Beat them to the punch

jonah jameson throwing something in spidermand

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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Failure and Secrecy

tywin and tyrion having a conversation from game of thrones

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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