Flow

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I read Flow years ago. If you haven’t, you’ve probably heard of the concept.

And if you haven’t heard of the concept, you’ve probably experienced it.

What is “flow?”

Flow denotes the wholistic sensation present when we act with total involvement. It is the kind of feeling after which one nostalgically says: “that was fun”; or “that was enjoyable”; It is the state in which action follows upon action according to an internal logic which seems to need no conscious intervention on our part. We experience it as a unified flowing from one moment to the next, in which we feel in control of our actions, and in which there is little distinction between self and environment; between stimulus and response; or between past, present, and future.

Play and Intrinsic Rewards (1975)

A recent episode of Very Bad Wizards examined the article that initially discussed the concept, titled Play and Intrinsic Rewards (1975).

If the idea is completely alien, it is worth reading the article, and maybe the book. Once you understand the concept of flow, it becomes clear that if you want to get anything done, you need to be able to focus your time and attention. Blocking out your time becomes essential.

But there was something else I took away from the episode and reading the article. It’s the way that the research was conducted. It’s not overly quantitative. It’s not sorcery.

We started our study by talking to a variety of people who have invested a great deal of time and energy in play activities.

After these pilot talks, a standard interview and questionnaire form was developed and administered to 30 rock climbers, 30 basketball players, 30 modern dancers, 30 male chess players, 25 female chess players, and 30 composers of modern music.

Today, this type of study would likely be deemed too simplistic.

But if the results are legit, then who cares?

The best ideas come from old books.


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Let the AI do it for you

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What if you could just let the AI do it for you? Just feed it the prompt, and let the AI give you a 98% solution?

Hmm…

AI prompt discussion begins at the ~51:00 mark.

You can try a version of this yourself here.


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Fear, uncertainty, and doubt

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Fear, uncertainty, and doubt. AKA, “FUD.”

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (often shortened to FUD) is a propaganda tactic used in sales, marketingpublic relations, politics, polling and cults. FUD is generally a strategy to influence perception by disseminating negative and dubious or false information and a manifestation of the appeal to fear.

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt, Wikipedia

Discussed during a recent VBW episode (EPISODE 238: I AM NOT IVAN ILYICH…AM I?)

There’s also a fantastic reference to this essay, of a woman who survived an attack by an alligator. It’s short, and worth reading in its entirety.

Below, a couple of excerpts.

On the “glow” that lasts for a time after surviving a near-death.

The wonder of being alive after being held – quite literally in the jaws of death has never entirely left me. For the first year, the experience of existence as an unexpected blessing cast a golden glow over my life, despite the injuries and the pain. The glow has slowly faded, but some of that new gratitude for life endures, even if I remain unsure whom I should thank. The gift of gratitude came from the searing flash of near-death knowledge, a glimpse “from the outside” of the alien, incomprehensible world in which the narrative of self has ended.

And on becoming a “mere piece of meat.”

Before the encounter, it was as if I saw the whole universe as framed by my own narrative, as though the two were joined perfectly and seamlessly together. As my own narrative and the larger story were ripped apart, I glimpsed a shockingly indifferent world in which I had no more significance than any other edible being. The thought, ‘This can’t be happening to me, I’m a human being, I am more than just food!’ was one component of my terminal incredulity. It was a shocking reduction, from a complex human being to a mere piece of meat. 


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Gladiator School

gladiator school podcast teaser

New podcast in the information arena – Gladiator School.

II Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group (II MIG) presents the first episode of Gladiator School (podcast). The first Episode features Colonel Brian Russell, Commanding Officer of II MEF and 2nd Lt. Rebekah Harasick, II MIG Communication Strategy and Operations officer, discussing how II MIG operates in the information environment.

I listened to the audio version (subscribe here) before I checked out their YouTube channel. Really well done, and good quality.

There’s a lot to like about this first episode.

First, I particularly appreciate the way we’re not getting hung up on terms (is it ‘information warfare’ or is it ‘operations in the information environment?’ – not actually super important). Getting worked up about that (which many people do) doesn’t help.

Second, the recognition that “we’re in it.” Whether you like it or not, we’re all “in” the information environment. You don’t really get to choose.

You do, however, get to choose how you participate.

The USMC is doing a lot of work. I recently listened to the ADETs episode and I’ve become a fan of the Phoenix Cast as well.

Looking forward to seeing where this podcast goes.


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All the Domains: “Mobilizing public opinion and galvanizing the will”

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Episode #102 of the Cognitive Crucible podcast. This one on the Marine Corps’ ‘All Domain Effects Team” (ADET) concept.

 ADETs are task-organized forces that integrate information capabilities with lethal fires to achieve effects in the forward operating environment across the competition continuum in support of joint, allied, and coalition forces. These teams are intended to provide a scalable, mobile, and lethal force capable of operating across air, land, sea, space, and cyber domains simultaneously. 

Episode #102, Cognitive Crucible Podcast

A discussion on the composition of the ADET teams starts at about the 14:00 minute mark, starting with the “inform and influence” team.

“People will be like, whoa, pause, how can you have those two working together?

Brian Schweers, ~14:15

He’s not wrong – people will be like “whoa, pause.”

And they shouldn’t be. If we’re not synchronizing and coordinating, then we’re doing it wrong.

What is “information awareness?”

“There is an overall lack of doctrine and taxonomy in the informational world to understand what does ‘informational awareness’ mean.

Yup. Different things to different people.

On “narrative.”

It’s plainly obvious, especially when we look at the Ukrainian-Russian war, how Ukraine has used the narrative to gain that international support. Mobilizing public opinion and galvanizing the will, realizing the narrative, is power.

Isn’t odd that we know what we mean when we use the term “narrative” but it isn’t actually anything baked into doctrine? How do you “do” narrative? What do we even mean?

I hear it every day. “We have to get the narrative right” or “we need to push the narrative.”

Ok, I know what you mean. But do you?

There’s a good vignette at the ~36:00 mark on how to leverage media rapidly in a tactical environment. The whole thing hinges on “release chains” and release authority. To get it right, there needs to be an understanding of what you might see and what you might do before you see it and before you do it in order to get the authority to execute into the right hands.

Finally, when asked where there is room for growth and what academic questions need to be answered:

How do you actually measure effects in the cognitive realm in the informational domain?

You know my answer.


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Should platoons have a designated “hacker” assigned?

girl sitting at computer terminal cyberpunk hacker

Still catching up, so here we are.

Episode 53 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast was right on target.

In Episode 53 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, we consider how cyber tools and weapons are used at the tactical level within irregular warfare.

DIGITAL IRREGULAR WARFARE: CYBER AT THE TACTICAL LEVEL

A smart and nuanced conversation that touches just about everything in this orbit – cyber, information warfare, psychological warfare, authorities, and more.

Reminds me of this episode: Should platoon’s have a designated “hacker” assigned?

Some choice excerpts below.

Being ‘afraid’ of information warfare.

In Army doctrine, we are afraid to introduce the phrase ‘information warfare.’ So, what can cyber contribute to irregular warfare? We’re going to limit ourselves if we only are allowed to talk about that in the context of creating technical effects, or using technology to create kinetic effects. I think there is a lot more possibility in the information warfare space, but we don’t have an organizational structure or an authorities structure, or a set of policies, or even a national strategy, or even a service strategy – we’re just missing all of the other stuff that allows us to execute that.

Sally White, ~14:00

I agree completely with the first part – fear of the phrase information warfare and limiting ourselves by thinking about cyber only in the context of tech. But I disagree with the second part, on being limited in our ability to operate because we’re “missing” something.

This is something that is discussed all the time – including right here. “If only” we had some mega-command or a special policy that allowed us to “do” the things we want to do. We also fail when we focus on the whiz-bang aspects of information warfare, instead of the hard work of navigating real bureaucracy.

At the end of the podcast Sally makes some important points that gets to the core of where it seems our issues lay.

There is a need for adjustment when it comes to the intersection of cyberspace as a physcial domain and the cognitive informational realm that frankly is also the primary purpose of cyberspace when it comes to how we’re operating with the human element and populations. When it comes to things like cyber-enabled information operations, or the information warfare question… I think we should probably devote a bit more time and intellectual energy to thinking through what is the actual problem that we need to solve, and are we limiting ourselves by keeping things separate in their distinct bins of cyber, of psychological operations, of information operations, et cetera. Are they [these distinctions] inhibiting our ability to be effective in the broader information environment of which cyberspace is a part?

Remember lumping vs splitting?

Cyber is not IO. Cyber is not PSYOP. There are terms (and everything that comes with it) that should be lumped, and there are some that should be split.

But, I tend to agree with Sally that anyone who is in this realm does themselves a disservice by playing too close to their own specialty. This stuff has to be a team effort.

A lot of this could be solved if we stopped thinking of information warfare as the “bits and bytes” or the “nouns and verbs” and instead focused on the actions we take. Everything else comes after that.

Lastly, I love this question posed as an area of needed research.

How can we come up with an integrated theory of information that encompasses both the physical and cogntive realms?

There’s a lot more in this episode, including some really good reasons for why we don’t push some of these capabilities down to the platoon level. Worth the listen.


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Beat them to the punch

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Fascinating episode of the Pineland Underground featuring former Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (SEAC) John Wayne Troxell.

Lots of interesting takes from the former SEAC on messaging, the role of social media in the modern military (both good and bad), and choosing whether to be an enabler or an agitator in retirement.

What I found particularly interesting was his vignette early in the episode about the E-Tool incident.

Somehow, I missed all that at the time.

While that story is interesting as it stands, I found the behind-the-scenes discussion about it especially compelling.

While visiting troops and making comments suggesting the E-Tool could be used as a non-standard weapon in the fight against ISIS (it absolutely can), a reporter who heard the remarks and took offense told him that he was going to make them public.

So I called up my trusty Public Affairs guy… and I said this reporter is going to go public with this and he said “Well let’s beat him to the punch.”

SEAC(R) John Wayne Troxell, Pineland Underground Podcast ~6:45

So, a picture of the CSM holding an E-Tool with a defeat ISIS message was put together and shared on social media. And of course, like all effective messaging, it garnered strong opinions, some in support, some against.

It’s another example of the importance of getting to the story first. Framing matters. And being shy in the information space can easily put you on the defensive.

What makes these types of efforts successful? A supportive chain of command that is willing to accept failure. And if there are failures, learn from them and move on. Leaders get timid in the information space when they believe that one errant move can implode a mission, a team, or a career.

We’re willing to send them up that hill or around that corner or into that breach, fully knowing the potential outcomes. We can’t continuously lament that we’re “getting our asses kicked” in the information environment while simultaneously eating ourselves alive whenever something we put out there actually does well.


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“There is no universal algorithm for human behavior”

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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.”

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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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