seem to communicate at any time he chooses and we can't manage to keep the American people informed in a timely manner. Let one Afghan or Iraqi local national get inadvertently injured or killed by a Soldier, and you know that it will be on the air within minutes. Immediately, we will say "We're looking into it." The investigation takes 2 weeks - 672 thirty minute news cycles later! In the Millenial world - and for most of the rest of the world - the original event cannot even be recalled.

And we wonder why Millennials are getting frustrated. They were raised in a 30 minute cycle world, have been cultured and socialized to think, act and work in a flattened manner and then find themselves in an archaic, top-down hierarchical organization being run by people who were conditioned in a wholly different manner. As I keep saying, we had better find a way to effectively communicate to the folks at the bottom what we expect of them, or we will lose them. At issue is the way we do it. In order for that to occur, the message we send has to be sent in a manner that they can understand and appreciate. Not the manner that we may be the most comfortable sending it in.

One last thought....Admiral Mullen - the most senior member of the entire military, has a Twitter account.....Let me think, don't know what my boss wants me to do tomorrow morning, can't get my 'good news' story past the battalion commander, can't share the latest good idea on how to defeat people who are trying to kill me and my Soldiers, but I can keep up with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs as equally as I can Ashton Krutcher. Hmmm.

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