Small Wars Journal

Deep Thinking: Putting Theory into Action

Fri, 07/06/2012 - 5:30am


Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey recently stated that the “Joint Force must excel at many missions while continuously adapting to changing circumstances. It means building and presenting forces that can be molded to context—not just by adding and subtracting, but by leaders combining capabilities in innovative ways.”  To understand and address the tensions between “winning the present and winning the future” a joint force capable of “deep thinking” is required.  A study of a wide range of literature identified six core strategic thinking competencies: systems thinking, visioning, environmental sensitivity, thinking in time, multi-perspective, and creativity.  This survey analyzed how three joint force leaders applied these competencies in the “real world.”  Through a comprehensive interview process, the three leaders displayed a keen understanding of the needed strategic thinking competencies and valued this type of thinking within their organizations.  Specific organizational mission and an understanding of the organization’s role and position within the larger national security framework, determined the extent to which organizations or individuals could apply the full range of competencies.  The Chairman’s PME programs must adjust its curricula to incorporate these strategic thinking competencies. 

In “Direction to the Joint Force” (2012), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey stated that the “Joint Force must excel at many missions while continuously adapting to changing circumstances. It means building and presenting forces that can be molded to context—not just by adding and subtracting, but by leaders combining capabilities in innovative ways” (7).  To understand and address the tensions between “winning the present and winning the future” will require a joint force capable of “deep thinking” (14).  The primary approach to developing a force capable of this attribute rests at all levels of Joint Professional Military Education (PME).  The PME system should produce: “strategically minded officers educated in the profession of arms who possess an intuitive approach to joint warfighting built upon individual Service competencies” (CJCSI, 2009, A-A-1). 

Through an examination of strategy in practice, this study determines how three current joint force leaders applied strategic thinking concepts in the “real world.”  First, strategic thinking, strategic planning, and strategy are defined.  Next strategic thinking competencies are identified from which central questions were derived that served to facilitate deeper discussion.  Interviewee responses are compared and contrasted from which inferences and recommendations are derived.  A summary of the responses that emerged from the selected competencies as they relate to strategic thinking and strategy concludes the survey.       

Strategic Thinking, Strategy, and Strategic Planning

In this survey, the intent was to explore phenomena central to strategic thinking, strategy, and strategic planning.  Strategic thinking is “the cognitive processes required for the collection, interpretation, generation, and evaluation of information and ideas that shape a sustainable competitive advantage” (Hughes & Beatty, 2005, 44).  Strategic thinking is about synthesis—it involves creativity and intuition (Mintzberg, 2004), and is “the most important step in any planning effort” and “begins by stepping back and observing the environment as it really is…” (Sanders, 1998, 138).  Knowledge, however, is always situational and dependent upon the perspective of the individuals involved (Tuathail, 1999).  Thus, strategic thinking seeks to gain a broader truth through the inclusion of as many perspectives as circumstances allow (Sanders, 1998).    

Organizations define goals that describe what is to be achieved.  A strategy defines how the organization will achieve those goals and how it will interact with the environment in doing so (Daft, 2010).  Strategy is a synthetic and creative process that centers on the individual strategist.  Although the strategist makes proactive attempts to shape future events, flexibility is needed to react to emerging concerns (Mintzberg, 1994). 

Strategic planning typically focuses on the plan as the ultimate objective (Liedtka, 1998).  Planning is a fairly regimented process that breaks goals down into manageable steps with anticipated outcomes or results.  These steps are formalized so that they can be repeated almost automatically and implemented across the organization (Mintzberg, 1994).  Strategic thinking sees the process as the value-added component (Liedtka, 1998) more than the plan itself.  Thus, strategic planning must encompass strategic thinking to operate effectively in today’s global environment (Hughes & Beatty, 2005). 

Given the definitions above, a survey of a wide range of literature identified a number of core competencies, which formed the basis for interview questions.  Listed below, the six competencies are described regarding their importance.  At the end of each description is the central question used to initiate discussion of the competency.

Systems thinking develops a broader and more nuanced understanding of strategic issues.  Systems can be understood by looking for patterns within their complexity (Jonassen, 2011).  The strategic thinker understands their role within the system and its interdependent nature (Liedtka, 1998), and that control and order are emergent rather than hierarchical (Hogarth & Makridakis, 1981).  The central question is, “Does your organization take a systems perspective approach to its activities?”

Visioning creates focus for an organization and leadership (Bennis, 1985).  “Vision animates, inspires, and transforms purpose into action” (30) and provides the organization with the unified focus necessary to step into future.  A vision or strategic intent enables individuals within an organization to avoid distractions and focus their energies on achieving objectives (Liedtka, 1998).  The central question is, “What did you do to create or adapt a vision for your organization?”

Environmental sensitivity is an awareness of those elements that have the potential to affect all or part of the organization. Economic, socio-cultural, and political changes in one corner of the world can immediately affect other areas. To move beyond the present, strategic thinkers must be attuned to environmental variables, many immeasurable, and have a working knowledge of the environment to gain understanding of the larger system (Daft, 2010).  The central question is, “What role do global current events play in your decision-making?’

Thinking in time--strategic thinkers link the past, present, and future (Liedtka, 1998).  The most essential cognitive skill required to solve problems is causal reasoning.  Uncovering causal relationships in problems is essential for learning how to solve them.  The two most common forms of reasoning are prediction and inference.  Prediction is forward reasoning whereas inference is backward reasoning. In planning, to understand the relationship between activities and outcomes, one needs to develop a model based upon backward inference (how did we get to where we are?) and forward inference or prediction (where do we want to go?) (Einhorn & Hogarth, 1982).  The central question is, “Is thinking in time encouraged?” 

Multi-perspective--comprehensive engagement begins with understanding the actors within the environment.  Given the dynamics of globalization and technology, the trend for considerable cultural interaction significantly increases in the future.  Strategic thinkers possessing multidisciplinary, cross-cultural perspectives are most likely to produce significant positive results (Moghaddam, 2010).  The central question is, “When confronted with challenges, do you seek as many perspectives as possible given the circumstances?”

Creativity is the “ability to challenge assumptions, recognize patterns, see in new ways, make connections, take risks, and seize upon chance” (Vidal, 2009, 412).  To be creative, new ideas are connected to prior knowledge (Jonassen, 2003). Concept or cognitive maps help to visualize external information, which aids in developing problem-solving strategies (Zahner & Corter, 2010).  The central question is, “What do you do to generate creativity, innovation, and willingness for change in your organization?”

The Interview Discourse

The three interviewees were mid-career military officers at the captain/colonel level and selected for the uniqueness of their organizations, the strategic importance of their missions, and the Services they represented.  The central question introduced a competency, and sub-questions explored the complex set of factors surrounding the issue.  Each interviewee was asked the same six central questions; however, subsequent sub-questions varied upon the initial response. 

The first interviewee was an Air Force colonel who was completing a tour in the Joint Staff J-5 Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate.  His directorate was responsible for developing and coordinating nuclear policy and deterrence issues across the United States Government, to include the National Security Staff, Department of Energy, national laboratories, among others. 

The second interviewee was a Navy captain who has just completed a tour as the commanding officer of one of the largest naval bases in the United States.  He was responsible for more than 22,000 military and civilian personnel, 25 tenant units, 15 home-based squadrons, and supported numerous other joint commands and government agencies. 

The third interviewee was a US Army colonel who recently completed a regional command assignment with the US Army Corps of Engineers.  He managed the Corps’ water resources development and navigable waterways operations for five river basins and was responsible for the Corps’ military design and construction projects for Army, Army Reserve, and Air Force military installations. 

Each interview was conducted one-on-one for approximately one hour.  The six central questions derived from the competencies provided the baseline for the interview.  The pattern of discussion for each question is response-inference-recommendation. 

Does your organization take a systems perspective approach to its activities? Each officer responded positively.  The breadth and depth of a system varied among the three with the Air Force officer viewing systems from the broadest perspective, focusing “in terms of nations, NATO, China, Russia….”  The Army officer thought in the context of two systems: there “is both a military and civilian side.” Both systems were national in scope with the civilian system encompassing national organizations, primarily Congress, whereas the military system encompassed the Northeast and South Central United States.  The Navy officer’s system was primarily local focusing on the installation and the integration of multiple permanent and tenant organizations. 

Each officer believed that a systems perspective enhanced organizational understanding and learning; the Air Force officer, however, believed that systems understanding at levels above his own were deficient.  The Army officer believed that systems understanding was understood at the national level “within the military chain,” but “Congressional priorities were based on political decisions” instead of systems understanding.  The Navy officer believed that systems understanding helped to “gain effectiveness and efficiencies when looking at budgetary considerations.”  Although the relationship between domestic and global factors is increasingly blurry, each of the officers indicated that both of these factors affected their organizations.  Risk was a consideration for the Navy officer and he used a core team of cross functional specialists as a mitigation technique.  The Army and Air Force officers believed Congress or those developing policy positions managed risk.

It appears that developing a systems perspective enhances organizational and environmental understanding.  A systems perspective assists higher and lower echelons’ integration into the broader picture and aids in developing a better understanding of external influences.  Individuals and organizations should institute a systems approach to facilitate understanding of the relationship between the organization, internal and external stakeholders, and the effects of the environment.           

What did you do to create or adapt a vision for your organization?  Each officer had a vision or created one for his organization. The Navy and Army officers’ had formal visions that focused directly on core mission (“Fleet, Fighter, and Family” and  “Best in the world at project delivery”), whereas the Air Force officer’s departmental vision was more general and externally focused (“how do we make policy enable what we do?”).  Span of control factored into how and to what extent the organization’s vision was understood throughout the chain of command.  With 21, 000 personnel under his command, the Navy officer used multiple means to promulgate the vision: “weekly department head meetings, monthly base tenant meetings, base newspaper, social media, speaking engagements, and base policy statements.” The officer believed that his vision was understood through the middle management levels with some understanding at lower levels. The commander’s base was recently named the “best base in the Navy.”

The Army officer, with 450 personnel under his command, paid strict attention to span of control for himself and his subordinates.  A manageable span of control (“no more than seven subordinates”) enabled direct personal contact with subordinates and the opportunity to promote the vision. The commander strongly believed that all 450 personnel “would know the vision verbatim.”  He also “kept the message simple” and used multiple and varied forums to promote the vision consistently.  The commander’s organization was recently named the “Best place to work in Hampton Roads.”

The Air Force officer, with five subordinates, believed that the vision was understood one level up and one level down.  Two levels up, however, leadership “was too busy to know specific issues and had a span of control problem.” Political considerations greatly affected the vision, which had priority over military considerations or needs.  Regarding what else the department should be doing, the officer responded that his department had a two-fold mission, but that “90% of our efforts are spent on strategic policy issues” and more time should be spent on the mission of strategic deterrence.

A strong vision focused on the organization’s primary task(s), appears to resonate throughout an organization and directly enhances the mission.  A strong vision eliminates unnecessary or non-core mission tasks and projects, and balances the weight of effort across all essential mission sets.  All organizations should create and promulgate an “easy to remember” vision that encapsulates the primary mission of the organization.  Leaders must take every opportunity to promote the vision within the organization.                 

Does your organization see change as temporary or a permanent part of the environment?  Each officer saw change as a constant and something that must be understood in the context of his mission.  The Army officer’s focus was primarily on domestic factors although a small portion of his workforce (2 per cent) was overseas at all times. The officer’s organization was project-focused and local variables, such as weather, had a greater effect on day-to-day operations.  Strategic decisions were made at national levels and thus other strategic environmental variables had less effect.  The officer’s organization did have manpower and resource agreements with “other national organizations, for example FEMA, [Federal Emergency Management Agency] to augment a response in the case of a national emergency.”   The ability to develop alternative plans or to engage in scenario planning activities was “not considered” as “methods were rigorously regulated by the political process.”              

The Navy officer stated that strategic events or factors did affect his decision-making as assigned units and tenant units had global response requirements.  His organization participated in “Haiti relief operations and routinely dealt with hurricanes” up and down the Eastern seaboard.  Other operations, such as Operation ODDESSY DAWN, the U.S. mission to Libya, affected his operations as he “knew we would participate.”  As a result, his aviation depots forecasted changes in aircraft maintenance to support the efforts. Local and regional events also affected his operations and his “base served as a FEMA marshalling point.”  As base commander, he and his staff engaged in scenario planning to address the range of potential responses: “anti-terrorism and force protection, fires, locusts—anything and everything.”

The Air Force officer stated that global and domestic events affected decision-making a great deal.  “Current events give us a great amount of turbulence; especially the budget as it is current event driven.” As global players in the nuclear world are fairly well-known and timelines for technological developments are fairly long, strategic shifts are less common.  When those shifts occur, however, the effects are far-reaching and long-lasting.  Multiple means are available to address changes in the environment—the staffing review process allows a problem to be readdressed many time and in multiple forums.  “A lot of ‘what if they get more’?” questions encouraged the use of scenario planning. 

Environmental change appears to be an accepted condition of the global environment.  Although change does occur at multiple levels, the ability to delineate the effects of that change as related to the organization or department’s mission determines the response.  Scenario planning appears to be of benefit when considering future actions or response efforts based upon an understanding of historical or current events.  Organizations should develop or maintain sensitivity to the environment so that changes are detected and the effects on the mission determined.  Scenario planning is an effective tool to prepare the organization for potential problems.                            

Is thinking in time encouraged?  Although each officer encouraged thinking in time, future thinking was far more limited in scope for the Army and Navy officers than the Air Force officer.  The Air Force officer’s department was keenly aware of historical programs, focusing understanding on the longevity of weapons systems and its continued effectiveness over time.  Historical thinking affected near-future thinking in the context of weapons systems—“…the last missile sub lasted so long, how can we make them last longer?  How can we get through the next decade given reduced budgets?”  National strategic policy decisions affected thinking farther into the future.  For example, the next nuclear treaty is scheduled for 2018 and “we need to think about what that will look like.  After that, the next treaty will be in 2029 and we need to think what that may look like, too.”

The Navy officer stated that base leadership thinks historically and into the future, but some personnel “are very set in their ways” and, although “very capable, they are very slow to embrace” the future.  Future thinking was especially prominent in “IT realms” and “in energy efficiencies and conservation.”  The typical timeline was in months to years, much of it dependent upon the issue, such as budget cycles or increasingly strict environmental policies.

The Army officer stated that they used “a lot of historical data” to inform their projects and personnel management.  The life span of a project or the budget cycle typically limited future thinking.  The budget process was used to understand and shape future personnel training and development needs and programs.  The officer stated that the region was coming off a historic workload, “as much as four times greater than historic highs,” because of base realignment and closure projects.  As a result of these projects nearing completion, an “equally historic reduction in workload will occur in the near future” that will require significant personnel reduction.                       

All three officers engaged in thinking in time although the specific mission determined the extent of historic and future thinking.  It appears that policy issues, which are more long-range, required the broadest span of thinking.  Task-focused missions limited thinking to that required for specific task accomplishment.  The ability to influence the outcome of the future task appears also to factor into the extent an organization engages in future thinking.  All organizations should view their mission in the context of the past, present, and future.  Past actions shed light on the “now” and the “next.”  A prudent decision maker is informed by the past and the present and understands that the future is affected by current actions. 

When confronted with challenges, do you seek as many perspectives as possible given the circumstances?  Each officer sought additional perspectives.  The Navy officer used internal and external stakeholders to identify “tripping points” that may affect outcomes.   At times external perspectives were “not allowed because of privileged information restrictions, but when able, I would get the guys who had a pivotal read and realistic perspective” to provide input.  Although actively sought, decision points and limited time requirements often undermined consensus.  The officer could reach out into the surrounding community for input on some issues as many former commanding officers lived in the community and could provide historical perspectives.  Although dissent was part of the organizational culture, the officer would often use a “red team” to provide counter views.

The Air Force officer’s smaller department facilitated a broad range of discussion and perspective.  The nature of the issues required coordination with many external organizations, most of whom had differing perspectives on the problem or the approach to the problem.  Strategic guidance also mandated “national intelligence organizations to see how other actors would react,” which typically led to a range of perspectives.  Nuclear issues typically affected allies so formal alliances, such as NATO, warranted additional consideration.  Dissenting views “have never been a problem—there is always a dissenting point of view.”  The system appears to have dissent “built-in” and there “could be trouble if everything lined up.”

The Army officer had a network of “40 other district commanders” with whom he “could call at will.”  As his agency’s work consisted of large public works projects, there were many opportunities for external perspectives to be heard.  There were local forums, interagency forums, and intergovernmental venues through which different and dissenting viewpoints were heard.  As the agency engaged in public works, the commander and his organization strove to be as transparent as possible, “to be apolitical, to bring everybody onboard.”

Multiple perspectives provide additional insights into issues that make understanding far more comprehensive.  In all three organizations, dissenting opinions were commonplace and actively sought.  It appears that each of the officers valued multiple perspectives and the richness that it added to the process.  Perhaps the nature of all three jobs and the organizational cultures, staffed primarily with military personnel, lent themselves to seeking and expecting multiple perspectives.  All organizations should seek actively multiple perspectives when undertaking any project or task.  In addition, dissenting perspectives are a vital part of developing full understanding and ensures “buy in” from stakeholders.                               

What do you do to generate creativity, innovation, and willingness for change in your organization?  Although each officer actively supported creativity and innovation, the specific organizational mission facilitated or limited the effects of either one.  For example, the Navy officer, who had many organizations with a broad range of missions under his command, described the most successful implementation of creativity and innovation.  Some of the organizations had a great deal of flexibility to try creative ideas and “look for ways to innovate.”  The base had an active recognition program that rewarded innovation and the commander provided “a steady drumbeat to show innovative successes.”  As mentioned earlier, recognized as the “best base in the Navy,” a judging criterion was innovation.  Facilitating understanding of current processes, visualization tools enhanced development of creative or innovative approaches.

The nature of the work in the Air Force officer’s department provided little opportunity to innovate products or processes, but because of “budget and force structure changes” they consistently “looked for ways to creatively address current and future needs.”  Dictated from higher echelons, constraints and restraints limited the ability to innovate.  Visual models facilitated creativity, especially when “attempting to understand human geography” or to see “mission sets geographically grouped.”  In addition, compartmentalization or classification limited the ability to be creative.

The Army officer believed that he was extremely limited from a creativity perspective.  Congress directed his projects and “there was not a lot of room for innovation.”  He did state the individuals were constantly “pushed out of their comfort zones” and that cross-training, “for example, engineers working with the construction teams,” provided insights that may facilitate creativity.  Visual models provided insights into new ideas when there were the rare opportunities to innovate, typically at the tactical or personal levels. 

Creativity and innovation appear to be valuable skills, but the opportunity to exploit and use those skills is situation dependent.  Creativity can occur at all level simultaneously or at separate levels independently, and each officer promoted a work environment that valued innovation.  A keen sense of mission and understanding of systems enabled the officers to determine when and where innovation and creativity could accomplish the mission best.  All organizations should promote creativity and innovation within their organizations—this type of mindset facilitates mission accomplishment while understanding the role of risk when undertaking such endeavors.            


Operating in complex environments and using systems thinking, the strategic thinker attempts to gain an understanding of the dynamic nature of the strategic environment.  An organization’s vision is a reflection of environmental understanding and considers the effects of the past, the present, and how the future may be shaped.  Inherently complex, any successful strategy must consider multiple perspectives and demands creativity to satisfy the diverse range of stakeholders and interests. 

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff needs strategic thinkers who can operate in complex environments.  The three officers interviewed displayed a keen understanding of the needed strategic thinking competencies and valued this type of thinking within their organizations.  Specific organizational mission and an understanding of the organization’s role and position within the larger national security framework, determined the extent to which organizations or individuals could apply the full range of competencies. Through a face-to-face dialogue of a small but representative sampling, this study determined that strategic thinking competencies are applied in the daily operations of major commands.  Although further research is needed, it appears that strategic thinking competencies become less evident at strategic levels.  “Deep thinking” is needed at all levels, however, and the Chairman’s PME programs must adjust its curricula to introduce or reinforce these strategic thinking competencies at all levels. 


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About the Author(s)

Dan McCauley is a National Defense University assistant professor at the Joint Forces Staff College located in Norfolk, VA.  Prof McCauley is a retired United States Air Force  pilot and has served in various course director capacities such as air operations, strategy, and theater campaign planning.



Wed, 07/11/2012 - 3:33pm

It is often said that despite the GPF’s tactical proficiency it is weak strategy that is the root cause of so much US frustration in the last three conflicts. This tactical prowess is often described as “spot on” or “100% right”. The extensive list of who and what is to blame for strategic failure include ‘councils of colonels’ , ‘toxic leadership’, ‘careerists,, ‘risk-aversion’, ‘ Power-Point’, ‘gatekeepers of legacy system’ and Congressional pork - a familiar list.

Unfortunately this argument fails to address the fact that these people have throughout history plagued any organisation you care to mention - whether big or small, successful or unsuccessful, technical or agricultural, military or industrial, in peace and in war. Despite their odious presence many organisations still manage to deliver excellence and prosperity. So why is it that since the mid 1960’s the US military’s success-rate has been less than stellar?

The WW2 German Army’s tactical prowess is often cited to bolster the argument of tactical strength being undone by flawed strategy. One individual who disagreed with this assertion was Marshal Georgy Zhukov. Initially he too believed in the tactical prowess of the German Army but in the battles leading up to the decisive counter-attack outside Moscow in the autumn/winter of 1941 he began to form a different opinion. AARs from junior combat leaders revealed that when the German support fires were neutralised (by say a T-34 or a variant of the ubiquitous Yak fighter aircraft) the much heralded German infantry’s tactical superiority proved to be a myth.

This precarious ‘all or nothing’ tactical capacity was recognized by Giap when engaging the French and US forces in Vietnam. The ‘hug the belt’ tactic meant Giap’s opponents where constantly attempting to break contact and import fires down onto an enemy who was forever attempting to press ‘belly to belly’. When the VC/PAVN did choose to stand and fight more often than not it was from inexpensive deep and extensive bunker networks which could absorb enormous amounts of support fires and thus enable the survivors to inflict heavy casualties on the subsequent US assault.

The Soviet tactics in Afghanistan mimicked a similar approach wherein support fire from heavily armed helicopters was supposed to ensure tactical supremacy. However it soon became apparent that the OGE performance of the Mi-8 and Mi-24 in the high Hindu Kush mountains seriously undermined this tactic. The loss of a single helicopter or the abort of an approach owing to fear of another crash-landing was enough for well trained, well equipped and courageous troopers to lose their ability to fire and manoeuvre. Even the difference in OGE affected by cold pre-dawn air (at the insertion) and conditions prevailing mid-afternoon, began to prey on the minds of the helicopter pilots and those on the ground.

The desire to break contact and descend in order to regroup or be extracted emboldened the Muj to press even harder on the back-pedalling Soviets. Often the only thing preventing them from being over-run was the Muj were forever running out of HMG ammunition because a donkey could carry only four cans of 12.7mm ammo over the numerous mountain passes. One thing was certain the Soviets never returned to the high country where their tactical shortcomings were so nakedly exposed.

The negative implications stemming from the possibility that support fires are masking a tactical weakness are compounded further by the enemy leadership’s attitude to the deaths of their own men.

In this regard ALQ and the Taliban share a common attitude to Giap and Marshal Zhukov. When they sit down for breakfast and study the overnight sitreps the toll of their own dead barely rates a mention. Zhukov even encouraged his infantry commanders to advance into minefields. Cold logic ruled that behind an extensive minefield there would be few defenders manning crew-served weapons owing to the German’s reasonable assumption that a minefield would rule out a dismounted infantry assault.

In the same vein Giap was willing to sacrifice the entire Vietcong (which he basically did in the Tet Offensive) to make a strategic point. If the need arose Giap calculated 3000 NVA regulars could be killed each and every week before the NVA losses became a strategic concern.

ALQ and the Taliban leadership take it a step further and list their dead under the header ‘Gone to Paradise’.

If there is indeed a fundamental weakness in tactical application the problem is unlikely to be rectified if costly support fires and their platforms are focused on destroying an element the enemy considers of little importance.

So what? Why does the GPF need to be proficient at fighting UW?

With the exception of the islands of Japan, the UK and Australia the US and all of its other allies have land borders. The suggestion that any potential enemy is going to attack the US or its allies with elaborate Air-Sea Battle and not UW is absurd. The last three wars make the choice of an UW campaign from a neighbouring country a no-brainer.

Though tactical prowess is just one component in the framing of an operational plan it is a critical one as only it can rapidly change the environment. If it is functioning poorly or is misdirected the Operational Planner is trapped in a planning vacuum – robbed of his main actuator. Equipped with such a dysfunctional toolset the Strategist is reduced to gazing into a crystal ball.

When Sun Tzu said:

“Strategy without tactics is the slow road to victory.”

I believe he was mocking his weaker generals.



Outlaw 09

Mon, 07/09/2012 - 4:19am

Just a side comment---until we all recognize and openly admit that Powerpoint is dumbing down Staffs and inhibiting "critical thought" and when we all fully recognize that the biggest inhibitor to a Staff engaging in "critical thinking" or anything that resembles "deep thinking" is a lack of trust---lack of trust between Cmdrs and the Staff-lack of trust between Staff sectiuons and their members and a lack of trust between senior NCOs and Officers and vice versa.

The issue of trust was also at the core of the JCoS's WP.

When you combine the effect of the dumbing down of people by the overbearing use of PPT in the place of open critical discussions, and the lack of trust to conduct those open critical discussions without being shutdown-- it really is a wonder we get anything done these days.


Sun, 07/08/2012 - 12:15pm

In reply to by Bill C.

<em>a. What is the future that we desire or require?

<em>b. How might/must this future be "shaped?"

<em>c. What role is there for the military in this process?

Or, how about:

a.) "We" don't share an agreed-upon future, therefore the next 10-20 years will be political-positioning and wasted opportunity as one side struggles to emerge with a mandate. Therefore- the future we "desire" for at least the foreseeable future will be one that emerges, changes almost daily, and is fraught with contradictions.
b.) Again, by starts and fits- very uncoordinated, confusing to our allies/enemies, self-defeating, incoherent, etc.
c.) The military has a tough job: monitor policy changes at home while simultaneously conducting operations in support of national interests- and those interests are ill-defined and constantly changing.

Bill C.

Sun, 07/08/2012 - 12:04pm

"... ideas that SHAPE a sustainable competitive advantage ..." (4th paragraph from the top of the page.)

"... Although the strategist attempts to proactively SHAPE the future, flexibility is needed to react to emerging concerns ..." (5th paragraph from the top of the page.)

"... An organization's vision is a reflection of environmental understanding and considers the effects of the past, the present and how the future may be SHAPED ..." (1st paragraph of the "Summary.")


a. What is the future that we desire or require?

b. How might/must this future be "shaped?"

c. What role is there for the military in this process?

Bill M.

Sun, 07/08/2012 - 1:07pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones


You took your arguments to the extreme in this post. You wrote,

"Yet when drawn into wars we have always been able to rely upon the security of our geostrategic location and our wealth of all manner of resources to build the force that wins the final battles and shape our future security on our terms".

If a military force could cross the ocean in 1812 and conduct a strategic raid on our capital then the means to do obviously exists. I agree the probability is low, but to claim we're protected by our location has never been true, and it especially is not true now. You dismiss the strategic raid as though it is not important, yet I'm under the impression our military is here to defend the Constitution and protect the U.S., that includes all threats, not just existential threats. The military (with other government agencies) has prevented or successfully defended against further terrorist attacks in some cases. We also don't necessarily have to worry about armies crossing oceans, but we certainly have to worry about long range missiles crossing oceans, and it isn't improbable that a near peer competitor with air power, or that a non-peer threat could attack the U.S. with a UAV in the near future. You dismiss submarines as a nuance. Yet if a submarine launched missiles into a major U.S. city or destroyed a LPG ship in port I suspect we suddenly have a great appreciation for national defense.

RAND develops the reports that its customers want, so I'm not surprised they only looked back 50 years. If the organization that you work for paid them they probably wouldn't look back more than 10 years because they think the current fight reflects the future fight. Everyone comes to the table with their biases, and as you pointed out in a previous post if we get the wrong the enemy will educate us and we'll adapt. However, I strongly differ with you on the first battle. Being prepared to win the first battle isn't that expensive, and we're morally obligated to be prepared to do so. Only inept leadership would argue otherwise, and American sure as heck wouldn't want to offer up their sons and daughters to a fool who had regard for their lives. We don't need another Pearl Harbor or Task Force Smith, if we let that happen, it means we failed to learn. I agree we can't afford to over do it, but to claim we don't need to win the first battle is wrong and immoral. You also assume we have the same industrial base we had during the Cold War that can rapidly produce the war materials we need (we don't), and it unlikely in our culture that the draft will work if we need a large Army to recover from the first battle lost.

America has long recognized (long before you and I were born) that not every war is our war, nor every fight is our fight. Wars, insurgencies, separatist movements are a constant in the world (I have to wonder where this peace is you keep referring to?) and we get involved in very few of them.

I would agree with your comments on Korea if North and South Korea were the only two nations involved and it would have no impact the global economy and regional security, but unfortunately that isn't the case. A lot of countries need to step up and increase their defense spending, but apparently they adopted your view they don't need to win the first battle and can recover afterwards. If they lose the first battle in Korea they lose Seoul.

We need balance, our leaders are calling for it, our services are trying to determine what it looks like. It is natural they'll try to protect what they have based on an uncertain future. What we don't need to do is bury our head in the sand.

Robert C. Jones

Sun, 07/08/2012 - 8:12am

In reply to by Bill M.


"Old ideas" are damn important. But too many can't see back far enough to find the solid ground we need to stand upon in order to move forward in to the world emerging around us today. We can't seem to see beyond the largely irrelevant modern history of the post WWII era. Futurists tell us that one must look back twice as far as they attempt to look forward. We build a “2020” force due to leadership terms and budget cycles. Silly, 2020 is effectively today. We need to look at least 50 years forward, and that demands that we look at least 100 years back. Doubly true given the anomaly of the post WWII era and the unpredictability of the impact of the rate of modern technological changes.

I sat in a briefing at RAND, and their entire published study intended to project our current defense needs only looked at data from the post-WWII time frame. Looking at just that bank of data they recommended that we base our current defense needs and expenditures on the model of the Eisenhower administration. Never mind that in his era there was a true Soviet threat, whereas today there is no such Soviet threat, and equally that China also is nothing like what the Soviets presented at that time either. So why build to that mission set? Their recommendation would back our defense spending down from 4.5% of GDP to 3.5%. So I asked the question. "Our current security environment is much more like what existed 100 years ago in 1912 than what existed in 1955; did you happen to look at that era as well?" Answer: "Yes." Follow-up question: "Did you happen to study our defense costs then"? Answer: "Yes, it was 1.5% of GDP."

We have lost our way. We are so trapped in the paradigm of the post WWII era that we cannot seem to return to the future shaped by the reality of our past. The inertia of the massive peacetime military created and sustained to implement a containment strategy (a strategy we still cling too as the foundation of our foreign policy, with a variety of minor modifications added to it that primarily have served to make it increasingly ideological in nature by each post Cold War administration) has created a bureaucratic gravitational force that we seem unable to break free from.

I too used to buy into the fantasy of the "first battles" argument, on how the US always struggles in first battles due to the excessive attrition of our military following war. Why does America find peace so unsettling? What about "last battles"? The US suffered one strategic raid in the war of 1812, but since then has only suffered the odd submarine attacks in WWI and II; and the even more minor terrorist attacks since. Yet when drawn into wars we have always been able to rely upon the security of our geostrategic location and our wealth of all manner of resources to build the force that wins the final battles and shape our future security on our terms.

To secure our nation best we must first reduce our military spending and shape our military for a force best designed for the peaceful, multi-polar world we live in today. Not every war is our war, not every fight is our fight. Just one example: If a nation as rich as South Korea cannot defend itself from a nation as poor as North Korea it deserves to fall. We lifted them up when they needed help, but now we enable a dangerously unhealthy situation when we commit to overly protecting them. This does not mean we must "abandon" allies, but it does mean that those relationships must evolve to remain relevant and healthy. We should work to deter North Korean aggression; but we do that best by committing to help them win the last battle of such a conflict rather than by committing to jump into the middle of the first battle.

After all, in sports or war, no one cares who wins the first quarter or the early innings. It is who wins in the end that counts. We need to stop training, organizing and equipping to fight the first battle; because it is robbing us of our ability to win the final battle. Besides, then we can build the force we actually need for the fight we are actually in. We only need a deterrence force now.

I find myself in the odd position of agreeing strongly with most of Bob Jone's comments below. Perhaps it is just my interpretation of his words, but one area of concern though is his and others apparent willingness to simply classify everything that the services are trying to protect as Cold War relics. Thinking in time from past to present to future, we need to assume that the services will engage in combat operations again, and at the tactical and operational level there are some requirements related to C2, logistics, fires, etc. that were required long before the Cold War and will be required long afterwards. This has nothing to do with the overarching strategic culture, just simple reality for those doing the fighting.

Change in the military is absolutely necessary, but many people are at risk at “over embracing” innovations by assuming all new ideas are good and all old ideas are bad. Deep thinking should embrace a deeper understanding and wisdom, not an agenda, and that understanding should help us determine what we need to protect, what we need to toss, and what new ideas and capabilities we need to embrace.

I think Dan’s article was helpful, yet in some ways misleading since it focused on military leaders which at most is only 50 percent of the problems we’re challenged with. Systems thinking should point out that the military system’s plasticity is largely determined by our civilian leadership’s policies, mandates and our national culture. This does not imply the military doesn’t need to change, but that for significant change to come about, especially in the realm of strategic thinking, then the decisive point for facilitating that change is our civilian leadership and our national culture (largely shaped by the media). Creating great strategic thinkers in our ranks alone will not in itself lead to the changes we're looking for. We only need to review “civilian” policy during the Vietnam War and more recently in OIF and OEF-A to see a significant deficit in deep thinking. In this case ideology, hopeful and happy ideas were the drivers of strategy, not deep thinking, and it was the military that was then given the task to make this vision (an illusion would be more accurate) a reality with at least one hand tied behind their back.

The one critique and question I have on the competencies listed is vision. I agree it is needed, but our system promotes, at least among our mediocre officers (which is most of us) mimicking not innovation. You only need watch some some of our officers getting interviewed by the media, and instead of sharing "deep thoughts" they don't miss an opportunity to spurt out the current buzz phrases like, “through, by and with” and “hearts and minds” to show that they’re on board with the vision. They probably don't know what any of its means, but they have a moderately successful career if they play it safe and stay on message. My question is how can we create a vision that encourages learning and innovative thinking and still unifies the organization instead of creating an environment where mimicking is encouraged, or at least not discouraged?


Sun, 07/08/2012 - 12:09pm

In reply to by DanMc

100% agree- my point was we do it so terribly while at the same time acknowledging its importance. I threw in the comment about our institutions being run by a talented few because in my opinion it will take some serious and fundamental structural and cultural change to make visioning worthwhile and to improve our visioning.

In other words, I think that even with great vision- our institutions today would render it worthless. I see some great leader's visions frustrated due to 'the institutional imperative'.

What's our vision for making these changes? I'd say something else has to drive them- as you mention below- we need a strategic vision. I submit that we don't have one because of two reasons: 1) we don't perceive our way of life/standard of living being threatened enough by a clear and present danger to force political compromise and focus, and, 2) our populace is very divided today. In that kind of environment no-one has a reason to compromise or sacrifice. Hate to be cynical like that- but that is my assessment. A better question, therefore, IMO is: with that being the environment for the next 10-15 years (no strategic vision/focus), what do we do about it in the military at the operational levels?


Sun, 07/08/2012 - 11:14am

In reply to by InTheKnow


You make a number of great observations, but I'll focus on "visioning" as it affects all of the other aspects in varying degrees. Visioning requires an understanding of where one wants to go and is predicated upon an understanding of where one currently is. Without an understanding of the current environment then a vision for the future is essentially useless and perhaps even dangerous. A vision must be realistic and attainable--if not, then subordinates will quickly see that it is a pointless task and will not actively support it and, in some cases, conduct an insurgency against it. A vision must be shared between leaders and followers and must articulate why the current approach is not working and why the new approach or vision will work. Followers or subordinates must see "what's in it for them." A vision must be clear, concise, and express the values of the organization in a manner that the entire organization can understand (and repeat).

Too often a vision or strategic direction is ambiguous and ill-specified. A lack of specificity dooms most of our efforts and complicates extremely complicated problems even more. Lack of specificity undermines creativity and innovation because one never really knows what one is after. A vision lacking specificity complicates systems thinking, does not focus the organization on the "main thing," reduces environmental sensitivity, undermines thinking in time (inferences and causal analysis), expands multiple perspectives into the unmanageable, and does not allow for pattern recognition or to see in new ways. It all starts with a well-crafted vision.

What's our vision for making these changes and how do we sell it to those who's support is needed?



Fri, 07/06/2012 - 8:58pm

I agree with others- we can't wish this change on the institution, someone has to change the way we select, promote, educate, train, and reward officers and senior NCOs if we want what the CJCS describes. I know of multiple officers who have been told they will not go beyond a certain grade due to them not having certain jobs or for having one or more less-than-top-blocked OERs (for battalion command, for instance- if you haven't been a BCT XO and gotten all top blocks- in at least some branches- you're out of the running). If everyone looks the same/has had the same experiences and we never allow for anything out of the ordinary, how will we usher in this change?

Some specific comments on the concept:

<em>Systems thinking develops a broader and more nuanced understanding of strategic issues.</em>

Systems thinking might do that- according to systems thinking theorists. It would be a shame if this was the one paradigm we picked to help us "understand strategic issues".

<em>Visioning creates focus for an organization and leadership</em>

I'd laugh at this quote if we didn't get it wrong so badly. Our institution runs on the fumes of a few very hard workers and the ingenuity of a few self-sacrificing innovators. Most of the rest are bureaucrats who would need much more than just a vision to change how they act.

<em>Environmental sensitivity is an awareness of those elements that have the potential to affect all or part of the organization.</em>

This is a very good point- but haven't seen any sign of this at any HQs I've seen- from 4-star down to O-6 level. How do we get HQs to monitor and anticipate changes in the strategic environment- outside of their limited chain of command's AO? If anything- all I've seen are HQs who order their subordinates not to do any thinking until they get guidance from on-high.

<em>Thinking in time--strategic thinkers link the past, present, and future (Liedtka, 1998). The most essential cognitive skill required to solve problems is causal reasoning. Uncovering causal relationships in problems is essential for learning how to solve them.</em>

Again, this is one paradigm- and a dangerous one at that. If we are truly to operate more effectively in complex environments we have to understand the issues with drawing causal linkages.

<em>Multi-perspective--comprehensive engagement begins with understanding the actors within the environment.</em>

We also have to understand the idea that even with all those perspectives- we'll still be short and have to continually update our perspectives- to include understanding how our own perspective interferes with that task. I have seen little evidence this is something we champion in the military- if anything our culture is 180 degrees the other way.

<em>Creativity is the “ability to challenge assumptions, recognize patterns, see in new ways, make connections, take risks, and seize upon chance”</em>

I would think an objective evaluation of our operations and strategy in Afghanistan should call into serious question our institution's ability to encourage creativity. But we don't even admit that as an institution- much less work on a solution. Looking at these three examples- all said their organizations displayed all of the characteristics to one degree or another. None identified any areas they were seriously deficient in- in fact- the only negative comments I saw were others they thought lacked the critical characteristics. This blindness belies the fundamental issue with incorporating any of these characteristics- even if our leaders admitted we needed them- most, if not all, would swear their organizations were already good to go. We have centers of excellence and enterprise systems- and yet the focus of most in our HQs is not on much else besides staying out of trouble and sustaining the status quo.

Instead of finding case studies showing the use of these characteristics for success, I'd be more impressed and hopeful if we had some case studies of HQs admitting they were seriously lacking in them- and their suggestions for overcoming those problems.

Ken White

Mon, 07/09/2012 - 12:22am

In reply to by InTheKnow

I fear In The Know is correct -- it'll take an existential threat OR a major economic meltdown to force a change. Dan's comment:<blockquote>"General officers who continue to promote gatekeepers and innovators who fail to understand their relationship within the overall whole and subsequently give up in frustration are symptoms, too."</blockquote>is spot on. We have a systemic problem.

Unfortunately, that problem encompasses <i>more</i> than outlined in his second accurate point in this sub-thread:<blockquote>The bigger question is how do you begin to change such a large a system or systems that have been relatively successful in the past, given the large number of influential stakeholders throughout the process who have varying equities and purposes? How does one make a large bureaucracy agile and flexible?"</blockquote>The regrettable answer is you don't. When Shy Meyer was Chief of Staff of the Army, he tried, valiantly and did a lot of good but many of his initiatives were stymied by the bureaucracy which simply stalled and waited until his replacement arrived. Since we eschew any sign of continuity, his great efforts were pretty much for naught and the Army returned fairly rapidly to business as usual.

The "<i>more</i>?" Congress -- as noted in other comments to this article, they are a major part of the problem. That's why it'll take and existential or severe economic threat to get changes.

The good news is that there are a lot of really good folks in all the services who bust their tails to cope with the dysfunctional system that is is the US Guvmint / DoD. Heck of a way, as they say, to run a railroad -- or four armed forces...


Sun, 07/08/2012 - 7:20pm

In reply to by DanMc

One might as well ask how does one make a Digital Equipment Corporation agile and flexible. Creative destruction as I understand it is how nature weeds out things that have evolved to the limits of their potential. Without Congress ordering change- and I submit no-one has anything to gain in the short-term by doing so- this will not happen short of a drastic strategic loss (even 9-11, while tragic, resulted in more, not less, bureaucracy). Our nation is rich enough to absorb a lot. Until we lose that I don't think we can turn our bureaucracy into something agile and flexible. Even the different branches of DoD and the Executive Branch hasn't resulted in much- from my vantage point- in terms of competitive pressures to improve.

I think we should concentrate, instead, on how to operate in an environment in which the bureaucracy is a given. How should staffs and leaders/commanders operate in such an environment- especially when they may be punished for being agile and flexible? I offer that this will be the environment for the next 10-20 years at least- but we don't have to continue to wish for the ideal world- we can start thinking about how to operate in such an environment in such a way to make our nation more secure. I personally think it will require local change- informal groups that bond together out of self-sacrifice and duty to nation- that self-organize and figure out a way forward. Mixtures of smart, no B-S folks- civilians and military- all ranks- from all kinds of different staff sections- that meet informally and undermine the bureaucracy clandestinely. Call it UW staff-work or Counter-bureaucracy ops. Maybe if a few are successful commanders can encourage them to form and operate while at the same time not getting involved with them...??


Sun, 07/08/2012 - 6:12pm

In reply to by Ken White


Thanks for your comments and please intrude any time - our cultural frameworks color our perspectives and that's a good thing. My former career was spent in the USAF so my take on Colonels is a bit different than those whose perspectives have been shaped by the Army. Your identification of the "gatekeepers" as symptomatic is spot on and a good step towards starting to solve the deeper issues. General officers who continue to promote gatekeepers and innovators who fail to understand their relationship within the overall whole and subsequently give up in frustration are symptoms, too.

While important and certainly frustrating, in the end most of the finger pointing is just "noise." The bigger question is how do you begin to change such a large a system or systems that have been relatively successful in the past, given the large number of influential stakeholders throughout the process who have varying equities and purposes? How does one make a large bureaucracy agile and flexible?


Ken White

Sun, 07/08/2012 - 12:15pm

In reply to by DanMc


If I my intrude with an observation that may be germane...

I'm not a Colonel so am no expert on the species -- but I have observed, worked and even played with literally hundreds of them over the years in peace and war, in offices and in the field, in Schools and on the town, in staff and command positions. That established, I agree with you and Bob Jones that there are, broadly, the three groupings.

I also agree with you that those groupings are not evenly populated (though I suspect my groups would differ from yours...). I agree with you that most will voice the concerns many of us voice here and elsewhere.

Where I differ is with not what they say but what they <i>do</i>.

The 'system' and the Generals are responsible for that and unless or until those two things change, there will be little improvement. The pole Colonels and those who believe they "run the Army" and / or are 'gatekeepers' are not the problem, they are a symptom.


Sun, 07/08/2012 - 11:49am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones


I agree that there may be three rough groups of O-6s as you say, although I don't believe they are populated proportionally. Personal experiences play a role in our perspectives and my experiences in the classroom over the past three years shapes mine. Of the 225 or so Colonels/Captains I've had in my classroom in that time, the vast majority of them are dedicated to making things happen. In fact, they vocalize the same frustrations you, me, and others have highlighted whether they are on the joint, service, or COCOM staffs or on their way back to operational commands.

Are there O-6s that are road blocks - absolutely. Are there O-6s retired on active duty - absolutely. It would be naive to think otherwise. To specifically single out one group over another, however, over simplifies the larger problem and creates an adversary when it is not necessary to do so.

Innovators have to understand effects beyond their immediate environment and how it fits into the larger framework. So, yes, innovators who fail to do so should shoulder some of the blame, too.


Robert C. Jones

Sun, 07/08/2012 - 10:57am

In reply to by DanMc


Wow, that is some grade-A bureaucratic double-speak you just laid down on TJ. A "dissenting concurrence" with his position in Conlaw speak. TJ is spot-on about O-6 level roadblocks. You get three rough groupings of O-6. Those who know or believe they will make flag and are largely dedicated to seeing that nothing disrupts that track; those who realize they won't make flag but are dedicated to using their energy and experience to make things happen; and those who are just sucking all the oxygen out of the room drawing a fat check until the system forces them to retire. Those groups on either end of the spectrum crush a hell of a lot of inovation. But I guess blaming the inovators for not knowing how to end-run those obstacles works too.


Sun, 07/08/2012 - 10:39am

In reply to by TJ


Your are right - the are a good many innovators out there but we often fail to leverage their abilities. Although foresight is extremely important, insight is equally important. Often innovators fail to understand the whole system and thus run into "road blocks" that lead to frustration and exasperation. Systems thinking provides insight and helps to address some of these issues - understanding the actors, stakeholders, and interrelated processes can identify some of these potential "sticking points" early on. Sun Tzu said it years ago: knowing the enemy (the system) is half the battle. Once you know the systems and subsystems, the history, current personalities, culture, etc. then effective innovation and creativity can occur.

The O-6s and 1-stars seem to draw a lot of fire as impediments to creativity. Although a few are certainly careerists, the vast majority are talented officers who have had success within their domains. They are a product of their past environment and well as their current environment. If the 3 or 4 star general really wanted innovation, he or she would remove the impediments and replace them with innovators. Plus, for all of its warts, the current system has produced predictable and, in general, satisfactory results.

The issues boils down to how one maintains all of those things that are positive and necessary about large bureaucracies while inculcating a culture of creativity, risk-taking, and innovation to deal with the dynamic strategic environment. One must keep in mind that the majority of creativity fails before a solution is found and often times no solution is found.


Innovators and officers with foresight exist for the Chairman to tap. If he's really interested, innovators can be found.

Those senior leaders who complain about critics who don't offer solutions puzzle me. Sometimes, they don't seem to understand the solutions that are being offered. Sometimes, it is almost as if they try to remain ignorant of certain perspectives so they don't have to act on them.

And then there's the problem with the rank that was interviewed in this article. I'm with those who view Colonel/Captain as the most conservative rank. O6s are often the gatekeepers who deliberately hide good ideas from the Generals and Admirals. I once went around some Colonels and directly to a General via his aide--the General was so enthusiastic he called me into his office and told me from that moment on to include him on all correspondence on that initiative.


Sun, 07/08/2012 - 9:42am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones


Great comments and insights--the pitfalls associated with many of the relics of the Cold War do need to be adjusted to meet future requirements. With that said, I'm not one to say that we need to throw everything out from the past as there were many things that worked rather well. The greater issue, and you start to address it with sequestration and Congress, is to determine where we want to be as a nation 10 years, 20 years, or 50 years from now. Although DoD appears to be spinning out of control, Congress appears to be in the same state.

I had a chance to speak to HASC senior staffers six months ago and listened to some great discussions on sequestration issues, BRAC, carriers, F-35s, etc. Unfortunately, no one spoke about the strategic operating environment (current or future) that would directly affect, or more importantly provide insight into, these needed capabilities. When the staffers were queried on the subject, they could not provide a response--we were going to continue to buy things because that's what Congressmen and women or the Pentagon wanted.

Military and civilian leaders need to develop a realistic strategic vision that is flexible enough in execution to account for the dynamic nature of the strategic environment. We cannot have 10 primary missions as mentioned in recent strategic guidance documents and expect to do any of them well. Senior civilian and military leadership must have an understanding of the current and potential future environments; prioritize objectives, missions, and capabilities based upon risk; and develop a flexible mindset and organization that is agile and responsive to the changing nature of the environment. To make this happen, the budgetary process and associated laws must must be changed to reflect this new reality.

Innovation and creativity is not just for staffs--in fact, just as design is commander-centric, Gen Dempsey's recent emphasis on mission command is focused on commanders, too. The common denominator appears to be senior commanders/leaders. During the interviews with the three O-6s, it was obvious that creativity, agility, or flexibility was not a strong suit of Congress or senior policy makers. This type of thinking is evident at the tactical level but becomes less evident the higher up one goes.

Maybe we need GCCs as currently constructed. Maybe we need Air-Sea Battle. Maybe we need a new CYBERCOM. Anything is possible and a case could be made for each without an understanding of the strategic environment and its trends. If you don't know where you are going then any road will get you there.


Ken White

Fri, 07/06/2012 - 11:14am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Robert C. Jones:

Excellent comments.<blockquote>"...But while attempting to teach it is a good idea, we really have to first prioritize and select for individuals who naturally think in this manner."</blockquote>Exactly -- there will be <u>no</u> real progress until this is done.

I do have one minor quibble. With respect to strong and weak leaders:<blockquote>"We're about 50/50 on those types of leaders at best, in my experience."</blockquote>I realize you wrote "at best" but my observation has been that the ratio is more nearly 25:75. The weak are indeed inheriting the earth...

As you also write, Congress has a significant role in this. In their laudable quest for fairness and merit, they have -- as usual -- overdone it. Significantly.

Robert C. Jones

Fri, 07/06/2012 - 8:12am


I completely agree that we need much more of this type of thinking, as well as much greater tolerance for this type of thinking as well. But while attempting to teach it is a good idea, we really have to first prioritize and select for individuals who naturally think in this manner.

Our current system puts a much higher premium on "memorizers" over "understanders"; and on "doers" over "thinkers." The Darwinian effect is that by the time one gets to the grade where one is able to actually impact strategic product, the vast majority of the strategic thinkers have been weaned from the force. For myself, I fully realize that I advanced as far as I did in spite of these tendencies, not because of the same.

Though to be fair, I have always found that truly strong leaders appreciate such effort and input from subordinates very much and encourage and promote it; while weak leaders fear it with equal fervor and work tirelessly to crush it where they find it. We're about 50/50 on those types of leaders at best, in my experience.

Currently the Chairman is truly calling for thinking of this sort, and I sense his frustration with the products being brought to him as the "turf protectors" and "agenda promoters" link arms to dumb down any thinking that they fear may either nick away at their turf as they have come to define it, or threaten some agenda they are seeking to promote.

So we see GCCs emerging largely unchanged, even though all initial thinking was that it was time for significant change to that dated, Cold War construct. We see "Air-Sea Battle" and the associated "A2AD" pressing forward with little current or emerging foundation for it to rest upon, but rather supported only by a strong desire to preserve an already obsolete status quo and to support programing for the Air Force and Navy to that end. Likewise with the Army's truly bizarre scheme to employ an ARFORGEN system of BCT rotations designed to feed Afghanistan and Iraq over the past 10 years as a means to project "regional" forces out onto an unsuspecting world to meet completely unvalidated "requirement" for BDE-sized SFA as a cure to our future security challenges. This is what happens when an organization prioritizes "lessons learned over the past 10 years" applied to a Cold War model; over those lessons learned over the entire course of our national history applied to the world actually emerging around us.

Then there is our monstrous intel community. With so much energy focused on what happened last week to predict what will happen today and tomorrow, it is damn hard to break away from that tactical gravitational pull to assess what has been happening over the past hundred years and project out what we should be doing for the next 20-30. The clanging klaxon of the tyranny of the urgent almost always drowns out the calm voice of the important.

This is where Congress really needs to step in. DoD is spinning out of control, and it is the DUTY of Congress to use the power of the purse to force true change. Creating fear-generating terms like "Sequestration" to describe a budget adjustment that probably does not go half deep enough is a bit of clever propaganda coming out of a Pentagon that appears at times to be more focused on serving and protecting itself, than the very Constitution and people we all swore to protect.

We live in dynamic times. Now is indeed a time for deep strategic thought and a willingness to embrace an uncertain future. But first, we must break from an inertia that keeps us trapped firmly in an unimaginative world defined by our recent past.