“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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GWOT War Stories

night vision afghan commando raid with special forces

This is an addendum to this morning’s post.

Sometimes it is easy to get excited about some new term or piece of information. I had never heard the term “grammando” before but it instantly clicked.

That’s how you get a new post.

But the rest of that episode is terrific. It’s a long war story.

The GWOT is over, right?

Maybe.

I’m continuously struck by the numbers of folks who are still around with incredible stories of heroism, triumph, and tragedy.

We are fortunate to have such people.

Click through and listen to this setup:

“We got into a big firefight, our dog handler got shot in the head, he lived, some of our commandos got killed, our Echo (Communications Sergeant) took a machine gun round to the chest plate and it exploded his magazines, destroyed his M4, so he took an AK from a guy he shot earlier that day and used it for the rest of the mission, and at one point… their snipers were shooting at those explosives…”

Brackforce #1, ~18:50

We are very fortunate indeed.

Image Source: New York Times

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Optimal Ignorance: Information You Don’t Need

war room from wargames lots of screens

One of the best articles I’ve seen on FTGN for awhile.

“Optimal ignorance,” a deliberately contrarian term, “refers to the importance of knowing what it is not worth knowing. It requires great courage to implement. It is far, far easier to demand more and more information than it is to abstain from demanding it.”  In other words, seeking optimal ignorance requires deliberately going about not wasting energy or time on information that distracts from the primary inquiry. 

Optimal Ignorance: A Filter for Intent-Based Leadership Above the Tactical Level – From the Green Notebook

We have been trained to pay attention to detail and ‘check small things.’ And these days, we have the technology and the means to keep constant tabs on everything and everyone.

The information is all there and available.

To be truly effective, though, we don’t need all of that information. In fact, too much information becomes paralyzing.

It takes maturity and confidence to realize you don’t need to know. You don’t have to have input or an opinion, either.

This is especially true for senior leaders. Every time a senior leader speaks, there’s a good chance those words are going to get scribbled down into a book and transformed into an order, tasking, or inquiry.

Even a simple request for clarification can turn into a multi-day goose chase for obscure information.

Of course, buying into optimal ignorance requires a great deal of trust within an organization. One of those things that briefs well, but might be hard to implement.

Related to this is the concept of “just-in-time” information. To squeeze the most out of a day, your system needs to be optimized to not saddle you down with information you don’t need right now. It should arrive precisely when you need it.

I, for one, choose to be just in time and optimally ignorant.

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On Quiet Professionals

red lens lamp land navigation map reading

Another piece of evidence proving some of the best contemprary military writing originates from a gym in Wyoming.

Years of organizational observation, and several months of work with MTI’s Quiet Professional Discussion Groups, have reinforced for me that most Quiet Professionals are so in spite of their unit or company culture, not because of it. 

This is disappointing but understandable. Self-promotion and individual advancement dominate the cultures of most tactical units, private companies, and government organizations. The up-and-out promotional pressure of the military, and financial compensation for advancement and increased responsibility at private companies, by their nature, don’t readily reward “quiet” team members who consistently put mission ahead of self, i.e. Quiet Professionals. 

THOUGHTS ON ORGANIZATIONAL ETHOS, INCENTIVES AND STRUCTURE REQUIRED TO PROMOTE QUIET PROFESSIONALISM, Mountain Tactical Institute

If you do the work, and no one knows you did it, is it still valuable?

“Quiet does not equal silent. You’re expected to confidently and candidly speak up to improve quality and/or put the mission first.”

A mentor recently shared with me that in most units, there’s about 10% of folks who do the heavy lifting. The rest are there and doing the work, but they’re not invested in the same way.

Anecdotal, sure, but it resonates.

Maturity comes in when you recognize that this is okay. This is the way it is and you work with what you have got.

You don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.

You do the work.

That’s being a quiet professional.

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Achievement Unlocked

hands holding the maze relic westworld

I’ve been thinking lately about what actually makes someone useful to an organization.

What are those things that really matter?

You can make an endless list, but it seems to come down to two things:

  1. Solve the organization’s problems.
  2. Unlock the organization’s resources.

On solving problems:

Your boss has a vision. Your boss has a goal. There are obstacles in the way. There are problems to be solved.

Good leaders find ways to solve those problems and to arrive at the boss’ goal – not their personal goal.

On unlocking resources:

This is the one I’ve been thinking about a lot more. Organizations – and especially large bureaucracies – are marked by red tape. There’s an obstacle everywhere that impedes progress.

Ineffective leaders gripe, complain and become cynical.

“The system is stupid,” they say, as they look for ways around it.

Effective leaders recognize the red tape and work their way through it to unlock the resources.

“The system is stupid, but…” they say, as they work their way through it.

The bureaucracy is a behemoth – and when wielded can do incredible things.

But you have to do the work.

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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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Colin Powell’s 13 Rules

colin powell rotc cadet

I have a framed copy that sits on my desk. There is something here for everyone. #1 is my favorite and my go-to. I use it all the time.

  1. It ain’t as bad as you think! It will look better in the morning. 
  2. Get mad then get over it.
  3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
  4. It can be done.
  5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it. 
  6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision. 
  7. You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours. 
  8. Check small things.
  9. Share credit.
  10. Remain calm. Be kind.
  11. Have a vision. Be demanding. 
  12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

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Coloring outside the lines

coloring outside of the lines red green blue yellow

I recently heard this phrase used by another leader in reference to finding innovative ways to solve a problem.

“Color outside the lines.”

Of course, I’ve heard this phrase before, but never in the same context as “think outside the box.”

This struck me as a better phrase precisely because I can picture it.

I don’t really know what you want me to do when you ask me to think outside of the box. What box? Why do I need to think outside of it?

But coloring outside of the lines – yup, I got it. We’re supposed to color inside the lines, or so we are led to believe.

When things are going well, sure, we can color inside the lines and make a beautiful picture.

But sometimes we need to move fast and we might need to get a little messy.

We color outside the lines and finish the picture. It ain’t great, but it’s done.

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Observing Senior Leaders

navy leaders giving a speech in white uniforms

A short piece over at From the Green Notebook on the lessons to be learned from observing your bosses.

Behavior is magnified. Manner of speech is scrutinized. Word choice becomes paramount. Even facial expressions or nervous tics become gossip fodder for the organization’s followers. 

An eye-roll or snarky remark will be remembered forever.

Additionally, many of us have experienced the chill that comes over a room when a senior leader expresses disappointment or anger over some small transgression during a routine meeting. Hushed whispers circulate immediately following the meeting to determine what was meant by some cryptic statement or sarcastic remark.

You have likely seen the effects of a strong or weak senior leader in your organization. The entire “vibe” of a place can change based solely on the behaviors and attitudes of “the boss.”

This works in positive and negative ways.

There is a lot to learn from simple observation.

The FTGN article pairs well with this from Harvard Business Review.

It’s easy to think that building a culture is about other people’s behaviors, not how you act as a leader. But I believe that culture change begins when leaders start to model the behavior they want the organization to emulate.

Leaders Can Shape Company Culture Through Their Behaviors

We can’t just tell our organizations to “innovate” or “focus on x trait.” We have to model the behavior first. We have to demonstrate that this thing we are saying is important by doing it ourselves.

And on innovation:

If you want to be innovative, you also need to accept failure. If our associates aren’t pushing boundaries and sometimes failing along the way, we probably aren’t pushing hard enough. But by accepting and even celebrating a failed effort, we promote innovation.

This is so important. If we truly want to innovate, we have to accept, embrace, and celebrate failure. If the reward for failure is punishment or admonition, it is easier to just do things the way they’ve always been done and avoid the drama.

Image source: DVIDS

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Future Warfare Attributes

mass effect female warrior

I love this slide.

These are the types of attributes we want in our leaders to be effective in future war.

I don’t think anyone would argue against them. Would love to know the story about how these were decided on.

But boy! What an ask!

Is our system designed to select for these types of attributes? Or to train them?

Unfortunately, I think the answer is a resounding no.

How do we fix that? Is it even fixable? Are we asking too much?

Worth thinking about.

  • Nonlinear thinking – Understanding, working with, and making predictions using complex, asynchronous ideas and patterns over time and space.
  • Strategic patience/inaction – Willingness and ability to inhibit action and tolerate ambiguity in order to be able to act decisively at the right moment in order to increase the effectiveness of action.
  • Fast cognitive fusion – Analyzing, synthesizing, and making decisions based on high volume, high velocity, multisource information in order to monitor, understand, and direct multiple, interdependent, semi-autonomous units and systems.
  • Inductive/abductive reasoned action – Ability to observe, analyze, and willingness to act on partial information in the environmnet, drawing inferences about generalized rules and patterns (inductive) or likeliest cause-effect relationships (abducitve) given data observed.
  • Technological fluency – Ability to comprehend and control multiple, integrated semi-autonmous technological systems and evaluate and integrate multiple information streams from battlefield sensors, cyber, etc. to effectively operate these systems.
  • Psychophysiological durability – Physical, psychological, and cognitive robustness, endurance, self-awareness, and self-management in the face of the prolonged stresses of extended, autonomous operatoins and exteme stresses of extended high-intensity combat.
  • Teamwork development and synchronicity – Ability and willingness to rapidly develop and sustain strong teamwork onds and working relationships to be effective in dynamic, extended combat operations.
  • Complex spatial awareness and visualization – Developing and sustaining awareness and visualization of spatial relationships and movements in complex three dimensional, subterranean, and urban environments.
  • Predictive social reasoning – The ability to understand and predict the perspective and likely perception of actions/activities by other groups and individuals in order to enhance the effectiveness of combined/synchronized cross-domain actions.

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