We’re on Campaign

Continuous evolution.

That’s the only way to stay relevant, and grow.

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Not Your Kind of People

This is a bit of a continuation of what I was discussing in the last newsletter.

I’m learning that sometimes a kind of pressure builds up if I’ve been in the grind for too long – work, social, personal – and the best thing to do is to step back for a moment and take a break.

The worst thing to do is fall into a spiral of self-pontification, engage in the undisciplined pursuit of more, or worse still, make long-term consequential decisions.

Did you ever play Ecco the Dolphin? Why was that game so hard?

Anyway, even Ecco had to come up for air periodically to keep going.

The next thing you’ll see will be the newsletter, which releases on October 1.

This one is raw – civ-mil divide, the venom over the new Call of Duty (rumored to be GWOT), the “unrealness” of soldiers, and more.

Sign up below to get it.


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You can’t hit if you don’t swing

The Mad Scientist Laboratory recently had a good episode with author Zach Schonbrun to discuss his work researching cognition and performance.

It’s great when military podcasts speak with military folk – but it’s refreshing when they step away and speak with the rest of the world.

Since that’s the world we live in.

Two things struck me in this episode:

“What does it mean to say that he’s skilled? What does that actually mean? The sports industry has not really grappled with this question because it involves very difficult assessments beyond just how fast an athlete runs or how high he jumps. Those are the metrics that they tend to focus on because they’re easily measureable [but] I don’t think that tells you very much about what athlete they’re going to become.”

Zach Schonbrun, 414. It’s All In Your Head

“Those are the metrics that they tend to focus on because they’re easily measurable…”

Over and over again, we’re hearing this. We have a problem with metrics. There are dysfunctional consequences of relying on metrics.

And the answer isn’t simply “we need better ways to measure” or “big data and AI will save us.”

There are tangible things that are worth measuring, but there are also intangible things that we’re not paying attention to. And just because we can’t measure them, doesn’t mean they’re not there.

And #2. How do hitters know when to swing?

They’re using prediction. They’re picking up on very subtle cues, that take years and years of practice and expertise, and that has told them this is what they should be expecting in this situation.

Zach Schonbrun, 414. It’s All In Your Head

Prediction versus analysis. Does the hitter have to “prove” that they know when to swing? That they’ll get a hit?

Sometimes (most times) they miss. But each swing is a rep.

We expect batters to miss. It’s part of the game. What would be the effect on a batter if they received a steep penalty for missing?

Think about where that might be happening in other organizations.


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Cao Cao did nothing wrong

“I will rather I wronged all the people under the heavens than for all the people under the heavens to wrong me.”

Cao Cao

I listen to every episode of the Cognitive Crucible, but I don’t always post about them. It’s only if something jumps out at me.

And this time, I almost made it through the last two episodes without jotting anything down, and they both got me as they came to a close.

In episode #111, John Bicknell speaks with Dr. Victoria Coleman on her role as the Chief Scientist for the United States Air Force.

Good episode, I was enjoying it, and just as it was closing, two interesting things happened. First, when John started the “lightning round,” where he says a word or phrase and has the guest respond with whatever comes up, he offers “video games.” Dr. Coleman responded that she doesn’t play video games, but understands the importance.

Ok, nothing crazy there.

But then, when asked to recommend a book, Dr. Coleman offered the Chinese epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

There it is.

At the risk of oversimplifying, Romance of the Three Kingdoms is an epic novel that tells the tale of Chinese unification in the second and third century. Think A History of the Peloppenesian War meets Game of Thrones.

What struck me here, though, was the fact that this is a title and a series that many readers of this blog will know from the video game series that is based on the novel. I first learned of the treachery of Dong Zhuo, the brotherhood of Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei, and the ferocity of Lu Bu through playing the game as a kid (and as an adult). It’s one of the games that introduced me to the idea of palace intrigue and political warfare.

Incidentally, I had used a screen grab from one of the games as the header for a recent post on irregular warfare and the role of diplomats. Diplomacy (and treachery) plays a critical role in Romance, and it seeemed fitting.

If you’re not paying attention to gaming, you’re missing out. Which is why I scribbled the note down here. In the space of just a few moments, there was a serious connection missed between these two things – an epic Chinese novel and video games.

And innovation is connecting.

Now onto episode #112 with Jake Sotriadis.

Another fine episode, this one on the concept of future studies. Almost finished it, and then at the ~43:00 mark they wrap up with the “concept of the right answer”:

“When we’re talking about problems in the strategic environment that are linked to human nature, you realize very quickly that you’re not going to be able to “quant” your way – if you will – out of the problem.”

Thank you.

No matter how many people point this out, senior leaders demand we put a number on it.

There has to be another way.


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Breaking in Combat

John Spencer is having a moment.

I’ve always enjoyed his takes, mostly because the senior NCO always shines through. It’s a rare thing these days and I appreciate it.

He was recently on Mike Burke’s Always in Pursuit where they discusses John’s book, his experiences in combat, and Ukraine.

One thing that struck me was an extended discussion on the concept of “breaking” in combat. John recounts an episode in his experience where a senior NCO in his unit basically checks out. Still deployed, but didn’t do much.

Many of us who have served saw this, or a version of this.

We talk a lot about mental health now, and trying to get people the help that they need when they come home (or even when deployed). But we don’t really discuss the psychological aspects of combat and what happens to soldiers when they are overcome by fear – which is something you would expect to happen on the battlefield. It’s combat, after all.

There are still lots of folks in our ranks who have experienced combat and have seen this in action. But those ranks are thinning every day.

Something to think about.


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“I still feel strange being called a writer”

When Colin Powell passed, one of the things I wondered about was where all of his writings might be.

He’s written books – memoir. But I’ve not seen a single article written by him during his time in the Army.

You would think that there would be something out there – some article in a military journal – but so far I’ve turned up nothing.

Not everyone in the military writes, after all. In fact, it is the exception to write, not the rule.

After all, what’s the incentive?

Certainly you’ve heard of the “Powell Doctrine” and the “Pottery Barn Rule?” Well those are not things that he wrote, or even something he necessarily put forth. These were ideas ascribed to him, and in fairness, they do come from him.

Colin Powell did have a talent for boiling big ideas down into things that are actually understandable.

When Army ROTC returned to New York City, he faced down critics with a simple phrase: “Military service is honorable.

Interestingly, I came across this interview where he says the following:

I still feel strange being called a writer. I’m mostly a speaker.

What an insightful notion. Too often we think that to be a thought leader in some field you have to write. And that can certainly be true.

But crafting speeches – even if someone is crafting them for your, and then you edit – that is a form of writing. More importantly, it’s a form of creating.

I would love to see the collected speeches of Colin Powell. There are ideas in there that we don’t see, because there isn’t an article trail. Speeches – even when recorded – can be ephemeral.

It makes me think – will future leaders, even military leaders – have alternative intellectual legacy trails? Blog posts? Tweets? YouTube videos?

Probably.

For Colin Powell, why write when he could speak?

For today’s leaders, where is the most relevant place to make an impact? Is it in a military journal that is rarely read? Or is it somewhere else?


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On that day…

As usual, not much to add.

But I do have this.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the stuff that attracts you. The stuff that gets you in the door.

All that stuff is real. It’s there. You have to work for it, but it’s there.

It’s why you showed up in the first place.

But then there’s this other thing. It’s not written anywhere, it’s just something that you have to discover. And not everyone does.

And it turns out, that’s the real thing.

But, you only discover it in flashes, slowly.

A quizzical moment on the tarmac before an invasion.

A midnight exfil from the outskirts of a town in southern Iraq.

On the top bunk, staring at the ceiling, for the second time, wondering.

In front of a platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan, writing it out on a whiteborad, with blank expressions coming back at you.

In a classroom in front of future officers, hanging on your every word, without it registering.

In a tired seminar with peers, yawning.

In a video game.

In a book.

It comes slowly over time.

And then you have it.

And once it’s known, it can’t be un-known.

What do you do with that knoweldge?

I think the answer to that question says more about the person than the truth.


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An Ode to the Humble Blog

I recently read and shared this post titled 3 essential reasons why all writers should blog.

The reasons are sound, and I agree:

  1. Practice
  2. Testing ideas
  3. Build an audience

As the original post leads with, blogging has kind of gone of out style.

Plenty of people use Twitter or some other social media platform, sure. But blogging is not quite the same.

If you subscribe to the newsletter, then you learned last week that I torpedoed a project I was working on. It’s something I am passionate about, but it’s also incredibly time intensive and I just didn’t want to fully commit (yet).

Writing here is the thing that I enjoy. It’s simple and I get to write what I want.

But it also helps with those three reasons. Without question, the practice I get from writing here helps when I write elsewhere – especially for external audiences.

It also allows me to test ideas. Trust me, I know exactly what kind of articles I could write if I wanted to make waves. I’ve done it before, and a lot of that learning came from experimentation.

And yes, this is a way to build an audience. It’s slow, for sure. But what I’ve found is that whatever your “thing” is, there’s an audience out there for it. It doesn’t matter how niche it is, they’re out there. And they want to be a part of it.

Someone has to do the writing.


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“The strange charm of its primitive political vitality”

It is difficult to see how these deficiencies can be corrected at an early date by a tired and dispirited population working largely under the shadow of fear and compulsion. And as long as they are not overcome, Russia will remain economically as vulnerable, and in a certain sense an impotent, nation, capable of exporting its enthusiasms and of radiating the strange charm of its primitive political vitality but unable to back up those articles of export by the real evidences of material power and prosperity.

George Kennan, The Sources of Soviet Conduct

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Physically and Mentally Refreshed

Last week, lots of folks were celebrating the seven-year anniversary of Metal Gear Solid V.

When I first played MGSV, I hadn’t touched a game in the series since MGS2 when it originally came out, and I never finished it.

So when I jumped into MGSV, there were a lot of holes in the plot for me. Most of the time, I had very little idea as to what was going on.

But I quickly became obsessed and played until I reached 100%.

At the same time, the unit I was in was spending a lot of time in the field. In the field, you tend to get dirty. And sweaty. The whole thing is generally uncomfortable.

But it’s not just an issue of comfort. Hygiene and cleanliness are important aspects of a healthy military force.

Which is why the shower on Mother Base was so intriguing to me.

After each mission, I always went to the shower. I was out there, in either Afghanistan or Africa, crawling around, running, sweating, getting blood everywhere… it only makes sense to shower when you get back.

There’s something about the sound of the shower in the game, the dripping, and the echo, that made it seem very real.

The game inspired me to purchase a field shower – which I had seen on deployments before but never used myself. I bought one from Amazon, packed it in my ruck for a field problem, but never actually used it (I still have it).

As I’ve written before, the game has a way of hitting people in different ways. This was one small way for me, and I haven’t seen the sentiment shared anywhere else.


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