Nimitz wouldn’t make it today

Zero-defect culture.

…Chester Nimitz, before he became the famous Admiral in the Second World War, early in his career he actually ran his ship aground when he was commanding a smaller vessel… He said that… Chester Nimitz would never have made it past the next promotion board if he did that today.

THE GRIT AND GROWTH MINDSET – War Room – U.S. Army War College

I have to imagine running a ship aground is one of the cardinal sins for a Navy commander.

We’re spending a lot of time lately talking about underwriting mistakes as a way to spur innovation.

Are we doing it?

I recently reflected on the fact that I don’t actually see many people destroyed for small mistakes.

Despite that, this sense that one small error can completely derail a career is pervasive. What’s going on here?

Related – this short thread where a couple of us joke about tough obstacles. How many people out there lost their shot at some special unit or career field because they failed a single obstacle on an obstacle course?

What if that was the obstacle that double no-go’d you and sent you home?

I’m sure it’s happened before. How odd.

It’s a weird thing to think about.

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Masters of Irregular Warfare

Garibaldi, Mosby, Rogers, Lawrence – this episode is about masters of irregular warfare, old and new.

This episode explores the capabilities that irregular warfare practitioners bring to bear. Our guests discuss how irregular warfare integrates into—and often plays a pivotal supporting role in—broader conventional conflict. The conversation ends with recommendations for how to prepare and employ irregular warfare capabilities to address the major threats to US national security, to include great power rivals, rogue regional powers, and violent nonstate actors.

How Small Wars Fit into Big Ones: Lessons from the Masters of Irregular Warfare – Modern War Institute

There were a lot of gems in this one. Here’s what stood out:

MG Brennan on Robert Rogers and John Mosby as irregular warriors:

True innovators that bucked the system… and I think they also played a great part in the psychological aspect of warfare against their enemies that the conventional folks didn’t, they [the conventional forces] tried to do it with mass and cannons and these guys did it by being sneaky and moving around at night.

MG John Brennan, Commander, 1st Special Forces Command (~4:30 mark)

I love that first part. “True innovators that bucked the system.” Innovation is not going to look normal the first time you see it. Leaders have to take a deep breath and let things play out every now and then.

“A sideshow of a sideshow.” On losing at the tactical level but achieving strategic success.

Look at T.E. Lawrence and what he was able to do, really with a handful of tribesmen. He struck at the infrastructure of the Turkish force and and the German Asien Korps… with tiny resources Lawrence made an 800 mile advance that was closely integrated with General Allenby’s conventional forces.. [this] took a lot of pressure off fo Allenby and allowed the conventional offensive to move forward.

Dr. John Arquilla

Yes, absolutely. Dr. Arquilla goes on to discuss how many irregular warriors lose over and over at the tactical level. But they know that winning the battle isn’t important. They are playing the long game. He cites Mao and Ho Chi Min as examples.

Back to Lawrence. There is so much to study in the case of the Arab Revolt. The way the Arab Revolt served as a shaping operation to Allenby’s decisive operation is textbook. But there is so much more here. Lawrence knew it was a sideshow and that his revolt didn’t even matter. He knew he didn’t even have to fight anymore. He had “arranged in the minds of others” a new reality that achieved his aims.

Lawrence and Allenby understood the war and understood each other’s roles. Here is Lawrence:

His words to me were that three men and a boy with pistols in front of Deraa on September the sixteenth would fill his conception; would be better than thousands a week before or a week after. The truth was, he cared nothing for our fighting power, and did not reckon us part of his tactical strength. Our purpose, to him, was moral, psychological, diathetic; to keep the enemy command intent upon the trans-Jordan front.

T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

On innovation, talent management, and finding the right people.

We are trying to pulse the force to get those innovators to come to the surface so that we can put them in a pipeline that sets them up for success both academically and to get those experiences where it matters.

MG John Brennan (~21:00 mark)

This is a real challenge in the Army. Innovation is easily stifled in a hierarchial and traditions-based organization like the Army. Even in special operations communities, it is still the Army. Innovation, by it’s nature, is going to look different. It is going to “buck” the status quo. Leaders need to be able to widen the aperture and accept that something that doesn’t quite look or feel right just might be the next big thing. Instead of squashing it or shutting it down, embracing it might be the right move.

And it will mostly fail.

Great innovation doesn’t happen the first time. I’d love to see some “failures in innovation.” Folks who tried, but it didn’t work. Most importantly, where the command applauds that failure. People have to know it is okay to experiment. Otherwise, the incentives are misaligned.

This goes to the concept of top cover.

When this mystic, Orde Wingate came along and said ‘I can do deep-penetration operations to upset the entire logistics of the Japanese in the Burma-theatre,’ Churchill got very enthusiastic and gave him the top cover to do this…

Dr. John Arquilla

For every military innovator, there is a champion somewhere higher in the chain of command who has to smile and answer questions from higher. Leaders do not need to be innovators themselves, but they have to enable it.

Loved these throughts from MG Brennan on military reporting and the tyranny of too much ISR (around the ~31:00 mark).

I’ve seen intelligence, surveillance, and reconaissance aircraft used as ‘combat voyeur’ tools to make sure formations are doing the right thing.

Oof. The worst.

I remember as a Captain not seeing my company commander for months and months on end. The weekly SITREP was all he got and that was coming over HF [high-frequency radio].

There is so much to discuss here (but not today). No one joins the Army thinking about how good they’d be at writing SITREPs – but boy has that become a discriminator. And we know we’re heading to a future where permissive communications will not be a given. SITREP-bloat is a real thing. And there is value to painting a good picture for higher. But there is a conversation to be had concerning re-aligning reporting expectations and mission command.

On where irregular warfare expertise lay at scale.

It’s in the special operations community that you see capabilities for engaging now.

Dr. John Arquilla

The episode concludes with an interesting converstion on the concept of the “hybrid leader.” That is, someone who is both an irregular warfare thinker and practicioner.

I think that starts with the recruiting – recruiting from the right talent pools, and part of recruiting the right people is providing the right message about what we do.

MG John Brennan (~42:00)

Yup.

You say SOF and they think door kicking, they think Zero-Dark Thirty – that’s just a very small aspect of what SOF does. So we are trying to help recruit people by showing what SOF does in a much more holistic spectrum, not just DA [direct action], we do COIN [counter-insurgency], we do FID [foreign internal defense], we do information warfare, we do civil affairs/civil reconaissance, we work with hundreds of different partners.

We typically recruit people that are adventerous, they’re problem solvers, and as part of their training, we want to make sure we’re enhancing that, and that we’re recognizing it, and making it flourish.

MG John Brennan (~42:00)

A great episode – and a great lead off for IWI. The episode left me feeling good both about the conversation surrounding irregular warfare and the future for special operations.

This field is littered with jargon and buzzwords that are incredibly confusing. But these words matter and behind them are important and nuanced concepts. These episodes (and articles) have an important ‘inform’ component to them. They get the word out. They let people know what’s out there.

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Institutionalizing Irregular Warfare: Introducing IWI

Very excited to see this initiative.

To help bridge this gap, the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project and the Modern War Institute at West Point are proud to announce the launch of the Irregular Warfare Initiative (IWI). IWI is designed to support the community of irregular warfare professionals, to include military and interagency practitioners, scholarly researchers, and policymakers, by providing a space for accessible, practically grounded discussions of irregular warfare policy and strategy.

Introducing the Irregular Warfare Initiative – Modern War Institute

The Irregular Warfare Podcast has quickly become one of my favorite. Like many of you, my podcast queue is infinite. I never get to anything, but their podcast aligns perfectly with with my interests – and it is actually good. It bumps everything out of the way and becomes a “listen to now” podcast.

Looking forward to seeing how this shapes up over the next year.

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This is going to end my career

I’m a new subscriber to the Jumo Brief. In the most recent newsletter, Brennan recounts a time he left his flight jacket in his office and thought it would end his career.

Of course, it didn’t end my career. It didn’t even matter a week later. I was just a dumb lieutenant doing dumb lieutenant things. But it didn’t feel like it at the time.

Jumo Brief

This is such a common thought in the Army. Some miniscule mistake is going to be the thing that ends it all.

I’ve thought that before, and I know most others have.

When I actually think back on it, I can’t really think of any specific instances where this was true. In fact, the opposite is mostly true. I see plenty of leaders making small mistakes and things working out okay.

A mistake is made, there may be some consequence (or not), and learning occurs (hopefully).

Of course, there is a difference between small mistakes (forgetting a flight jacket) and catastrophic mistakes – the types of things that gets people hurt or killed, due to negligence.

A lot of mental energy is wasted in the Army worrying about small mistakes and their potential to be the thing that derails a career. The more I reflect on it though, the more I realize I haven’t actually seen it much.

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Sometimes, you really don’t understand

Good article over at CJO on empathy and understanding for leaders.

The first thing I learned from this experience is that unless you’ve personally experienced a problem, it is unlikely you fully understand the issue. We can listen, we can learn, and we can empathize, but we’ll never have the same perspective as someone who has been on the receiving end of racism, sexual harassment and assault, or any of the other serious issues facing our formations.

Do We Really Understand?. By: James McLaughlin | by CoCMD & PLT LDR | Leadership Counts! | Mar, 2021 | Medium

When brought a problem, many leaders have a tendency to rush to demonstrate understanding.

“Ah yes, I understand,” often replying with some similar (but potentially off the mark) anecdote in an attempt to build rapport.

Better, is to admit when this is something you haven’t experienced, and to try to listen and find where your gaps are, and then use your experience to marshall resources where appropriate.

Instead of “I understand how that must feel,” maybe “That must be really hard.”

Squishy? Yes. But it can go a long way.

There’s also some good anecdotes in this piece about failing to salute, which can be embarrassing.

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Work Ethic = Results: Diamond Dallas Page on FTGN

The one thing I do know is that The Rock, Tom Brady, LeBron James, Oprah, everyone of those power people, go down! They just don’t stay there. They feel it, and then they let it go and they start figuring out ‘how am I going to fix this?’

S2, E11: Diamond Dallas Page- The Power of Work Ethic – From the Green Notebook

When I first saw the graphic announcing that Diamond Dallas Page was going to be on an episode of the From The Green Notebook podcast, I literally laughed out loud because it seemed so outside of the norm of the folks who had been on the podcast previously – leaders like General (Ret) Votel and McChyrstal who spoke about leadership and Major General McGee who spoke about the Battalion Commander Assesment Program.

This seemed like a sudden departure – one that I fully welcomed. There is a tendency for military-themed sites and podcasts to become their own echo-chambers or an extended mouthpiece of “big army messaging” – this site not excluded. This was summed up nicely below:

The professionialization of military-themed sites (I don’t want to call it the military “blogosphere” anymore – because I think that era has passed) is a good thing. Sure there are things we are missing – like the raw experiences of soldiers that we saw in the last decade. But that stuff is still there, if you want it (Twitter/Instagram/Tik-Tok).

Going back to the podcast, it is absolutely a good thing to bring in folks outside of the military bubble. Different perspectives and experiences will keep us honest, and often offer insights we won’t get from hearing the same polished talking points from the same polished leaders, influencers, or thought leaders.

Like Joe, I was a wrestling fan growing up (huge NWO fan) and I knew DDP’s story. I also remember watching the Jake the Snake documentary years ago and being taken by the sadness of the wrestling industry and the way its superstars can fall into cycles of addiction and depression.

While this episode isn’t about DDP’s wrestling career, I found the parts describing the reality of that life fascinating. There’s what we see on TV – a well-lit, choreographed dance – and what happens in reality; broken bones, brutal work-schedules, all-day travel in a bus, petty professional jealousies.

Not very glamorous.

Below are the key take-aways and nuggets I got from the episode.

The central theme was the importance of work ethic. Joe and DDP talk about it on a few different occasions. DDP didn’t even get started in wrestling until he was in his thirties and he didn’t “make-it” until he had crested forty. I remember watching as a kid and thinking he seemed older than his peers. DDP credits his work ethic, stating “work ethic equals results” and later “work ethic equals dreams.”

This is something I’ve picked up on more and more over the years. There is a place for raw talent and genius, but for the rest of us, most success comes from hard work and consistency over time, with a little bit of luck and timing thrown in there as well. There’s simply no alternative to grinding through, happily.

On identity: there is a portion early in the episode where DDP and Joe discuss the fact that “this is all going to end.” If you’re a wrestler, you are going to get too old and hurt to keep going. Every soldier eventually takes off the uniform. There is a tendency in both professions to wrap ourselves up in the identity that comes with the profession. When that ends (which it will), it can lead to depression or a fall. As Colin Powell put in his famous rules – “Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.” Easy to say, harder to do.

“Don’t just think it, ink it.”

I’ve never heard this before, but it resonates instantly – and as a rhyming phrase, artificially holds more truth. Still,the practice of writing can be reflective and help bound you to your goals. Writing it down – somewhere – reinforces accountability and intention.

“It’s not about who you know, or who knows you, it’s about who’s willing to say they know you.”

Here, DDP is talking about people willing to put their names on the line for you. Mentors and mentorship relationships are great. But when things are going poorly, or you actually need some help, is there someone out there that is willing to put their name on the line? To pick up the phone and make that phone call? That is much more rare, and special.

On going to Iraq/Afghanistan: Nothing deep here, but as someone who has been in and around the military since the start of the GWOT, I’ve been fascinated by celebrity trips overseas. During the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was a pretty common occurrence. What has struck me is how impactful those trips are, not for the soldiers (although that is important), but to the celebrities themselves.

Even though they may only spend a few days in a location, these trips seem to have a huge impact on them personally and you will often here it recounted in interviews as one of the most important things they have ever done. It’s a consistent theme I’ve heard over the years. It’s easy to be cynical, as some are, and chalk it up as self-serving, but I don’t think it is. Once you’re in the service, you can’t unknow it. For celebrities that make the trip, they really don’t know what to expect.

Lastly, I’ll close with the quote that opened the piece. DDP talks about the fact that everyone goes down at some point. “Going down” is different for everyone. It could be your job, your relationship, your mental health, your financial situation – whatever. There is going to be hardship. The important thing is to accept it, and as he says, “feel it,” and then begin moving on. This reminded me of Joe’s interview with Stanley McChyrstal where he talks about bouncing back from the Rolling Stone article – same story.

I got a lot more out of this episode than I thought I would. It’s short and worth the listen. It really doesn’t matter if you’re a wrestling fan or not – it’s a human story.

Lastly, FTGN is running a short essay contest (details here). The prompt is to write about the three lessons you’ve learned from any one of their podcasts. One of the key lessons I’ve learned from listening over the past few months is the importance of this writing practice (writing after listening) as a way of reflecting.

Congrats to Joe on the episode and I look forward to more surprises!

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FICINT: Imagining our own destruction

This blog is becoming a shill for great podcasts.

During this episode, Mr. August Cole discusses fictional intelligence (or FICINT) and how it can help leaders understand emerging concepts such as the cognitive warfighting domain. August observes that plausible fictionalized future scenarios which are rooted in academic research communicate to leaders and decision makers better than do white papers and powerpoint slides. He also emphasizes the importance of experimentation and stress testing ideas. One of August’s primary goals with his writing is to use FICINT and narrative to prevent strategic surprise.

The Cognitive Crucible Episode #33 Cole on FICINT and the Cognitive Warfighting Domain

When I read Ghost Fleet, it scared me. Future war is terrifying.

But it also motivated me to work, and to keep working to get ahead of some of the challenges it prophesizes.

Ghost Fleet is a work of “FICINT” or “fictional intelligence,” a play on the other “INTs” of the intelligence community (SIGINT, HUMINT, etc.).

One of the key findings of the 9/11 Commission Report is that we suffered from a failure of imagination. FICINT offers a way to imagine future threats, and then, hopefully, prepare for them.

This was a great episode. Things that stuck out below:

On writing about a “Crimea-like” unconventional warfare campaign waged by the US (Underbelly).

“What rules would US and allied forces break in wartime? When you go back in history, it’s quite clear that norms and rules are broken in every single conflict, like unrestricted submarine warfare in the 20th century – so what’s the equivalent of the 21st century? Is it going to be breaking down all the barriers of data access?”

Returning to the idea of “what rules are we going to break,” Cole empahsises the point that we can use FICINT to start thinking through these problems now.

“The more time we can invest in understanding the ethical, legal, operational, and doctrinal implications now, the better chance we have to make those decisions as carefully as a country like ours needs to during a large scale conflict.”

The podcast wraps up with Cole recommending listeners read Agency by William Gibson. Gibson, for the uninitiated is the author of Neuromancer, which is the inspiration for much of the “cyberpunk” genre of fiction.

I haven’t read either (yet), but Cyberpunk 2077 is up next.

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Market intelligence and trends in the “Future 100”

Another gem from The Cognitive Crucible on market intelligence.

Emma spearheaded the launch of the Wunderman Thompson Intelligence “Future 100” Report, which helps people prepare for emerging consumer behavior with 100 original trend predictions from Wunderman Thompson Intelligence.

The Cognitive Crucible Episode #34 Chiu on Market Intelligence and the Competition for Attention

The report is worth downloading and looking through. While each of the individual trends are interesting (some more than others), reading this in the aggregate gives you a good sense of our overall trend, the sweeping narrative, or the general direction that we’re heading in.

The concept of the “Ethical scorecard” is one that I think resonates with most organizations these days. It’s not enough to just do the work, but customers (and employees) want to know where the organization stands on all sorts of issues.

This may be a second/third-order effect of organizations ‘becoming’ people.

Some of the trends that I found most interesting below.

Mobilizing fandom.

Around the world, social media has connected the fans of hit TV series, movies, books and musicians to the objects of their adoration, and crucially, to each other. In the United States, Taylor Switf has her Swifties, Beyonce has the Beyhive and Lady Gaga the Little Monsters. With a single social media post, these fans can rise as a group to boost music sales, defend their heroes against detractors, and increasingly, throw their weight behind social and political causes.

This is related to what happened earlier this year with GameStop. While not necessarily connected to an an individual key influencer, the collective culture around a specific community mobilized around a single cause, which resulted in rapid real-time effects.

This reminds me of a good NYT piece on “stan” culture. Worth the read.

Upending deepfakes.

Whether they’re disseminated by pranksters and trolls or political operatives and propagandists, deepfakes can be confusing to the public and corrosive to the social fabric. These tools of disinformation are a downside of today’s highly sophisticated applications of artificial intelligence (AI), but AI itself is the main weapon being used to disable them.

Deepfakes are important, and the technology exists now. There is a cognitive bias towards elevating what we see as truth. In the race for attention, video wins.

Still, I’m not sure yet whether the deepfake threat is hype or not. Are there any instances where this has been employed successfully with a desired result? Either way, having means to determine whether videos are real or not is going to be important.

Flexperiences.

Innovative companies are finding new ways to repurpose empty venues and assets, creating hybrid and adaptable experiences.

Empty lots become drive-in movie theaters, dine-in restaurants become drive-through take-out, a parking space becomes a micro-garden.

Most of these trends are just that – trends. Trends are flashy. Trends are fun. And they can get you a lot of attention quickly. But at the end of the day, we’re all still human, and the best stuff comes from deep work over time.

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Media war in Iraq

From Al-Monitor:

In a span of less than three months, five “new pro-Iran militias” have announced their plans to escalate attacks on US forces in Iraq. Some of them have claimed responsibility for major anti-American attacks. But evidence indicates this is a propaganda campaign conducted by existing militias rather than an actual escalation. The main desire common among these groups is avenging the death of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Popular Mobilization Units’ (PMU) military leader who was assassinated by the United States alongside Iran’s Quds Force commander, Qasem Soleimani, in January.

Pro-Iran militias in Iraq wage ‘fake news’ campaign against US – Al Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East

So much noise in the Iraqi media environment. If you take the time to dig through it, there is a lot to learn.

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