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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I Want Konami for Christmas

konami logo from the nes era

When I was a kid, I thought “Konami” was some kind of video game system, like the original NES. I didn’t realize it was a video game company. I told my parents that “I want Konami for Christmas,” which probably made things very difficult for them when they went to Toys ‘R’ Us and started asking around.

One of my friends in the neighborhood had a Konami game called Rush’N Attack – which I always thought was “Russian Attack.”

I remember seeing the Konami logo – were there commercials for video games back then? – and knowing that I wanted whatever it is that Konami was.

Episode 63 of the Kojima Frequency Podcast (Hideosyncrasies) discusses the preservation of old games, streaming, dying consoles, the stealth similarities between Metal Gear and The Last of Us 2, and more.

Right after I bought a PS4, I went out to the local pawn shops in Killeen, Texas looking for one of the original PS3s that had backwards compatibility. I wanted to make sure I’d be able to play some of my old games (which I never do, by the way). I managed to find one and I still have it – and it still works.

After listening to this episode, I’m starting to get worried I might lose that capability.

I’m still not even sure what the changes to the Playstation Network mean. I am getting the sense that even if I physically own a copy of a game, I might not be able to play it.

Huh?

As I mentioned in the last post on the Kojima Frequency, the Lunar series is one of my favorites – and I have the discs (original PS1) and a PS3 to play it.

Whenever I decide to go back to it, will it work?

I relaunched CTG when I was wrapping up my playthrough of The Last of Us 2, and there is so much more I could have written about it if I was in the groove. I think I just have this one post on Isaac and the burden of leadership.

I know that game took a lot of flack for a lot of dumb reasons – but I loved it. And I think they got it right (in the episode). The stealth mechanics made the game. There is real terror when navigating the terrain and avoiding both zombies and human enemies. And I remember getting into set battles where I had to set traps and think hard about how to win and move forward – often just avoiding battles altogether.

What a great game. Would love to go back to it.

But I probably won’t.

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SOF Superpowers

Another episode of the Pineland Underground. This one was focused on the academic program at the Naval Postgraduate School and what that program could do for the force.

Here’s the line that grabbed my attention and inspired the headline:

“Special operations students have a superpower here – it’s not that these guys are going to split the atom or invent the longer lasting light bulb, but through their capability of navigating different cultures, navigating different groups of people, and [it’s] bringing them together around a common problem.”

Applied Design for Innovation | Graduate Program for Warfighters and Innovation Brokers, Pineland Underground

I’d argue that the superpower extends well beyond graduate school.

That’s really it, isn’t it?

“Can you get the State Department person on board? Can you get the tech startup founder on board? Can you get the neuroscientist from Stanford on board?”

Go on.

“Can you navigate all of these personalities, all these cultures, all these people, and mobilize them, understand their incentives, understand their identity, can you mobilize them around an innovation challenge?”

That’s the superpower right there. It’s less about having the power yourself, and more about unlocking it around you.

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Solid Snake Oil

stan talking to guybrush threepwood

I’ve tested out a few different podcasts to satisfy my gaming interest, and I’ve finally settled on the Kojima Frequency.

You may remember last year’s Tom Olsen saga – that was my introduction to Nitroid and the internet bubble that is the Metal Gear online universe.

I’ve listened to a bunch of episodes now and it’s become a very comfortable, easy listen for someone who has a deep appreciation for Metal Gear, all things Kojima, and then gaming in general.

Episode 61 sealed the deal.

There were two things that jumped out and which ultimately led me to write this post (and declare the Kojima Frequency as the unofficial gaming companion podcast to Carrying the Gun).

  1. On internet provacatuers, clickbait, and the way audiences react: “…say dumb shit thing, get smart people angry, get dumb people excited, questions marks(), profit.” The first 10 minutes or so features a great discussion on the way internet “clout” works, the gravitational pull towards using clickbait-y techniques to drive viewership, and the value (and challenge) in resisting that.
  2. Working Designs / Lunar: There’s a conversation deep in the podcast on localization (the process, mostly in translation, of preparing a game for a foreign market). Nitroid brought up the (now defunct) studio Working Designs and their work in localizing the Lunar series. The Lunar series is one of my favorites, and the fact that it got brought up is what got me more excited about the podcast. It’s not *just* Metal Gear/Kojima stuff all the time. The Metal Gear/Kojima stuff is a the entry way, but there’s a whole lot there. This is a gaming podcast and the knowledge is deep, but accessible.

As an aside, I’d point out that the wacky, 4th wall-breaking localization done by Working Designs was widely considered part of the charm for most of the audience, myself included. Working Designs also did some incredible story-retelling when they remade Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete for the Playstation. It’s a move that Square-Enix seems to be taking with the FFVII Remake, and I’m glad for it. Fan service is fun, but it’s better to tell a compelling story, even if it stings.

I like to believe there is a tiny segment of the CTG audience that enjoys my odd gaming references. If you’re a part of that audience, it’s worth checking out the podcast.

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My Podcast Diet

green sky fallout 4 radio tower

This is a deep dive on podcasts and how I listen to them.

You may have noticed many of the posts over the past year have been podcast reflections. I used to write a lot more in response to articles – and I still do – but there is so much good stuff happening in podcasting and I’ve found it rewarding to listen, reflect, and write on them. Plus, I hate the way that amazing things that are said in a podcast episode might never make it out of that audio bubble. So I like to capture it here, on the page, where I can come back and reference it.

Two things I want to get out there: 1) how I listen to podcasts, and 2) why I post podcast reflections weeks after a podcast release.

So here it goes.

How I Listen to Podcasts

I got into podcasts a long time ago, back when I was a college student and commuting almost four hours a day to and from school. I spent most of that time sitting on buses and trains, and killed the time listening to podcasts. I used the native Apple Podcasts app.

Podcasts then were mostly taped broadcasts from other places – broadcast news, radio, and television, mostly – and repackaged for a podcast audience.

Back then, this meant “downloading” individual episodes to my phone and then listening while riding – since streaming was hit or miss during the commute, plus network speed was slow.

Years later, when I found myself with another long commute via car, I’d listen to podcasts to and from work.

Listening to podcasts has always been a great thing to do – while doing something else – so long as that “something else” is routine and mundane.

I very rarely sit down in a chair and just listen to a podcast. Listening to podcasts is a thing I do that makes other things less boring or seemingly more productive.

Back in 2018, I remember learning that David Petraeus listens to podcasts while working out, which seems awful to me. I always liked to listen to music while working out. Listening to podcasts during exercise seemed somehow both lame and potentially counterproductive – as in it might slow me down or make my workouts less effective.

No way, I thought.

Then, over time, as my commutes grew shorter and my opportunities to listen to podcasts shrunk, I was forced to make the switch.

I’m now a guy who listens to podcasts while exercising.

Well, not while running. For whatever reason, I struggle listening to podcasts or audiobooks while running.

I can listen to podcasts while lifting or doing some kind of cross-training. But running is reserved for music.

When I talk with others who listen to podcasts, they often share the opposite experience. They can listen to podcasts while running, but not while lifting.

So the majority of my podcast listening occurs in the hour or so in the morning while I’m working out. I’ll also listen while getting ready in the morning after exercising.

An hour or so a day, that’s not too bad, right?

Except, as you likely know, many podcasts are over an hour long.

And over the years, I’ve become a dedicated fan of dozens of podcasts.

In any given week, if I’m lucky, I might get through four or five hours of podcasts. And that might get me through a few episodes.

But with episodes releasing daily, and with the constant discovery of new and engaging podcasts, it means I’m always running a backlog.

Which brings me to the second point.

Why I Post Podcast Reflections Weeks After a Release

With a constant backlog of podcasts, I’m just about always listening to old episodes. Occasionally, I’ll bump a podcast to the top of the queue if I’m particularly excited about it.

If I hear something compelling during an episode, I’ll make a note of it (on my phone, I use Things). Later in the week, I’ll review these notes and make a determination as to whether I want to write about them. If I do, I set the time to do it.

Then I write it, edit it, prepare it, schedule it, and post it.

This all takes time, which is why you get the reflection on a month-old podcast.

I don’t know it for a fact, but I always suspect the podcast teams who see these reflections are perplexed (and maybe a little annoyed) that I seem to be writing about an old podcast episode when they just released a new podcast and would rather see feedback on that.

Sorry, this is a hobby.

Lastly, sometime last year I ditched Apple Podcasts for Overcast. Apple re-tooled the user interface and it became exceedingly difficult for me to manage my endless podcast queue. Overcast is simple to use and has all the functionality I want – to include an incredible feature that slightly speeds up podcast episodes by automatically removing “dead air” and pauses. This helps me move through episodes just a little bit quicker without having to turn on 1.25x or 1.5x – which I don’t like to do.

So, how do you listen to podcasts?

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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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Great Power Competition in the Middle East

mural depicting saddam victory in jerusalem

We’ve heard this before. Competition between states is going to happen in other places – not directly in or on the borders of those same states.

“It is quite clear that the Middle East is a critical arena for China.”

Linda Robinson (see Infinite Competition)

This episode of the IWI podcast dives into the concept of competition between states in other places – specifically Russia, China, and Iran.

Here’s the question that had me listening more closely:

“What are the skill-sets and capabilities needed to implement integrated deterrence in the CENTCOM area of responsibility given the character of these threats?”

The answer? Language and culture.

If you don’t understand the language of the people you’re dealing with, if you don’t understand their culture, then you’re going to have a really hard time appreciating how a particular action plays out in that culture, or doesn’t play out.

Rear Admiral Mitch Bradley, ~44:15

The conversation goes on from there stressing the importance of education in developing leaders who can truly understand their environments and the implications of their actions or inactions.

This, of course, is refreshing to hear.

The challenge is two-fold. First, to truly develop the skills that we’re talking about (language proficiency beyond building rapport and cultural understanding beyond the surface level) we are talking about an immense investment of time. A short course on language or culture isn’t going to do it. This stuff takes years – decades even.

Which brings me to the second challenge: incentives. If we are saying that what we want is the above, are we incentivizing this? Are we promoting and rewarding those who have put in the work?

It goes back to the infinite competition episode and another great question: “Do you think the system is promoting the right types of leaders and talent to engage in political warfare or great power competition?”

The desire is there. The need is there. Now it’s about aligning incentives to meet it.

Lastly, I love it anytime senior leaders talk about the need to develop our own “Lawrence of Arabia.”

“…not only a Lawrence of Arabia, but a Lawrence of Africa… and I would say, a Lawrence of southern Arabia, and all of these other places where the Chinese and the Iranians and the Russians are trying to compete…”

I appreciate the further parsing – knowledge that is useful has to be extremely granular. And developing that granular knowledge takes time.

Lawrence’s education began well before he stepped foot in Arabia as a military man.

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“Trash talk raises the psychological stakes of the game”

I don’t know how this podcast slipped under my radar for so long.

In this episode we are joined by Rafi Kohan, the author of “The Arena” which is a deep dive into wide ranging and interdisciplinary examination of the modern American sports stadium. Rafi is currently researching for his upcoming book on competitive banter a.k.a. talking trash, a human behavioral phenomenon that has existed throughout time, across cultures, and across the world.

Pineland Underground Ep. 4 Competitive Banter

I’ve listened to a couple of episodes now and they’re pretty good. This one was on “trash-talking” and the author spent some time speaking with folks at SERE school.

What’s the thesis? Why do we trash talk?

“Trash talk raises the psychological stakes of the game.”

That makes sense to me.

Also makes me understand the incredible emotion surrounding the Army/Navy game.

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The Premier Partnered Irregular Warfare Force

group of egyptian soldiers and an orange flag

Super-short episode from the Indigenous Approach (16 mins) that lays out the command’s new vision.

It’s all in the title: “We are the premier partnered Irregular Warfare force.”

I like it. It’s simple, short, and has enough meaning baked in without making me scratch my head.

And like many mission or vision statements, the words might mean nothing to some but everything to others.

I didn’t quite get the true nature of the ‘indigenous approach’ until I had a boss who told me just before a deployment:

“You won’t be graded on the things that your team does – you’ll be graded on the things that your partner does.”

That’s when it clicked for me. This is different.

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