Learning the right lessons

george bush jr. looking at vladmir putin

There is a lot I object to in this article. Much of it is too simplistic.

But the gist is on point.

Yes, American motives were nobler. Yes, American methods were less brutal (most of the time). Yes, there were many other differences between the conflicts. But on a strategic level, the broad similarities are striking. This means there are several important lessons to be learned from recent American military history—but only if that history is looked at from the enemy’s perspective, not Washington’s. Because it was the enemies who won.

Gideon Rose, The Irony of Ukraine: We Have Met the Enemy, and It Is Us

If we had invaded Iraq in 2022 instead of 2003, we would be facing a lot of the same problems the Russians are facing today.

Pay attention, sure.

But it’s important to learn the right lessons.

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The Battle Rhythm

brad pitt with a concerned face war machine

Newsletter goes out tomorrow.

This one is about the battle rhythm.

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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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How do you “do” irregular warfare?

a map on the wall briefing a military plan

When most folks discuss irregular warfare, I’ve come to believe that they actually want to talk about political warfare. It’s a rung up on the ladder and encompasses a whole lot more.

Political warfare is so big a term that you can be vague in speech and still make sense without inviting too much inquiry.

Political warfare encompasses many different aspects of national power. The military is one of them.

And irregular warfare is the military’s contribution to irregular warfare.

Another dive into irregular warfare, this time, from the 2020 Summary of the Irregular Warfare Annex the National Defense Strategy.

Irregular warfare is a struggle among state and non-state actors to influence populations and affect legitimacy.

The key difference here, again, is the word “violent.”

The document goes on to describe irregular warfare and the importance of institutionalizing it as the Global War on Terrorism (as a security paradigm) shifts to Great Power Competition.

Ok, so, how do you “do” irregular warfare?

You don’t.

Like many terms, it’s an umbrella term that encompasses a bunch of other things that you can “do.” To “conduct irregular warfare” means you are doing something else, or more likely, a combination of things, things that fall under it.

It’s similar to using the term “setting conditions” as a stand-in for actual activities. If you are setting conditions for something, it means you are taking some tangible action to prepare for some other result.

Often, we don’t say that specific thing we intend to do. And that’s bad. It leaves everyone confused.

And most people – military people especially – don’t like to admit they don’t know.

So, what are the things “under” irregular warfare?

It includes the specific missions of unconventional warfare (UW), stabilization, foreign internal defense (FID), counterterrorism (CT), and counterinsurgency (COIN). Related activities such as military information support operations, cyberspace operations, countering threat networks, counter-threat finance, civil-military operations, and security cooperation also shape the information environment and other population-focused arenas of competition and conflict.

Most of the above have their own field manuals.

Now we’re getting somewhere…

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Shallow Fakes

Surely by now you have heard of “deep fakes.”

In their most insidious form, these are doctored videos that appear real. As technology improves, so does the ability to create convincing and deceptive videos.

The fear is that people will believe these deep fakes which will then lead to some change in attitude or behavior.

While deep fakes are interesting, we have been dealing with instances of this forever. We’ve always had the “shallow fake,” or low-effort deception.

And these can be surprisingly effective.

My favorite example is from 2005. The insurgency in Iraq was intensifying and becoming more dangerous. A militant group claimed to have captured US soldier “John Adam.” I remember seeing this photo making its way around the internet.

Of course, it looks fake now.

But in 2005, when the internet was still a pretty new thing, it gave pause. I remember scrutinizing the picture myself, thinking it must be fake, but still wondering.

Deception doesn’t always have to change minds or win the war. It can just cause angst and bureaucratic churn.

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Another definition of irregular warfare

washington dc at night

Recently, I pulled out the books to define irregular warfare.

There’s more than one definition, as it turns out.

Courtesy of Dave Maxwell who flagged this.

From the 2018 NDAA.

(i) Irregular Warfare Defined.–In this section, the term “irregular warfare” means activities in support of predetermined United States policy and military objectives conducted by, with, and through regular forces, irregular forces, groups, and individuals participating in competition between state and non-state actors short of traditional armed conflict.

If I am reading this correctly, the key element of irregular warfare (as defined here) is the use of a partner force.

Gone is the emphasis on “violent struggle” – instead we have “activities.”

Additionally, these activities occur in “competition between state and non-state actors short of traditional armed conflict.”

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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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