“There is no universal algorithm for human behavior”

black screen red images depicting the konami code

Two things clicked in this short episode from the Indigenous Approach.

First, there is no “universal algorithm.”

There is a desire [for] a physical formula that can explain everything. We will never know all the variables…

…all of the algorithms and all of our data analytics, what they give us is how we got to where we were in the past.

Brig. Gen. Derek Lipson, Deputy Commanding General – Support

He’s talking about the recent shift to all things data, all things analytics, and how that may be a trap. Fans of the blog will know that I’ve become increasingly skeptical of anyone claiming to have the answers, especially the answers to complex social phenomena.

Specifically, he references the book “The Eye Test,” which I haven’t read, but is now on the list.

Second, this leadership maxim that ends the episode: 4+1 – the four things leaders do and the one thing to keep in mind.

  1. Allocate resources – “There’s never enough radios for the number of people that need a radio.”
  2. Provide commander’s guidance – “Guidance gives us left and right limits.”
  3. Report to higher – “Reporting to higher creates freedom of maneuver for subordinates.”
  4. Keep higher out of your business – “If we’re on line with the first three, higher will stay out of your business.”

And the plus 1?

Maintain relationships outside of the military.

Staying inside the bubble can get real toxic real quick.

The episode concludes with a powerful anecdote that illustrates this. And if you have been in the military for any period of time, it will resonate.

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“If you have a phone, you can be a resistance fighter.”

cyberpunk reaper mural art

Episode 50 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast.

In Episode 50 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, our guests discuss the history of technological innovation, examples of current and burgeoning technologies that will impact future warfare, and how governments can (and sometimes cannot) regulate the development and distribution of potentially dangerous technologies to malign actors.

Power to the people.

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SOF Superpowers

Another episode of the Pineland Underground. This one was focused on the academic program at the Naval Postgraduate School and what that program could do for the force.

Here’s the line that grabbed my attention and inspired the headline:

“Special operations students have a superpower here – it’s not that these guys are going to split the atom or invent the longer lasting light bulb, but through their capability of navigating different cultures, navigating different groups of people, and [it’s] bringing them together around a common problem.”

Applied Design for Innovation | Graduate Program for Warfighters and Innovation Brokers, Pineland Underground

I’d argue that the superpower extends well beyond graduate school.

That’s really it, isn’t it?

“Can you get the State Department person on board? Can you get the tech startup founder on board? Can you get the neuroscientist from Stanford on board?”

Go on.

“Can you navigate all of these personalities, all these cultures, all these people, and mobilize them, understand their incentives, understand their identity, can you mobilize them around an innovation challenge?”

That’s the superpower right there. It’s less about having the power yourself, and more about unlocking it around you.

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My Podcast Diet

green sky fallout 4 radio tower

This is a deep dive on podcasts and how I listen to them.

You may have noticed many of the posts over the past year have been podcast reflections. I used to write a lot more in response to articles – and I still do – but there is so much good stuff happening in podcasting and I’ve found it rewarding to listen, reflect, and write on them. Plus, I hate the way that amazing things that are said in a podcast episode might never make it out of that audio bubble. So I like to capture it here, on the page, where I can come back and reference it.

Two things I want to get out there: 1) how I listen to podcasts, and 2) why I post podcast reflections weeks after a podcast release.

So here it goes.

How I Listen to Podcasts

I got into podcasts a long time ago, back when I was a college student and commuting almost four hours a day to and from school. I spent most of that time sitting on buses and trains, and killed the time listening to podcasts. I used the native Apple Podcasts app.

Podcasts then were mostly taped broadcasts from other places – broadcast news, radio, and television, mostly – and repackaged for a podcast audience.

Back then, this meant “downloading” individual episodes to my phone and then listening while riding – since streaming was hit or miss during the commute, plus network speed was slow.

Years later, when I found myself with another long commute via car, I’d listen to podcasts to and from work.

Listening to podcasts has always been a great thing to do – while doing something else – so long as that “something else” is routine and mundane.

I very rarely sit down in a chair and just listen to a podcast. Listening to podcasts is a thing I do that makes other things less boring or seemingly more productive.

Back in 2018, I remember learning that David Petraeus listens to podcasts while working out, which seems awful to me. I always liked to listen to music while working out. Listening to podcasts during exercise seemed somehow both lame and potentially counterproductive – as in it might slow me down or make my workouts less effective.

No way, I thought.

Then, over time, as my commutes grew shorter and my opportunities to listen to podcasts shrunk, I was forced to make the switch.

I’m now a guy who listens to podcasts while exercising.

Well, not while running. For whatever reason, I struggle listening to podcasts or audiobooks while running.

I can listen to podcasts while lifting or doing some kind of cross-training. But running is reserved for music.

When I talk with others who listen to podcasts, they often share the opposite experience. They can listen to podcasts while running, but not while lifting.

So the majority of my podcast listening occurs in the hour or so in the morning while I’m working out. I’ll also listen while getting ready in the morning after exercising.

An hour or so a day, that’s not too bad, right?

Except, as you likely know, many podcasts are over an hour long.

And over the years, I’ve become a dedicated fan of dozens of podcasts.

In any given week, if I’m lucky, I might get through four or five hours of podcasts. And that might get me through a few episodes.

But with episodes releasing daily, and with the constant discovery of new and engaging podcasts, it means I’m always running a backlog.

Which brings me to the second point.

Why I Post Podcast Reflections Weeks After a Release

With a constant backlog of podcasts, I’m just about always listening to old episodes. Occasionally, I’ll bump a podcast to the top of the queue if I’m particularly excited about it.

If I hear something compelling during an episode, I’ll make a note of it (on my phone, I use Things). Later in the week, I’ll review these notes and make a determination as to whether I want to write about them. If I do, I set the time to do it.

Then I write it, edit it, prepare it, schedule it, and post it.

This all takes time, which is why you get the reflection on a month-old podcast.

I don’t know it for a fact, but I always suspect the podcast teams who see these reflections are perplexed (and maybe a little annoyed) that I seem to be writing about an old podcast episode when they just released a new podcast and would rather see feedback on that.

Sorry, this is a hobby.

Lastly, sometime last year I ditched Apple Podcasts for Overcast. Apple re-tooled the user interface and it became exceedingly difficult for me to manage my endless podcast queue. Overcast is simple to use and has all the functionality I want – to include an incredible feature that slightly speeds up podcast episodes by automatically removing “dead air” and pauses. This helps me move through episodes just a little bit quicker without having to turn on 1.25x or 1.5x – which I don’t like to do.

So, how do you listen to podcasts?

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Military Side Hustle

twins from cyberpunk after boxing match side hustle

Good episode for anyone interested in military side hustles. These are the projects that many in the military undertake that may complement the profession, but are not directly connected.

As Joe mentions in the podcast, someone can spend their nights and weekends doing any number of hobbies, most of which won’t cause anyone to bat an eye.

But if that hobby results in some kind of “observable” – there are some leaders who will view this as time wasted.

“Why are you spending all of your time on *that* instead of *this?*

From the episode, on the constant calls for innovation:

I think we see this a lot with calls for entrepreneurship inside the military – there are a lot of calls now for everyone to be an innovator and go disrupt, and we say that, but do we really mean it?

S3, Ep22: Mark Jacobsen – Growth Through Failure – From The Green Notebook

This reminds me of one of Colin Powell’s 13 rules:

“Be careful what you choose. You may get it.”

Leaders ask for more innovation all the time. The problem is innovation almost always means doing something a little bit different. It means being disruptive. It means coloring outside the lines.

In any large organization – especially the military – that is going to grind against the norm.

Leaders – especially those who have been steeped in the culture – need to take a deep breath and resist the urge to say “no” or “that’s not how we’ve done it before.”

Or my personal favorite: “Who told you to do that?”

Anyway, the episode is great. Especially if you are interested in pursuing your own side projects.

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Great Power Competition in the Middle East

mural depicting saddam victory in jerusalem

We’ve heard this before. Competition between states is going to happen in other places – not directly in or on the borders of those same states.

“It is quite clear that the Middle East is a critical arena for China.”

Linda Robinson (see Infinite Competition)

This episode of the IWI podcast dives into the concept of competition between states in other places – specifically Russia, China, and Iran.

Here’s the question that had me listening more closely:

“What are the skill-sets and capabilities needed to implement integrated deterrence in the CENTCOM area of responsibility given the character of these threats?”

The answer? Language and culture.

If you don’t understand the language of the people you’re dealing with, if you don’t understand their culture, then you’re going to have a really hard time appreciating how a particular action plays out in that culture, or doesn’t play out.

Rear Admiral Mitch Bradley, ~44:15

The conversation goes on from there stressing the importance of education in developing leaders who can truly understand their environments and the implications of their actions or inactions.

This, of course, is refreshing to hear.

The challenge is two-fold. First, to truly develop the skills that we’re talking about (language proficiency beyond building rapport and cultural understanding beyond the surface level) we are talking about an immense investment of time. A short course on language or culture isn’t going to do it. This stuff takes years – decades even.

Which brings me to the second challenge: incentives. If we are saying that what we want is the above, are we incentivizing this? Are we promoting and rewarding those who have put in the work?

It goes back to the infinite competition episode and another great question: “Do you think the system is promoting the right types of leaders and talent to engage in political warfare or great power competition?”

The desire is there. The need is there. Now it’s about aligning incentives to meet it.

Lastly, I love it anytime senior leaders talk about the need to develop our own “Lawrence of Arabia.”

“…not only a Lawrence of Arabia, but a Lawrence of Africa… and I would say, a Lawrence of southern Arabia, and all of these other places where the Chinese and the Iranians and the Russians are trying to compete…”

I appreciate the further parsing – knowledge that is useful has to be extremely granular. And developing that granular knowledge takes time.

Lawrence’s education began well before he stepped foot in Arabia as a military man.

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Ok, but what should the Army do to combat this?

quake 3 arena logo

Good episode of The Convergence Podcast last month. Guests were Joe Littell and Maggie Smith, who recently co-authored a good article on information warfare for the Modern War Institute.

In the podcast, they discuss the article and its implications for the military.

What I like about both the article and the podcast is that we are hearing directly from practitioners – in this case in the fields of psychological operations and cyber.

Often – and especially as of late – we are hearing everyone’s opinion on these fields, whether they hold expertise or not.

One thing that I think gets to the crux of many of the military’s issues in dealing with information warfare came in the form of a question. After a long back and forth on some of the background concerning information warfare on a grand scale – political polarization, distrust in media, misinformation/disinformation, etc – the host poses the following question?

“How does the Army combat this?”

It’s not a bad question – and it is literally referencing the problem addressed in the guests’ article. The issue here is the solution to the problem goes way beyond the scope of what the Army can do. Even those tiny parts of the Army that deal exclusively with these issues.

What is the role of the Army? To win our nation’s wars.

We do ourselves a disservice if we ask it to do more than that.

There are limits to what the military can achieve in a traditional sense. Look at Afghanistan.

But there are also limits to what the military can achieve in an irregular sense. It doesn’t matter what combination of tactics, techniques, or tools you can pull together. There are extreme limits to what can be accomplished when dealing with the complexities of the human condition.

Thinking that it’s possible to fix everything, that we just haven’t discovered the right tool or educated the right people in the right way is dangerous.

This isn’t a cause for cynicism. Rather, it’s a cause for critical thinking and clearly understanding the role of the military and executing accordingly.

And pushing back when asked to do the impossible.

Lastly, there was a good conversation towards the end on the need to move away from the terms misinformation and disinformation. I agree. They are used everywhere now, mostly interchangeably or without a clear meaning.

Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re going anywhere. For what it’s worth, this is how I think of them.

For those who hang in there until the end, you’ll learn a couple of interesting facts about Joe and Maggie.

“Hangin’ with railbait like you is gonna lower my rep.”

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“Trash talk raises the psychological stakes of the game”

I don’t know how this podcast slipped under my radar for so long.

In this episode we are joined by Rafi Kohan, the author of “The Arena” which is a deep dive into wide ranging and interdisciplinary examination of the modern American sports stadium. Rafi is currently researching for his upcoming book on competitive banter a.k.a. talking trash, a human behavioral phenomenon that has existed throughout time, across cultures, and across the world.

Pineland Underground Ep. 4 Competitive Banter

I’ve listened to a couple of episodes now and they’re pretty good. This one was on “trash-talking” and the author spent some time speaking with folks at SERE school.

What’s the thesis? Why do we trash talk?

“Trash talk raises the psychological stakes of the game.”

That makes sense to me.

Also makes me understand the incredible emotion surrounding the Army/Navy game.

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Term Warfare

a list of terms for low intensity conflict

A dual release episode from the Cognitive Crucible and the Phoenix Cast.

In this crossover episode of the Phoenix Cast and Cognitive Crucible, John Bicknell is joined by John Schreiner, Kyle Moschetto and Rich Vaccariello. The podcast hosts discuss why they started their respective casts, how they view competition, the key take-aways of their casts, the top must listen episodes, and the other podcasts they listen to.

#78 PHOENIX CAST DUAL RELEASE

I think I’ve listened to a Phoenix Cast episode before, but I wasn’t a subscriber. I am now.

Two things that I took away from this episode. The first is the idea that podcasts like these are a form of “PME” – professional military education.

That seems like a no-brainer – of course they are. But there are still a lot of folks out there that don’t listen to podcasts – which is fine. It’s a form of media – but not everyone is into it.

The second thing is the concept of “term warfare.” This is something we see all the time these days when we’re trying to describe some niche element of warfare.

Credit to David Maxwell.

We should be careful when trying to introduce a new term into the already crowded military lexicon. There’s probably already a term out there that describes whatever you’re thinking about.

On the other hand, sometimes we do need a specific term. Sometimes that term matters.

Sometimes we should split. And sometimes we should lump.

I’ve got a few of the Phoenix Cast’s episodes in my queue. The focus of their podcasts is more cyber/IT – which is good, because I don’t get enough of that.

And speaking of “term warfare” and cyber – this is a reminder, cyber isn’t PSYOP. Cyber isn’t “IO.”

It is its own thing. And you have to understand it.

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