View Full Version : Book Review: Raising the Bar - Vandergriff

02-08-2007, 07:53 PM
My recent review of Raising the Bar: Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War by Maj. Donald Vandergriff

Organizations tend to lose their ability to adapt in changing environments as they grow larger. When it occurs in business, the business suffers loss of market share or reductions in productivity metrics. When it occurs in the military, young men and women pay with their lives and nations pay with their national security.

In this insightful book, Major Vandergriff quickly dissects and identifies the source of this malady in one growing organization, the U.S. Army. Though his focus in this book is how to cure the disease in Army, his insight is worth noting for the same cure in other branches of the military, and indeed in civilian business organizations where there is the courage among leaders to face the problem and accept the cure. Major Vandergriff's observations and suggested solutions reach far beyond the US Army. He first identifies the cynical industrial theory that all individuals are motivated soley by self-interest and greed as the philosophy that feeds the sickness. Any organization built on such a faulty cultural assumption has little hope for reform. Reforming such an organization from the top is impossible; cultural foundations must be replaced from the bottom up.

But Major Vandergriff does not leave us only with a diagnosis but offers the formula for a cure. In the second chapter, a quote from Secretary of the Army, Thomas White, sums up the theme of this book, "It's the personnel system, stupid." One can hear the late Col. John Boyd's dictum booming out, "People, ideas, machines...in that order." Indeed, Major Vandergriff acknowledges Col. Boyd's theories as foundational to changing the Army leadership development program from a focus on training to a focus on education. Teaching leaders how to think rather than what to think is a key component of the necessary change. Feeding the change through the academies and ROTC programs is the surest way to change the cultural foundations needed to nurture this new wave of leaders. There are examples of this new kind of leader already present and Major Vandergriff gives us some examples of these outstanding young leaders. Unfortunately, too often, these leaders must fight the cultural winds blowing the opposite direction, forcing them out of the military. Without the sweeping reform to create more of them, the winds will continue to frustrate change. Major Vandergfriff even goes so far as to offer a description of curriculum and structure of a reformed educational branch of the Army. His ideas and his plan make sense.

Without exaggeration, Major Vandergriff has given us one of the most important works on military reform. But those in and out of the military need to comprehend and confront the issues he brings to our attention. Good business leaders will attempt to apply this cure to their businesses; good military leaders will attempt to understand and apply these concepts to their command responsibilities; and good citizens will attempt to understand and convey these concepts to their representatives so that they will encourage this military reform. The importance of this effort cannot be overemphasized. Share this book with your superiors, military leaders, and most of all with your congressmen and senators. Our nation's future may very well depend on it.

Steve Blair
02-08-2007, 08:39 PM
Vandergriff is also a former enlisted Marine if memory serves, and is now retired (non-select for LtCol). He was my instructor for a military history course I took last year, and is one of the more outstanding theorists in the realm of personnel reform to come out of the Army.