#35 A Mixed Bag

This may be a little bit of a mixed bag. Throughout the week, I have found source material from many different places and for one reason or another they have all resonated with me. I'm not sure I can tie them all together in a coherent manner, but I will try. Thematically they all tie into OODA, but also seem to clarify the ideas of individual involvement and institutional change.

First, an article from Imprimis. Imprimis is a product of Hillsdale College and was recommended by one of the moderators at the Battle Command Knowledge Center(BCKS). The article is entitled "The Future of Western War", written by Victor Davis Hanson. You can find it here:
www.hillsdale.edu/news/impris.asp In the article, Dr. Hanson outlines a historical 'western' perspective on war. It is an interesting read. His concept of 'western' war has 4 basic parts. First, "Constitutional government was conducive to civilian input when it came to war." Second, "Western culture gave birth to a new definition of courage." Third, "...the association of Western war with advanced technology", and by extension it's connection to capitalism. And finally, that "Western armies are impatient. They tend to want to seek out and destroy the enemy quickly and then go home."

The key paragraph for me was the following that very accurately describes the current state of the wars in both Iraq and most certainly in Afghanistan:

"To put this in contemporary terms, what we are asking today is for a young man with a $250,000 education from West Point to climb into an Apache helicopter - after emailing his wife and kids about what went on at a PTA meeting back in Bethesda, Maryland - and fly over Anbar province or up into the Hindu Kush and risk being shot down by a young man from a family of 15, none of whom will ever live nearly as well as the poorest citizens of the United States, using a weapon whose design he doesn't even understand. In a moral sense, the lives of these two men are of equal value. But, in reality, our society values the lives of our young men much more than Afghan societies value the lives of theirs."

This is a classic OODA example of proper Orientation. Seeing the operating environment through a correct prism - not one colored by our own cultural experiences. These key understandings of the enemy's value on human life, our reliance on technology, and our built-in desire for instant results provides our enemies with a very simple and yet effective strategy to prosecute the war and achieve their aims - namely (1)to kill or injure as many of us a possible to test our resolve about the value of human life, (2) to exploit the gaps in our technology (as evidenced by news reports that they can hack our UAV feeds using commercial products), and (3) to extend the length of the conflict to turn us back on ourselves and ramp up the discord raised by not being able to meet the demand for instant results.

The second source document is an Army publication entitled "A Leader Development Strategy for a 21st Century Army" The second paragraph states:

"Our enemies - regular and irregular - will be well armed, well trained, well equipped and often ideologically inspired. We must overmatch their training with our training and with the development of our leaders. We must counter their ideologies with our history and with a sustained commitment to our values. They will be patient, and they will adapt. We must learn faster, understand better and adapt more rapidly. Our enemies will decentralize, partner, and network to form syndicates of threats against us. We must form our network by partnering with our Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, Multinational teammates to defeat their networks. We are developing our leaders in a competitive learning environment, and it is in this environment above all others that we must prevail."

This quote implies that we must adapt and change the way we see ourselves. Another critical element of the OODA cycle. If we simply accept the bureaucratic, corporate, 'go-along-to-get-along' mentality that is very prevalent today, while our enemy continues to change, morph, and evolve, we will inevitably lose due to maintaining a static understanding of ourselves and our environment.

The key piece of the above quote for me though was the use of the word 'ideologically' when applied to the enemy, and the word 'history' when applied to ourselves. I wonder, seen from the enemies perspective, are we the ones with the ideology, and are they the ones with history? After all, a country that is only a little over 200 years old, doesn't have much to compare with a country who's history reaches back to the earliest centuries. While we may have to learn to think, act, and perceive change more quickly than in the past, it will have to be done with a keen eye toward a people who think in centuries, not decades.

Another interesting news piece also comes from a BCKS moderator. Apparently, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently conducted an experiment to see the impact of social media by conducting an experiment where they hid balloons throughout the the entire country and challenged teams to find them only using social media sites to do it. The winning team was able to find all of the balloons in 9 hours. The interesting part of this experiment for me was the very real acknowledgement by the researchers that social media is having a profound influence on the way communication occurs in the infancy of the 21st century. This is yet another example of generational shifts that will have to be recognized and accepted to achieve impactful leader development in order to look at ourselves and our adversaries correctly.

Finally, in line with above, is a speech given to cadets at West Point by the CEO of General Electric, Jeff Immelt. His speech was given on December 9th. You can find it here:
http://views.washingtonpost.com/leadership/guestinsights/2009: During the speech Mr. Immelt made a few points that I think are important and speak to some of the ideas I have forwarded throughout this blog.

"We must build a new generation of leaders to create a different future. We have been spending some time at GE trying to understand what attributes of leadership will make an impact with the challenges of the 21st century. "

"To that end we are launching a new corporate leadership staff. These will be the best and brightest of our 22 - 30 year olds. We will give them accelerated experiences and training. The goal is to have them ready to run a big business by age 30. We know this works. We have taken some of our best talent and given them an intense and accelerated experience. It is the way you train in the military and we know that intensive training and complex real experiences are the best tools for creating future leaders."

These quotes and passages form the context for today's thoughts. In the Imprimis article, the author made a pretty clear historical argument for why we are the way we are. Those societal, political, and technological changes that have formed the framework for the 'western' approach. The passage from "Leader Development" is yet another call for the Army to see itself clearly and to develop those human capabilities necessary for Soldiers to prevail in ambiguous situations. I found the DARPA research project interesting only because it is an incredibly simple - and yet incredibly profound - example of the impact that technological change can have on society. And finally, Mr. Immelts comments last week. I found the idea that a corporation such as GE can develop and implement a method of empowering those at the very bottom of the organization - and in the process overcoming corporate bureaucracy and entrenched behaviors - amazing. Even more amazing is that he was asked to give that speech to the next generation of Army leaders. I wonder though, was it given as a piece of advice that they should hold on to, or did they walk out thinking that that would be the type of organization they would walk into? From my vantage point, I sincerely hope that they remember his words and continually push to create those environments when they are in a positions to do so. I worry though that they will think that because West Point invited him to speak that this creativity and risk-taking with young people is the way we do business on a regular basis. Sadly, it is not.

Since my posts where I have used a more personal approach to my own development path and issues seems to gather the most feedback, and feedback and the exchange of ideas are the reason for blogging in the first place, I will try to do that here. Most Soldiers - including me - don't spend all that much time thinking about the grand ideas that form the patterns of their lives. The Imprimis article did that for me. It pointed out things I'd never really considered before. Instant gratification, the huge impact of technology on my interactions, the 'football' game approach to warfare where at the end of regulation there is a clear-cut winner and loser. All of these things I take for granted. And yet, seen from the other side, it becomes all too clear that in this war, at this time, and against this enemy, they could very well be our Achilles heel. That is not to say that they are wrong, or that I am siding with some other ideological viewpoint, but rather that every ideology, theology, or value system has an opposite, and it is not a good idea to ignore that. I would add here the concept of time as a critical consideration. Americans generally view time as a commodity, and so the more you can do in the least amount of time, the better the ratio. An efficiency model. But since the societal/behavioral attachments to that concept are the real impactors of how we fight wars, this could be a real detriment. Having a grand strategy that takes place over time - say 30 to 50 years, may be a better model to use because it keeps the focus on the eventual endstate and gets less wrapped up in day-to-day minutia.

I also find it more and more interesting that corporate America seems to be placing a premium on dealing with change. Major organizations seem to be actively (that is key) realizing that through people-centric structures, focused on achieving a strategic aim, they are in a better position to recognize, adapt to, and accelerate through periods of ambiguity and uncertainty. I keep finding articles, speeches, and position papers where the Army is talking the right talk, but I'm not sure that we have broken the mold enough to actually walk the walk.

I'm not sure that I was able to adequately tie these thoughts together today as I had hoped to, but I tried. To me, starting with a clear understanding of the poeple who comprise the Army and the Army's place in society, and coupling it with an understanding of the environment (both at home and deployed) in terms of history, behaviors and norms, and then actively seeking the input, ideas and energy of those who will come after us is the key to any successful leadership discussion. So, if none of this made sense to you, feel free to comment and maybe we can help each other see the issue more clearly.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and comments.


  1. I agree in that an understanding of the people who comprise our Army, as well as those who make up the enemy, is critical in order to achieve success/victory.

    All Soldiers or organizations in any sector would benefit immeasurably from an educational process which taught them the importance of those at their side. The duties, responsibility and purpose of every person in an organization should be known to all members. Do we all know this of our own leaders? Do our subordinates know this about us? Certainly not, there is someone in the chain of whom we do not know what role they play in the grand scheme of things.

    I believe this is because the emphasis in our current situation is focusing on the enemy who struck us at our homeland and dragged us into an extended foreign conflict with no clear solution and diminishing support from our own local populace (the reverse of course, is the key component to a successful rebellion or insurgency).

    Haste makes waste, and while the higher ups mandate a few powerpoint presentations every quarter of the fiscal year to "check-the-block" and educate our force on the enemy and the current operating environment, they have overlooked the importance of making sure Soldiers are educated about themselves first.

    A rough translation of Sun Tzu applies to this topic:

    "Know the enemy and know yourself, you will always be victorious; know yourself and not the enemy, you will experience some losses and some victories; know neither yourself or the enemy, you will be defeated every time."

    I'd like to expand on this because it seems to be missing something, even though I know it is audacious of me:

    "Know the enemy and not yourself, you may not experience loss but will be unable to recognize victory."


  2. LT - Thanks so much for the comment. I, obviously, believe that you are correct, that we need to look harder at ourselves and the organization because those are the filters through which we view conflict and the enemy. I found your final thought to be extremely interesting. How do/will we define victory - presuming of course we 'win'? The entire government seems to have done a poor job explaining to the American people the purpose, scope, and scale of this type of warfare and so we don't seem to have a measuring stick by which to check 'the score'. This of course, is one of those 'western' ideas that there must be a clear winner or loser in every conflict. Due to the complexities of the intelligence world and the inability/unwillingness of those who run it to outline the nature of these real threats, we are left with our leaders to tell us that this or that number of threats have been defeated etc. However, since many people don't trust the government anymore (regardless of who's in charge), it leads to doubt as to whether or not there ever was a credible threat in the first place. A perfect example of the structure of our system being used against us to sow doubt, fear and distrust. Our enemies have done their homework. They know that the insular nature of our government will not inform it's citizens of certain information, so they work the edges and stay shadowy in order to increase nervousness and a generalized apathy/paralysis.

    From a leader perspective, I think the process is relatively simple. Provide a clear-cut purpose, disseminate it as widely as possible and then focus every person in the organization toward it as often as possible. As we move into the year ahead, I wonder if many people are even aware that Gen McChrytal's strategy for Afghanistan will be remarkedly different from the situation most Soldiers faced just a year or two earlier. The structure is getting in the way of the message. Soldiers are preparing in the same predictable manner, while the situation has changed dramatically. Seems to me we're out-OODAing ourselves.

    Again thanks for the comment. I appreciate your input into the discussion.