You can’t hit if you don’t swing

The Mad Scientist Laboratory recently had a good episode with author Zach Schonbrun to discuss his work researching cognition and performance.

It’s great when military podcasts speak with military folk – but it’s refreshing when they step away and speak with the rest of the world.

Since that’s the world we live in.

Two things struck me in this episode:

“What does it mean to say that he’s skilled? What does that actually mean? The sports industry has not really grappled with this question because it involves very difficult assessments beyond just how fast an athlete runs or how high he jumps. Those are the metrics that they tend to focus on because they’re easily measureable [but] I don’t think that tells you very much about what athlete they’re going to become.”

Zach Schonbrun, 414. It’s All In Your Head

“Those are the metrics that they tend to focus on because they’re easily measurable…”

Over and over again, we’re hearing this. We have a problem with metrics. There are dysfunctional consequences of relying on metrics.

And the answer isn’t simply “we need better ways to measure” or “big data and AI will save us.”

There are tangible things that are worth measuring, but there are also intangible things that we’re not paying attention to. And just because we can’t measure them, doesn’t mean they’re not there.

And #2. How do hitters know when to swing?

They’re using prediction. They’re picking up on very subtle cues, that take years and years of practice and expertise, and that has told them this is what they should be expecting in this situation.

Zach Schonbrun, 414. It’s All In Your Head

Prediction versus analysis. Does the hitter have to “prove” that they know when to swing? That they’ll get a hit?

Sometimes (most times) they miss. But each swing is a rep.

We expect batters to miss. It’s part of the game. What would be the effect on a batter if they received a steep penalty for missing?

Think about where that might be happening in other organizations.


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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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“You picked the wrong diplomats”

That’s a line from Ambassador James Jeffrey from the most recent Irregular Warfare Initiative podcast.

There’s a lot in this episode. What I found particularly interesting was a light dissection of the culture at the State Department from a seasoned diplomat. It’s one thing for a defense official to bemoan peculiar aspects of another agency, but another when it comes from someone who has spent much more time within it.

Worth the listen for that alone.

Episode 60 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast explores both the recent history and the future character of insurgency. Our guests begin by arguing that insurgency will play an important role in great power competition, although states’ objectives will change from the transformational nation-building goals of the post-9/11 era to more hard-nosed security and political objectives. They then argue that despite perceived recent failures in counterinsurgency in cases such as the US intervention in Afghanistan, insurgencies rarely win—this has led insurgent groups to adopt new theories of victory. Lastly, our guests discuss policy implications, especially how to balance military and civilian means to counter insurgency.

INSURGENTS RARELY WIN: ADAPTATION IN THE FACE OF FAILURE

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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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You are your culminating exercise

That was a comment made during a recent Pineland Underground episode.

And it strikes me as true.

When a military school is good, the culminating exercise brings it all together.

If it falls short, it might be worth relooking.


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Gallows humor, smell-triggered memories, and administrative betrayal

Good podcast episode from Always In Pursuit.

SGT Retired Michael Sugrue served as a police officer for 14 years and also served in the Air Force as an officer in the Raven Program. After 8 years as a police officer, he would answer a call that would forever change his life. What ensued for the rest of his career can be described as a perfect storm of trauma. 

There is some really good stuff in this episode. The three things that stood out for me were the ultimate futility of gallows humor, the way that smells trigger memories more than anything else, and the concept of “admin betrayal.”

There’s also a great discussion on the way that service changes over time. Whether it is the military or law enforcement, no one can tell you what it’s going to do to you. You will be changed completely. And even if someone could tell you that, it wouldn’t matter. It’s a strange tragedy.

I’ve written about this before. The dark humor that gets folks in tough jobs through the day (military, law enforcement) doesn’t actually help with processing it over time. There comes a point where you have to turn to “serious talk” if you want to move forward.

Do you remember the smell under the body armor? It remembers you.

Administrative or “admin” betrayal is what happens when the organization that you worked and bled for turns the other way. We see this a lot. Organizations like to be inclusive and like to consider themselves a “family.” Well, what happens when a family member gets in trouble? or is struggling? Does a family throw that person out, or does it help?

A fascinating episode and worth the listen.


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The Command Post is Dead

soldiers in a tank from the animatrix

Great podcast episode (and article full of references) over at Mad Scientist Laboratory. This one on the command post of the future.

Today’s centralized command posts are incredibly vulnerable to enemy fire, while “Command Posts-in-Sanctuary” — those out of reach of adversary strikes — are limited by communications capabilities. To find an appropriate middle ground, we should adopt decentralized, mobile command posts that can support command and control and mask their locations and communications.

410. Sooner Than We Think: Command Post Survivability and Future Threats

Tell me – why do we need to have a command post these days?

I’m not sure that we do. We need to get much more comfortable operating decentralized. Leaders (commanders) need to give clear guidance and intent. They also need to be out there, on the ground.

They don’t need a big screen to look at.

But if they do want to look at the big screen, it will be in augmented reality, via headset, while on the move in their vehicle.

And these skills need to be trained. By going to the field. For more than three days at a time.


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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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