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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The Revolution Will Be Televised

Short article with the Irregular Warfare Initiative on the primacy of information in future (now) war.

Of all the lessons of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, one stands out: the importance of achieving dominance in the information domain. From the first days of the war, Ukraine has used information to shape the course of the conflict to its advantage. But American policymakers should not be too quick to mock Russia’s failures in the information environment: the US military itself is underprepared for war in the information age, where the actions of military units and individual soldiers may go viral in an instant. As the US Army continues to reconceptualize the role of information as both a weapon and a battlespace, it should learn some lessons from Ukraine’s success.

GOING VIRAL: PREPARING GROUND FORCES FOR COMBAT IN THE INFORMATION AGE

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MCDP 8 Information

I love the USMC MCDPs (Marine Corps Doctrinal Publications). They’re short, readable, and get to the point.

Last year, I wanted to deep dive MCDP 1-4 Competing because it’s that good, and as far as I’m aware, there is not a better publication on just what “competition” is.

Just look at this graphic.

Unfortunately, I just never got to it.

MCDP 8 Information was released earlier this summer and I wanted to do the same.

It’s worth reading through. It captures the information field nicely.

Some highlights below.

On the “compressed levels of warfare and battlespace”:

Information’s instant, global, and persistent nature compresses the levels of warfare and increases the chances a local action will have a global impact. The ease with which information flows worldwide allows people to continuously monitor local events on
a global scale. This phenomenon is unique to the information age. It is powerful because political actors (state or non-state), interest groups, and individual people can scan the globe for local events and use them to reinforce their cause or narrative of choice.

This access, combined with the relative ease with which our adversaries can distort and manipulate information about events through various media, makes every tactical action-even if beneficial or benign to the local population- a potentially disruptive regional or global incident.

We’ve discussed this before.

Is the below graphic too simplistic?

No, I don’t think so.

Of course, there is a section on “narrative,” which is actually pretty good, but “narrative” is still such a squishy term. Even in this publication, it’s not quite clear what is supposed to be done with it.

I love the below:

PRIORITIZING INFORMATION

The global information environment creates countless opportunities to generate and leverage ambiguity, uncertainty, and friction. It also offers many pathways for world and military leaders to communicate with one another and with relevant populations. Regardless of the situation, commanders, by the very nature of their roles, must prioritize activities that place information considerations at the forefront.

Emphasis mine.

I’ve seen this sentiment in a number of places. What I haven’t seen is the commander turn to the information specialist and say “tell me how to craft this operation to have the most powerful information effect.”

And that’s where we need to be.


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The New Rules of War

Fascinating interview with Sean McFate on one of the latest Cognitive Crucible podcast episodes.

During this episode, Dr. Sean McFate discusses his influential book, The New Rules of War. Sean describes how the Westphalian state system is changing, consequences for conventional war, the rise of mercenaries and international mega-corporations, and information operations. Plus, the Cognitive Crucible gets not only one–but two–Monty Python references.

#110 SEAN MCFATE ON THE NEW RULES OF WAR

Worth a full listen, and I’ve just started the book.

Three things piqued my attention:

What matters in “future” war?

Information.

How should states that wish to compete, compete?

“Below the threshold of international media.”

How do we deter in the era of Great Power Competition?

“Sneaky” deterrence.


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The Kodak Conundrum

Two things from this recent IWI episode.

The first, on assessments:

“We are now aware of the technological ubiquity, and we are disproportionately relying on assessments of capabilty – raw capability – like we used to, rather than understanding use.”

Honorable Susan Gordon, SPIES, LIES, AND ALGORITHMS: US INTELLIGENCE IN A CHANGING WORLD ~23:00

This applies in lots of places – not just intelligence.

Second, is the “Kodak Conundrum.” I had never heard of that before, and after some searching, it references the demise of the Kodak company, and specifically, their failure to adapt to a rapidly changing world.

Simplifying here, but the problem is that Kodak saw themselves to be in the film business as opposed to the photography business. And they failed to adapt quickly enough.

Very similar to the Red Queen Hypothesis.

 “The railroads are in trouble today not because the need was filled by others (cars, trucks, airplanes, even telephones), but because it was not filled by the railroads themselves. They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business. The reason they defined their industry wrong was because they were railroad-oriented instead of transportation-oriented; they were product oriented instead of customer-oriented.” 

Theodore Levitt, “Marketing Myopia”, Harvard Business Review, July-August 1960

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Propaganda is a tricky word

Episode 105 of the Cognitive Crucible – Tom Ken on Persuasion in the Developing World.

An interesting point on “propaganda” at about the 23:00 mark.

Western countries… dislike very much the idea of ‘propaganda,’ and God bless us. We shouldn’t do propaganda to the extent that propaganda means putting out false information. But, I don’t think that advocating for what the West offers, advocating for our liberties and so forth is propaganda. I think it’s just true, and we shouldn’t be afraid to say what we believe.

Propaganda is such a tricky word. And for a long time, it wasn’t even a bad word. Maybe a post for another time.


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A Blue-Collar Approach to Assessments

green goo dripping

If you’ve been here a while, you know how I feel about assessments and measurements. If you haven’t, you can go through the social sciences as sorcery posts.

But, simply stated, I think that our hyper-focus on assessments and our obsession with metrics hinders us.

Early this summer, I wrote about the ‘dysfunctional consequences’ of measurements (originally in the newsletter), and a friend of the blog recommended this article – A Blue-Collar Approach to Operational Analysis: A Special Operations Case Study (NDU Press).

The article discusses how the authors ditched traditional assessment methods in favor of a different approach.

That, by itself, is brave.

We say we want to be innovative, but we often roll our eyes or dismiss new ideas. Especially when it comes to assessments and measurements.

The article is worth reading in its entirety by anyone interested in the topic, but I’ve excerpted some particularly interesting points below.

On how they did it before – no surprise here, always with math.

We compounded these mistakes by quantifying and aggregating everything through a complicated system of questionable mathematical models.

The new method – ditch the MOPs and MOEs and go for RoI (Return on Investment).

In late 2015, we scrapped our existing methods and charted a new path. We stopped adhering to common practices, including the strict mechanical process rooted in MOEs and MOPs. Instead, we developed what we view as a “blue-collar business case” analysis focused on measuring and articulating SOCCENT return on investment (RoI) to resources in areas of operation (AOR).

When there isn’t a clear requirement (ie: sell more widgets), measuring returns is difficult. So how do you do it? Well, this does require a little sorcery, unfortunately.

In the financial world, the requirement is clear: apply human and physical capital to generate a profit, and measuring returns is a simple accounting drill. In organizations not driven by profit, such as the military or other public-sector entities, measuring and articulating RoI is more challenging. For example, no commonly agreed-upon method exists for measuring and comparing investments and returns between training a partner SOF unit, conducting a key leader engagement with partner special force commander, or exploiting the information environment to degrade support for violent extremist organizations.

I liked their deliverables: desired returns and actual returns.

  • Desired returns: Objectives in regional plans, or the state of the operational environment that SOCCENT expected to materialize by applying SOF resources to them.
  • Actual returns: The observable impact SOF resources—through the execution of operations, actions, and activities (OAAs)—had on objectives

On the importance of going to the source to collect data, as opposed to relying on passive collection streams. Related here, is the concept of doing things in person, as opposed to via email or over the phone.

To overcome this plight, we physically went to the source of the data. 

On resisting the urge to turn everything into data. This is important. Saying things with stories and pictures is way more effective than bludgeoning with data.

After we collected, validated, and adjudicated the data, we did not aggregate the results. We kept our sleeves rolled up and wrote nuanced, qualitative descriptions of progress and gaps at the effect and IMO levels.

And finally:

Instead of stating we were yellow on a scale of red to green, we found that a narrative focused on successes and gaps in the context of each objective was the most effective form of articulating RoI. 

A good paper. And while this is geared towards operational assessment, it has application in other domains.

But, there is still work to do.


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A good article on “narrative”

soldiers getting off a hind d metal gear

Recently, I mentioned the fact that many throw the term “narrative” out there recklessly. We use narrative to define narrative. We kind of know what we’re talking about, but we have a hard time explaining it.

Well here’s a good article that does a better job.

The narrative “links grievances to a political agenda and mobilizes the population to support a violent social movement.” It does this by assigning blame for wrongs, explaining how grievances will be addressed, and proclaiming a call to action that presents the uprising as likely to succeed if the insurgent forces and population work together.

Jonathon Cosgrove, Context is King

As much as you try, you can’t write your own narrative. The narrative exists, and the best you can do is behave inside of it.

This doesn’t mean all is lost. It just means you need to recognize reality, and then operate, slowly, inside of it, towards your aim.


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