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Thread: John Robb, "Brave New War", and Group Size

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    Council Member Culpeper's Avatar
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    Default John Robb, "Brave New War", and Group Size

    A two folded assay concerning group size and effectiveness.

    Is the SWC itself reaching the group size dynamics as described in Chapter 7? Especially, page 140.

    His analysis (replete with examples) shows that there is a gradual falloff in effectiveness of online groups at 80 members, with an absolute falloff at 150 members. The initial falloff occurs, according to Allen, because of an increasing amount of effort spent on "grooming" the group to maintain cohesion. The absolute falloff occurs at 150 members, when grooming fails to stem dissatisfaction and dissension within the group. This will cause the group to cleave apart into smaller subgroups (although some may remain affiliated with the original group).
    John Robb goes on to give an example of the Mafia group size in the United States directly related to the organizations' periods of peak effectiveness:

    The Genovese Family; 152 members
    The Gambino Family; 130 members
    The Luchese Family; 113 members

    As one can see it doesn't take a lot of members to make headlines that would give the false impression that the organization is much larger than its actual size.

    Is the insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan much lower than they actual appear in the press?
    "But suppose everybody on our side felt that way?"
    "Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way. Wouldn't I?"


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    Default A Majority of One

    I've always believed most of what was needed to be remembered and learned again regarding 'insurgents' came from the 400 year Native American resistance movement right here at home. It had already been all done once before. Anyway, regarding numbers, take for instance Red Cloud's war and the fighting over the Bozeman Trail, i.e. Fetterman's massacre, the Wagon Box fight and numerous other 'insurgent' attacks. Once Red Cloud achieved what he wanted, he quit fighting. He and most of his men stayed on the reservation. Other insurgent leaders, such as Crazy Horse, Gall and Sitting Bull would accept into their ranks young men from Red Cloud's band, but said numbers were small. When the Lakota massed and defeated Crook and Custer at the Rosebud and Little Big Horn, there was no Red Cloud contingent per se. Best estimates put the Indian numbers at 2,000 and it simply is not known how many of those combatants had just drifted in for the fight and how many Cheyene and others were present. Actual Lakota numbers may well have only been around 1,000, maybe even less. We envision hordes of wild redskins but that simply is not the case, nor IMO are there hordes of insurgents.

    The last incident of Indian insurgency occured in 1973 at Wounded Knee 2, in which some Federal forces were involved, Guardsmen put on standby and a couple of US Marshals were killed at the Jumping Bull Compound in a fire fight. The press and public imagination again envisioned large numbers of wild redskins ready to go on a rampage when in truth the core number of American Indian Movement (AIM) members was very small. I've spoken with several Indians involved and they told me alot of guys showed to occupy Wounded Knee because there wasn't much else to do and they harbored a grudge against the dominant society. I think the same can be said on many insurgents in Iraq.

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    Default Group Size: Communists & The Russian Revolution; Quakers & Social Reform in USA

    The size of the group is not as important as the committment and skill of the group members. The Mafia "families" were relatively small yet yielded enormous power. I'm curious as to the size of the "Communist" party at the time of the Russian revolution. How many "Bolsheviks" were there really there who took over a nation of perhaps 150million people? The group was I think relatively small but unbelievable effective at taking power (and abusing it.)

    Another, but perhaps completely different, "revolutionary" group would be the Quakers in the USA. They have always been a pretty small religious sect, but they have apparently had enormous influence in reforms in the American social contract. I believe they were key players in both the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s and the Viet Nam anti-war movement. Of course they may not have been very effective in any of those endeavors. The Viet Nam war went on for long after the anti war movement started, slavery did not end in the South (it just stopped calling itself slavery) and look at civil rights in the USA today. Were their efforts, though high profile, effective?

    Wild Bill

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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    Culpepper,

    There are suggestions that you're right on target. In online traffic flow and posting analysis it often appears that a few percent of a group actually participate and create content whereas a larger volume of the group engages in commentary(synthesis). Finally the third group merely watches and doesn't participate other than to read passively(consumers). I'll link to the study that ZenPundit originally posted.

    If you look at mafioso the family may be only 150 or so members, but the organization inclusive of the "clientèle" and such will be much larger. Similar I imagine to the dynamics of any organization.

    John Robb talks about how the chosen activity of insurgents are in themselves force multipliers. After reading the book I thought about the content creation pyramid with the insurgent at the top. Each of the media outlets standing below and a pyramid of pyramids. Which creates an exponential growth in the effectiveness of the terrorist or insurgent. I may not be explaining that very well, but I'm looking at the effectiveness of the communication path.
    Sam Liles
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    Council Member Culpeper's Avatar
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    It's just one of those things that cannot be avoided. Even the SWC is not immune to this phenomenon and I'm a little surprised that something that has been posted straight out of the SWC's overall recommendations to read throughout the forums by members is virtually ignored on this part of the book. As far as I know I'm the only one that has posted anything about this particular part of the book and the SWC itself out of concern. As with the topic of the insurgencies throughout the book, as the SWC grows in membership, it will or already has fallen victim to Robb's axiom. It is beginning to give the appearance of the same things we find fault with on topics such as COIN and the war on terror. Too much bureaucracy with sets and subsets. A think tank that has grown into a group think tank.

    1. Illusion of Invulnerability: Members ignore obvious danger, take extreme risk, and are overly optimistic.

    2. Collective Rationalization: Members discredit and explain away warning contrary to group thinking.

    3. Illusion of Morality: Members believe their decisions are morally correct, ignoring the ethical consequences of their decisions.

    4. Excessive Stereotyping: The group constructs negative stereotypes of rivals outside the group.

    5. Pressure for Conformity: Members pressure any in the group who express arguments against the group's stereotypes, illusions, or commitments, viewing such opposition as disloyalty.

    6. Self-Censorship: Members withhold their dissenting views and counter-arguments.

    7. Illusion of Unanimity: Members perceive falsely that everyone agrees with the group's decision; silence is seen as consent.

    8. Mind guards: Some members appoint themselves to the role of protecting the group from adverse information that might threaten group complacency.

    And as with a vast majority looking at mistakes and solutions for COIN, the SWC should be avoiding group think, and taking a look at Robb's description of the downfall of an online group in order to maintain effectiveness:


    # The group should be made aware of the causes and consequences of group think.

    # The leader should be neutral when assigning a decision-making task to a group, initially withholding all preferences and expectations. This practice will be especially effective if the leaders consistently encourages an atmosphere of open inquiry.

    # The leader should give high priority to airing objections and doubts, and be accepting of criticism.

    # Groups should always consider unpopular alternatives, assigning the role of devil's advocate to several strong members of the group.

    # Sometimes it is useful to divide the group into two separate deliberative bodies as feasibilities are evaluated.

    # Spend a sizable amount of time surveying all warning signals from rival group and organizations.

    # After reaching a preliminary consensus on a decision, all residual doubts should be expressed and the matter reconsidered.

    # Outside experts should be included in vital decision making.

    # Tentative decisions should be discussed with trusted colleagues not in the decision-making group.

    # The organization should routinely follow the administrative practice of establishing several independent decision-making groups to work on the same critical issue or policy.

    Instead, the SWC has gone from a think tank to another online forum with the life expectancy of effectiveness no different than any other online group as Robb describes.
    "But suppose everybody on our side felt that way?"
    "Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way. Wouldn't I?"


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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Culpeper,

    Quote Originally Posted by Culpeper View Post
    As with the topic of the insurgencies throughout the book, as the SWC grows in membership, it will or already has fallen victim to Robb's axiom. It is beginning to give the appearance of the same things we find fault with on topics such as COIN and the war on terror. Too much bureaucracy with sets and subsets. A think tank that has grown into a group think tank.
    ...........
    Instead, the SWC has gone from a think tank to another online forum with the life expectancy of effectiveness no different than any other online group as Robb describes.
    I hate to say this, but it certainly isn't a new observation. This used to be called "Magic Numbers Theory" in social psychology and parts of sociology back in the 50's and 60's (although they based it on powers of 12) and, if you want to go further back, try re-reading Common Sense by Thos. Paine - he notes the same phenomenon.

    You are right that there is certainly a potential for the SWC to grow into a group think tank (I like that phrase!), but I don't think it has happened yet. I do see some increase in the social boundary maintenance stuff going on - I'll admit that . I have a gut feeling, alright based on 20+ years of working with and looking at online communities, that what is happening is an attempt to redefine the code of sociability (the ROE). This does not, of necessity, require the SWC to adopt group think at the level of specifics - it can be done at the level of process (i.e. how we talk not what we say).

    Marc
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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default VERY well said.

    "In your face" argumentive techniques are often mistaken for intellectual acuity and innovative thinking. Mostly all they do is start food fights.

    As the old saw says, 'We can disagree without being disagreeable.'

    Content, not method determines validity...

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Ken,

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    Content, not method determines validity...
    Thanks, and quite true. I think one of the greatest difficulties we have in this ype of forum, and by that I mean Computer Mediated Communications not the SWC , is that it is much harder for people to pick up the body language of the posted. Even these wonderful emoticons just don't capture the full range of body language (). So while I think it's imperative that we have a convention that says "we can agree to disagree", I think it's also imperative that we all be aware of this potential problem and try to do it in a fairly "polite" way - something that I really do find here . As my grandmother used to say, "politeness is the vasiline of social intercourse".

    Marc
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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Rowdy Grandmothers always have great teaching points.

    Helps that they're willing to tell their grandkids things they learned from raising the kids parents that said parents have not yet discovered...

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Culpeper View Post
    As with the topic of the insurgencies throughout the book, as the SWC grows in membership, it will or already has fallen victim to Robb's axiom. It is beginning to give the appearance of the same things we find fault with on topics such as COIN and the war on terror. Too much bureaucracy with sets and subsets. A think tank that has grown into a group think tank.
    ...........
    Instead, the SWC has gone from a think tank to another online forum with the life expectancy of effectiveness no different than any other online group as Robb describes.
    On Robb's axiom, I think it largely depends on if you take a deterministic approach to how things will unfold or a contentious one.

    Just because a set of conditions exist that can be associated with another event, does not mean the outcome is predetermined, or even likely.

    Since we are using SWC as means to consider Robb's point I point out some distinguishing features that I think lower the odds of its devolving into group-think:

    1) A very diverse membership - in terms of geography, profession, education, experience, and perhaps to a lesser extent values (both religious and political)

    2) Such diversity means that members are also shaped throughout their off-line life by competing perspectives - from yet further diversity

    3) The production of "stuff" which brings revenue, prestige, business, etc. is pretty much absent at the council level. The lack of such goals which hinder moving forward so that the organization can get on to the next thing is evident by the way in which old threads are often brought back by new members with new questions or observations.

    4) Accessibility - in terms of council members being able to ask the questions they'd like to ask, reply as they see fit (no time tables or suspenses). The rules are fairly simple and unrestrictive - primarily their function is to facilitate debate. This makes for inclusiveness vs. exclusiveness.

    5) Intellectual burden of proof - If you write something or quote it, be prepared to qualify it, or its likely that on this diverse council, someone will have the background to call you on it. If that happens, council ethics require you to clarify your position, acknowledge the counter position, or face the consequences.

    If we deviate too far from some of these features to accommodate any individual, a group could fall into group-think.

    I have probably spent an equal amount of time on SWC writing and reading (I write slower so it all equals out). I have as much respect for those I've disagreed with as those who I've agreed with. You can't always get context to content on the first go around, and often I've found a at least one position within a greater argument that can be agreed upon.

    SWC/SWJ/SWJ Blog is pretty dynamic when you consider Communities of Practice in general. The members largely police themselves, and care enough about the site to raise issues about its health, assist new members in contributing and maintaining a standard of inclusiveness to those willing to participate in the discussion of war and its related topics. As long as we continue to so, we will probably remain in good health.

    Best regards, Rob

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    Council Member Culpeper's Avatar
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    All good points, which I can't disagree, but I'm wondering if those that participate the most are actually below the range of 150 members. I don't know because I only participate on certain topics and on occassion have fallen under the table for breaking rules for which I take responsibility and was handled fairly. It is just a coincidence that I had a similar experience while reading that particular chapter of Robb's book and posting this thread. I guess on occassion I have participated as one that takes risks and overly optimistic as mentioned above as a sign of a member participating in group think (Illusion of Invulnerability).

    SWC/SWJ/SWJ Blog is pretty dynamic when you consider Communities of Practice in general. The members largely police themselves, and care enough about the site to raise issues about its health, assist new members in contributing and maintaining a standard of inclusiveness to those willing to participate in the discussion of war and its related topics. As long as we continue to so, we will probably remain in good health.
    That pretty much sums up my motivation for starting this thread to begin with. I like this site and we should review this topic from time-to-time to make sure we don't become ineffective as a group. As individuals we should all be aware of the causes and consequences of a group falling prey to group think. Including myself.
    "But suppose everybody on our side felt that way?"
    "Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way. Wouldn't I?"


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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Culpeper,

    Quote Originally Posted by Culpeper View Post
    All good points, which I can't disagree, but I'm wondering if those that participate the most are actually below the range of 150 members.
    Right now we are at 1255 registered members so if the 1:10:100 rule is holding, then we should have around 125 active posters. Of course, that's leaving out the lurkers who haven't bothered to register, so I just can't guess what the real figure is .

    Quote Originally Posted by Culpeper View Post
    I don't know because I only participate on certain topics and on occassion have fallen under the table for breaking rules for which I take responsibility and was handled fairly. It is just a coincidence that I had a similar experience while reading that particular chapter of Robb's book and posting this thread. I guess on occassion I have participated as one that takes risks and overly optimistic as mentioned above as a sign of a member participating in group think (Illusion of Invulnerability).
    I think it happens to all of us at one time or another. I know I've run into some situations where my assumptions were radically different from most of the people here - I guess it's that Canadian, academic, non-military background of mine .

    In some ways, I suspect that the group think phenomenon is more likely to show up in areas where people share basic assumptions about "reality" and the focus of that community is more, hmmm, "fixed" let's say. Because our focus is "small wars" which, inherently, are all different, I think we have a built in advantage of sorts.

    Quote Originally Posted by Culpeper View Post
    That pretty much sums up my motivation for starting this thread to begin with. I like this site and we should review this topic from time-to-time to make sure we don't become ineffective as a group. As individuals we should all be aware of the causes and consequences of a group falling prey to group think. Including myself.
    That's a really good point. I mean, we've gone from ~3k unique visits per month this time last year to over 70k last month. That's a huge increase, and we are seeing some of the effects of it. Personally, I think Bill and Dave have done one Hades of a great job in holding this all together and expanding it.

    I'm really glad that you brought the topic up because you are absolutely right - we could move to a group think, at least in some areas. So, what would you suggest that we, as a community and a council, do to help avoid that trap? Are there any new structures or rules you think would help?

    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Council Member Culpeper's Avatar
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    I pointed them out using "#" style bullets above. Its more of an academic textbook approach but it something that we can take and give from. Ultimately, it is up to the administrators. Like I intimated before, I was taking my own inventory and wondering if I was contributing or taking away from the group. Obviously, I would rather contribute to the group than post something that may be misinterpreted. I don't get my feeling hurt very easily and my fallacy is that I assume everyone should feel that way as well. So, I know what my shortcomings are on the SWC and work on them. I guess what I'm trying to state is that group think can be avoided if we are educated on the subject so that as individuals we can take steps in understanding the "company language" over time. I think we all fall back on our areas of most knowledge. For me that would be military enlistment under poor leadership, my education in history and accounting (which made me a liberal arts major around a bunch of accountants and auditors), and a large patriotic core. So, at this point of my membership with the SWC I need to ask myself what can I bring to the table that is productive and still bring my style of sarcastic liberal arts humor. BTW, I recently did the latter against the same type of humor, which was sort of stupid. I didn't like someone's interpretation of this type of humor (meant to be funny or inflict a wound on the reader) and I responded with the same type of humor, which in itself, was interpreted differently by someone else. Does that make sense? I'm a freakish cross between Hunter S. Thompson and Fred Thompson. I'm not trying to sell a book but I should be more careful about how others may interpret something I post; i.e. offensive, irrelevant, or insulting. For example: "Enough about me. Let's talk about you. What do you think about me?" So, to avoid a group think mentality we should take responsibility as individuals to steer the group clear. We can only do that if we understand group think and I believe Robb's topic on this subject is enlightening. Most everything else he wrote about I took mostly as amalgamated abstracts but this particular part of the book I found very interesting at the right time and space.
    Last edited by Culpeper; 09-07-2007 at 12:27 AM.
    "But suppose everybody on our side felt that way?"
    "Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way. Wouldn't I?"


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