Failure and Secrecy

Three things struck me from the most recent IWI podcast episode – all came towards the end.

“While we exist in the physical environment, where we find our relevance is in the cyber environment. And that is only going to increase as time goes on.”

General John Allen, LEARNING FROM THE PAST, ANTICIPATING THE FUTURE: ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE IN IRREGULAR WARFARE ~29:45

You likely already know this. Think about a great organization you are a part of or have some affiliation with that has a terrible online presence – or no presence at all.

It can feel a little embarrassing.

Now think of the opposite – think of that organization that has a terrific online identity but might not even have a building or office in “real life.”

That distinction is becoming less and less relevant.

To a point, of course.

At the end of the day, all of that internet showcasing won’t stop an army from breaking down the door.

Tywin Lannister: “You really think the crown gives you power?”

Tyrion Lannister: “No. I think armies give you power.”

Game of Thrones

But what if you don’t have a door to begin with?

Here’s the second thing – on failure, reporting, and incentives:

“If you have a zero-defect reporting culture where – if one of your soldiers loses a rifle – the idea that any step that you make is wrong, it’s going to torpedo your promotion chances. Then, the temptation to juke the stats about how many of your vehicles are working – I just bang this drum, ‘it’s the incentives, the incentives, the incentives.”

Simon Akram, LEARNING FROM THE PAST, ANTICIPATING THE FUTURE: ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE IN IRREGULAR WARFARE ~36:45

That short paragraph captures it all right there. What are we incentivized to report? Is it only good news?

Finally, special operations and too much secrecy:

“Talking about special operations forces… I do think we have an issue in the UK that special operations forces are too secret. I think we cover them in a level of secrecy that is ultimately counter-productive.”

Simon Akram, LEARNING FROM THE PAST, ANTICIPATING THE FUTURE: ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE IN IRREGULAR WARFARE ~37:30

He goes on to say that this (often) needless culture of secrecry actually hinders SOF’s ability to get things done across the spectrum – from recruiting to military operations.

While he is speaking about the UK, this cuts across to the US as well. There is a time and a place for secrecy, but for the most part, there’s no secret about what is going on. Pretending there is – whether it’s due to archaic rules or maintaining mythology – does us no favors.

Things are changing. Things have aleady changed.

The sooner we embrace this and start showing up in reality the quicker we’ll start seeing the needle inch the way we want it.

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