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Thread: The challenge of Institutionalizing Adaption - the question SASC did not ask SECDEF

  1. #1
    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Default The challenge of Institutionalizing Adaption - the question SASC did not ask SECDEF

    At last weeks hearing a SASC member asked the Secretary of Defense something along the lines of “what are we doing to institutionalize our COIN capabilities?” While that is an important question, I think the bigger question is “what steps are we taking to foster and institutionalize innovation and adaptation?”

    I bring this up based on several recent observations from ongoing efforts to adapt. Culturally we are still resigned to a “one sized fits all” approach – favoring organizational final solutions to challenges that require consideration of conditions and objectives. We still want “final” closure, the kind that is out of step with the nature of war, and our role in it.

    Bob Killebrew pointed out recently on the SWJ (see Transition in Iraq) that we must consider JAN 2011 and the need for a vehicle to further both US and GoI policy objectives beyond the “I” commands (MNC-I, MNSC-I, IAG). His though was to start looking at the requirements for a robust ODC (Office of Defense Command) or possibly a MAAG (Military Advisory and Assistance Group). He understands that such an effort is not something you just magic out of thin air, or existing commands if you want to get it right and set it (and your policy objectives) up for success. It takes time. This is how you ensure that when somebody says “lunch is served”, you are ready to eat.

    How do we as an institution support this? At the ground level, e.g. ‘pointy” end of the spear level, Joe and Jane (up to COL Joe and COL Jane) are adapting and innovating every day. They have to. However, do we as an institution understand what they are doing? Do we understand the significance it has on the force? How are we capturing it? What have we done on the institution side that supports it? While the goal may be to cut out the adhockery, what have we done to support that goal?

    Going back to Bob’s observation – what are we doing right now to support it? What resources could we apply or redirect to answer the questions of what this particular ODC / MAAG should be capable of doing given the conditions and objectives? What type of people will it require? What authorities will it need? Given that this is a much broader issue than just a MNC-I (or even a CENTCOM) issue, what can JFCOM (or maybe OSD since this is also about DoS) do to support it? How does the DoD Dir on IW support this and other issues of institutional adaptation?

    While Bob’s example is a good one because it highlights what should be a politically visible issue, there are others along this line less visible at the service levels that need to be considered as well. Too often we proceed along the same line of operation, missing our institutional decision points because we were ignorant of the requirements facing others, did not understand the relevance, did not know about parallel efforts that could be leveraged, did not talk, succumbed to the not invented here disease, were unwilling to accept risk (or did not understand the risks), did not have a sense of urgency because it did not or would not effect us, or we were too busy worrying about being efficient vs. being effective.

    While I thought the SASC member’s question to the SEC DEF was pretty good, he missed his responsibility some. He really needs to be looking further out, thinking about our institutional ability to adapt to conditions and objectives that we may not have considered, or may prefer not to think about. If we can get that right, the other parts will take care of themselves. We have to get over ourselves, and break the “one size fits all” paradigm.

    Best, Rob

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    Council Member Surferbeetle's Avatar
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    Default Change vehicles to get to the objective

    At last weeks hearing a SASC member asked the Secretary of Defense something along the lines of “what are we doing to institutionalize our COIN capabilities?” While that is an important question, I think the bigger question is “what steps are we taking to foster and institutionalize innovation and adaptation?”
    Rob,

    Experience shows us that lessons learned on the battlefield are often rewarded with the continued life of the practitioner (although dumb luck certainly has a role as well). Practitioners who are also students of war are able to summarize and draw conclusions about their experiences, which are then handed down and further analyzed. In the past these lessons were hand copied (i.e. Xenophon’s Memorabilia, Oeconomicus, Education of Cyrus, The Cavalry General, etc.), later they were printed by presses (i.e. Clausewitz’s On War), and now we use digital media via computers and smart-phones to disseminate this knowledge (we will see if FM 3-24 meets the test of time). Each iteration of technology allows for a wider spread of this hard-won knowledge among practitioners and students and allows for the benefits of Darwinic Selection and Economies of Scale in the selection and dissemination of the knowledge of war.

    Dr. Marc Tyrrell examines both the role and use of ethnographic knowledge by the military in his excellent and thought provoking paper, The First “Culture Turn”: Ethonographic Knowledge in the Roman-Byzantine Military Tradition, the draft of which is generously linked to here at SWJ. Dr. Tyrrell goes to the heart of our question here when he states: “…the “teaching” of war used a format that was radically different from modern military forms of formal pedagogy. It relied, instead, on a combination of cultural immersion and, later, on the existence of universal (for all citizens) training in a vibrant, professional oral culture, only parts of which were ever written down in military manuals.”

    A sometimes controversial question, within America at least, asks about the effect of ‘violent’ video games, digital media, and music upon the culture of America. I will bypass the value question about their effects upon our culture and instead would ask a practical two-part question: Are these effective methods of passing on the knowledge of war? If they are effective methods, and I would say they are, is only the ‘younger generation’ capable of recognizing the utility of these vehicles as an additional method of passing on the knowledge of war? Ask most of the younger soldiers which they prefer: Reading a FM, listening to a droning lecture, or playing a networked first person shooter with real-time team interaction and metrics which track success and failure and I think you already know the answer to your implied question of what additional steps could be taken in fostering innovation and adaptation in order to pass on the hard-won knowledge of war.

    Regards,

    Steve
    Last edited by Surferbeetle; 01-31-2009 at 07:13 AM. Reason: Clarity
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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default Organization Change

    Rob,

    I've been given your post some serious thought over the last several days. I just finished reading Ambassador Passage's article on Global Command Structure, and his thinking seems to follow along the similar flow of what you are asking.

    Initially, I was going to ask if you thought the Civilian heavy/ Military light approach of Plan Colombia and the Phillipines would be a better fit as Iraq transitions from COIN to SSTR. Although those operations were of significantly diminished scale in contrast to Iraq, the Whole of Government approach with State Department lead seemed to help de-militarize the effort (at least in terms of perception of the local populace). The down-side is that the SF teams had to deal with increased limitations on their ability to combat advice and conduct operations. Is that a down-side? I'm not sure. Anyways, just a thought for discussion.

    IRG to institutional change, I've been trying to remember what Henry Mintzberg had to say in Organizational Behavior. DoD is probably the largest example of a Machine Bureacracy. This type of organization works well in a stable environment, but it has trouble adjusting in a complex, dynamic, and hostile environment (i.e. war).

    If I recall correctly, Mintzberg suggested several approaches to institute change.

    1. Change the Structure. Stakeholders (Congress) or top level leaders can create, destroy, or merge existing structures to force change.
    2. Change the Culture. Typically spearheaded by mid-level managers, culture change takes time.
    3. Cult of Personality. A dynamic leader can change the culture of an organization, but in a machine bureacracy he will have a dynamic confrontations from the status quo.

    I'd like to add one more that I think is now relevant.

    4. SWJ. This medium will have some effect b/c it allows greater horizontal and vertical communications. Sites like SWJ may help decrease the traditional time needed for change as ideas flow more rapidly.

    Anyways, that's how I remember the theory (I'm sure some of the smarter guys will correct anything I left out or got wrong). Now to the hard part- figuring out how to implement it.

    v/r

    Mike

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    Council Member Surferbeetle's Avatar
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    Default Innovation, The Adult Learning Model, and Darwin

    Rob,

    I have a few more points on this topic that I would like to share this morning. Innovation and Organizational Charts are two concepts that I do not normally combine in one sentence. Is it an apocryphal story that FM 3-24 was written outside of the ‘normal’ FM writing process? I would be surprised if it wasn't written outside this process, because it’s an FM in a style not normally seen and it seems appropriate that traditional organizational charts were not sufficient for the innovative thinking needed to produce it.

    The ability to innovate is a skill that can both be trained and encouraged in our military personnel. The Adult Learning Model has been extensively studied, is often thought of as non-traditional learning, and both helps our nation and improves the lives of our citizens. My last trip to graduate school exposed me to podcasts, interactive websites (WebCT and Blackboard), and simulations as vehicles to disseminate and examine the validity of concepts.

    A fair proportion of America listens to NPR and/or Rush Limbaugh. In Iraq I noted the extensive presence and use of audio tapes, CD’s DVD’s, and Satellite Dishes. When I consider how many hours are spent in commute time I wonder why the US Military has not tapped into this part of the Adult Learning model and made interesting Podcasts available on FM’s and other topics?

    Interactive Websites such as AKO, BCKS, and Jihadi Websites are a defining feature of GWOT which help to drive innovation. They allow for a wider spread of hard-won knowledge among practitioners and students and allow for the benefits of Darwinic Selection and Economies of Scale in the selection and dissemination of the knowledge of war.

    When I speak of video games I think about how many of our soldiers spend hours and hours on the game Halo. How much money and time would be needed for US Military to capitalize upon existing private sector skills to develop a similar ‘killer ap’ for our use? Would training the force using this method have more utility or be more cost effective than the Crusader or Comanche programs in fostering innovation in the COIN fight?

    MIT is an admirable and innovative brick and mortar institution, which is continually pushing the educational envelope and which looks to be able to cross the digital divide. Similar to the AKO training link, I can download MIT OpenCourseWare engineering courses to study at my own pace and as time permits. At MIT proper, an ‘interactive learning’ model which includes small class sizes, real time assessment of understanding and simulations is challenging traditional methods of teaching concepts.

    To finish off, my thesis is that in order to foster innovation the US Military needs to commit to the wider spread of hard-won knowledge among practitioners and students and allow for the benefits of Darwinic Selection and Economies of Scale in the selection and dissemination of the knowledge of war. Video games, podcasts, interactive websites, and simulations are vehicles to disseminate and examine the validity of concepts and will continue to grow in importance and common use as we chase innovation and adaptation. The structure of Organizational Charts should follow rather than lead in this process.

    Regards,

    Steve
    Last edited by Surferbeetle; 01-31-2009 at 04:55 PM. Reason: Clarity
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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Hi Steve,
    Marc and I have talked allot about this. This month he and I presented the SFA Case Study (you can find it on the journal) to a group of analysts and other members of the Modeling and Sim community as part of a TRAC sponsored event at the Army Analysis Center on Belvoir. We'd been invited as that community is discussing alternate ways to better answer questions associated with IW-the case study methodology being "a" way to get beyond regular M&S. Marc hit them hard with questions concerning epistemology and "why" we believe what we believe. This is a very relevant question to institutionalization of adaptation and innovation. BTW-Marc will soon be publishing an additional chapter to the Case Study which will get into the box of "beliefs" as they relate to advising.

    This question of why we believe what we believe is related to looking for ways to reinforce what we (or our bosses) believe, counter what we wish not to believe, and trying to confine our methods of exploration to those which are in line with the latter.

    I mentioned Bob Killebrew's piece above because it is a symbol of a larger paradigm shift where we must move into support of the HN and constrain ourselves to where our interests overlap. Yes we can still make choices, but there are fewer, and they have consequences of a different nature. Bob and I were on the same panel at an event and I remarked that the U.S, military at this point (a point further in the future) in our campaign discussion was not doing COIN in its DoD role - this did not mean that all USG activities were not leading some facet of a COIN campaign. The US military at the point under discussion was largely supporting the development of HN security forces (in a FID context), and providing support to other JIIM participants.

    There was some serious debate on that, one person remarked that would not play well because we'd just expended a great deal of effort to get the US military to wrap its mind around COIN, and now I was suggesting that we were no longer leading COIN in this phase of a campaign. Yes, you bet that is exactly what I was suggesting - the conditions and objectives had changed and now we must adapt our operational approach to further the objective. However, I also remarked that we may be hip deep leading COIN somewhere else, possibly somewhere that we are not even contemplating now as a result of an action we could not foresee or of which the consequences led to an event we did not anticipate. We could also be blind to the consequences of some other state's or group's objectives that call for us to respond in another manner. This is why I say that the SASC and HASC should not only be concerned with one capability, but all relevant capabilities and these begin with having a flexible, adaptable and innovative mind set.

    While it is the "hard won knowledge of war" in that it is about understanding that in order to succeed you must understand the "Clausewitzian" nature of war (Marc's page also has a good link to a superb discussion on the "Chicago Boyz" blog about Clausewitz) and that as things occur in the operational environment they must be accounted for in our assessments - meaning the theory that got you there is overcome by reality - and as such we must adapt.

    So yes I do have some ideas - but its more difficult than just pitching an idea. Its about establishing the relevance of "why" we should do one thing over another. This gets back to Marc's points you mention.As an institution we have to accept that war (and the ways we wage it) requires the institution at least support the adaptation required on the ground. I'm not sure we do that well. For all the discussion by the M&S community, the search goes on for models that we can point to for support of our risk averse institutional decision making - "well, the model supports it..., so this is the way we should go." Indeed we are far more comfortable with Jomini than Clausewitz because Jomini seems to say that any __________ can do this job given they follow the list. We do this even though implicitly at the lower levels we know it requires art to pull it off under certain conditions - conditions which are subject to change, and as such are difficult to anticipate.

    This is my problem when I see leaders look for templates, reach almost exclusively for the "O" or the "M" in DOTMLPF. I think we can and must do better,but for the reasons I mentioned in the opening post (and some I probably missed) we can't, won't or don't. When we do poorly , we reinforce self imposed institutional constraints and constrained thinking. So while we may have some ideas on ways to improve institutional adaptation and innovation, it may be the Archimedian lever for doing so is too short and too weak because the level of self interest and individual apathy may be too great.

    I applaud the Secretary of Defense for his efforts, and I think he as a leader understands the issue (I don't think Congress as a body does - although I've met 2 members of the HASC who do I believe - as a "body" I think its counter to their nature and at odds with their other priorities). His testimony on the challenges of leading DoD bear it out. I also know a few in the military education arena who are working on this at various levels, and who subscribe to the idea that education is for preparing for the unknown.

    In my opinion, this should be our focus. The rest of the DOTMLP-F should be nested in the idea that our ability to adapt faster than our enemies and innovate at all levels is the key achieving our objectives and reducing risk (tactical, operational, strategic and institutional).

    Best, Rob
    Last edited by Rob Thornton; 01-31-2009 at 04:58 PM.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Interesting interchange. I'm pondering...

    Couple of early thoughts.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Thornton View Post
    ...This question of why we believe what we believe is related to looking for ways to reinforce what we (or our bosses) believe, counter what we wish not to believe, and trying to confine our methods of exploration to those which are in line with the latter.
    True and a very significant impactor on change. This ties in with Mike F's discussion of Mitzberg's approaches to change. This is highly subjective, but my guess is that the 'status quo' fighters normally run about 50% of the pack -- the key is where they are in the heirarchy and that, of course, varies over time. Possibly more important is whether that heirarchy self-selects for status quo fighters...
    ...For all the discussion by the M&S community, the search goes on for models that we can point to for support of our risk averse institutional decision making - "well, the model supports it..., so this is the way we should go." Indeed we are far more comfortable with Jomini than Clausewitz because Jomini seems to say that any __________ can do this job given they follow the list. We do this even though implicitly at the lower levels we know it requires art to pull it off under certain conditions - conditions which are subject to change, and as such are difficult to anticipate.
    I agree with all that and it certainly encapsulates the problem. I wonder though about the preference for Jomini. Be interesting to get some data by branch and experience for preferences of Jomini, Clausewitz, Sun Tzu and others (Gustavus Adolphus and Saxe man myself -- think those two were well ahead of the other big names... ). Also for preferences of checklists and matrices (that is a serious thought).
    I applaud the Secretary of Defense for his efforts, and I think he as a leader understands the issue (I don't think Congress as a body does - although I've met 2 members of the HASC who do I believe - as a "body" I think its counter to their nature and at odds with their other priorities). His testimony on the challenges of leading DoD bear it out. I also know a few in the military education arena who are working on this at various levels, and who subscribe to the idea that education is for preparing for the unknown.
    Critical points all; If the 'leader' of the military establishment doesn't "get it" then the establishment is unlikely to do so. Far more importantly, if Congress is more concerned with the politics of the issues than the practicalities, then there will be no improvement -- or it will be far more difficult to attain any improvement. Things like this LINKand this quote from that link; "There's growing talk in Washington that both Boeing and Northrop Grumman could win the contract." Scary and sure to be a logistician's nightmare.
    In my opinion, this should be our focus. The rest of the DOTMLP-F should be nested in the idea that our ability to adapt faster than our enemies and innovate at all levels is the key achieving our objectives and reducing risk (tactical, operational, strategic and institutional).
    Yea, verily!!!

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Mike - good post and good link. Something was going on this AM with SWJ - I did not see your post till just now.

    I wanted to highlight this part of your post:

    " DoD is probably the largest example of a Machine Bureaucracy. This type of organization works well in a stable environment, but it has trouble adjusting in a complex, dynamic, and hostile environment (i.e. war)."

    I need to think about that one for awhile, but I my feeling is its important.

    Best, Rob

    Dave, Bill - the buttons (B,I,U hyper link, etc.) are out

    Best, Rob

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    Default NCO Academy Teaches Leadership in Virtual Environment

    From today's Army website

    Anderson knows that it's his job to get his squad to safety, but it's not going to be easy. Anderson has never led soldiers before. This is his first mission in charge. He shakes his head in frustration and continues to issue halting orders over the radio.

    Suddenly everything goes black.

    "Alright, sergeants. Take your hands off the keyboards and take your headsets off," shouts a senior sergeant, who has suddenly appeared over Anderson's shoulder.

    Voices that had been chattering nervously just moments before now turn to laughter as squad member s shuffle past Anderson's computer terminal.

    1st Squad, Bravo Company has just completed Day 16 of the 7th United States Army Non-Commissioned Officers' Academy's (NCOA) Warrior Leader Course (WLC) in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
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    Default Institutionalizing adaptability

    I've always found this to be a fascinating subject, mostly because it is a paradox. How do you design a bureaucracy with an organic capability to transform itself as required? That is the basic question, because an entity as large as DA or DOD must function as a bureaucracy if it is to accomplish anything at all.

    You started the thread with the question of why our units seem to be able to adapt rather quickly to changing conditions but this capacity faded as you moved up the organizational chain. I think the answer is that companies and battalions are more or less self-contained entiities where a single individual can readily influence the whole, and where the culture is far more malleable. We have all seen units transformed by the arrival of a new commander or top NCO. But I think this ability to adapt begins to fade out at the brigade level and rapidly disappears as you move higher. You see the same thing in the civilian world as garage start-ups become successful larger companies.

    Once an individual can no longer inspire adaptation, you have to rely on organizations to do so. I have seen several efforts in the Army to 'institutionalize adaptability' or to escape the strictures of a stultifying bureaucracy. In 1999, when Shinseki set about Transforming the Army, he purposefully by-passed the established bureaucracy by plucking a general out of the ether and sending him to Fort Lewis where he was going to operate outside the lines of TRADOC and AMC and the other fiefdoms affected by his project. I actually met the gentleman (whose name escapes me after all these years) when he was literally an Army of One - no aide, no driver, no front office - desperately trying to figure out how he was going to get the job done.

    The purpose of this, of course, was to allow the process to go on without being crippled by the endless purgatory of four-star review, and initially it went quite well. The Transformation team produced some stunningly original work...but once they went beyond brainstorming and actually had to start buying equipment, training soldiers, and forming units, they needed to deal with the 'old' bureaucracy. In order to do so effectively, they began to bloat into a doppelganger of the very thing they had been designed to escape. Within three years or so, things were actually worse than they might have been if we had just gone through the normal channels, because now we had two, competing bureaucracies working on the same project.

    In an organization as large as the DOD, where the stakes are so high, and where resources have to come from outside agencies (i.e., money from Congress), I don't see institutional change as being effective in promoting adaptibility. Only by creating thoughtful, adaptive, deeply educated leaders do we have any chance at all of staying ahead of our enemies. So I would not worry much about pondering institutional change, and instead focus on how we train/prepare/educate our future senior leaders.

    One other note on adaptability, as this posting is becoming bloated itself. This is not a new thing. In the Civil War, soldiers and regiments adapted to the changed conditions of the battlefield after a campaign or two. They began to entrench as a matter of course, to loosen up their tight formations, to rely more on fire and movement, to lessen their exposure to enemy fire. These were all good things at the regimental level, but they were not necessarily good in an operational sense. These adaptations lowered the casualties suffered on any given day, but they also contributed to the increasing tactical stalemate and (some argue) lengthened the war. I have seen units on the modern battlefield 'adapt' to changing conditions in ways that did not make them more effective. Let's keep that in mind.

  10. #10
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Outstanding Post!

    Quite accurate assessment. Before Shinseki's good idea on the Stryker Brigades, Shy Meyer tried the same approach and after that, Cody also used the method. The problem, as you note, is that such innovation eventually has to collide with the monster -- and the monster tends to win...

    This statement is regrettably too accurate:
    "In an organization as large as the DOD, where the stakes are so high, and where resources have to come from outside agencies (i.e., money from Congress), I don't see institutional change as being effective in promoting adaptibility. Only by creating thoughtful, adaptive, deeply educated leaders do we have any chance at all of staying ahead of our enemies. So I would not worry much about pondering institutional change, and instead focus on how we train/prepare/educate our future senior leaders."
    Got it in one.

    That is the crux of it and I see no chance for that to occur in the near term unless some one way up the power curve makes a sweeping effort to change the education and training regimen. I have watched a number of well thought out and intentioned efforts to do that -- even participated in a couple -- but all foundered on the bureaucratic shoals.

    Another way is to grow such adaptability starting from the bottom. Improvements to initial entry training for officers and enlisted folks in all the services could foster such sorely needed improvements.

    Your cautionary on unintended consequences is correct, no question -- but is not the counterpoint that such mental flexibility if developed would also allow a rapid recognition of wrongful adaptation...

    Again, great post.

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