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Old 04-05-2016   #1
Bill Moore
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Default Strategy in the 21st Century

After finally finishing the book, "Strategy: A History" by Lawrence Freedman

I feel compelled to start a threat on strategy in the 21st Century to explore want remains constant and what has changed. The intent to share what I took from this book, and then explore other areas, with the hope others will dive in to seriously explore this important topic. The ability to develop good strategy is essential for national security. Most seem to agree that something is off kilter since 9/11, and I suggest if we fail to identify and fix it we are putting our nation in peril.

Like many of you, I'm extremely busy, so I'll start with a few areas I intend to explore in more depth later. Of course, remaining true to form, I intend to be provocative.

Freedman's book (over 700 pages) addresses he early origins of strategy, military strategy, radical and revolutionary movements, business strategies, and interdisciplinary theories of strategy.

While Freedman appears to respect Clausewitz's deep insights on the nature of war, he doesn't fall into the trap of hero worshipping him and points out some flaws in his theory.

- He challenges CvC's duel between two opponents (the wrestling match) as being overly simplistic due to the nature of coalitions, which makes it much more complex than a dual between them and us.

- I tend to agree with his criticism of the center of gravity concept. CvC borrowed terms from the physics of his day, like COG and friction. Friction of course makes sense as a metaphor, but a COG only made sense if the enemy could be viewed holistically, so that an attack on one point were it all came together would throw it off balance or cause it to collapse (the fallacy of systems thinking). In the 80s, new thinking encouraged the belief that the COG was something that led to the enemy's brain, then using maneuver warfare (older concept, but embraced again in the 80s) seeking to dislocate him psychologically.

In practice the COG concept caused confusion and disagreement, it would have been easier if they adapted Jominiís concept of the decisive point (not the doctrinal decisive point tied to a COG) to avoid the burden of an inappropriate metaphor. COGs have historically wasted plannerís time, and usually who won out was the strongest personality, not the best analysis. The real problem was the COG has been expanded to the point of meaninglessness. It encouraged the expectation that there could be a very specific set of operational objectives that would produce the desired political effect if attacked properly.

The idea that societies and their associated military systems might be comprehended as complex systems encouraged the view, reflected in the perplexing searches for enemy COGs, that hitting an enemy system in the exact right place would cause it to crumble quickly, as the impact would reverberate and affect all the interconnected parts.

The frustration of the search was a result of the fact that effects would not simply radiate out from some vital center. Societies and armies could adapt to shocks. As systems, they could break down into more subsystems that are viable, establish barriers, reduce dependencies, and find alternative forms of sustenance. CvCís theory of decisive victory required reassessment based on the emergent political situation. CvC recognized it as it he started to relook limited war before he died, but the concept of a decisive battle retained its powerful hold over the military.
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Old 04-05-2016   #2
Bill Moore
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For me, I actually found the business strategy more interested. I have read volumes on military strategy, but after reading Freedman's description of strategy evolution in business I found myself seeing how it impacts military strategy, normally in a negative way.

He started off by discussing Taylorism, who focused on identifying how workers could be used more efficiently. In his view, a doer would not be able to understand the principles of management science either because of a lack of education or insufficient mental capacity, so they would have to be guided by the educated. It required people to work smarter but not by being smart themselves. I equated this to robotics before we had robots. The more the worker could be treated as an unthinking machine the better because without the complication of independent thought it would be possible to calculate how best to extract optimal performance. I can see the logic in that, but people are not robots, and one can see how this mentality led to significant labor unrest.

Lenin pronounced Taylorism as exploitive, yet he adapted the methodology. It was easier to push this form of management in the USSR where opposition could be crushed than the U.S.

He discussed McNamara at sufficient length. He was brought into to the SECDEF from Ford Motor Co. by JFK. He strengthened OSD, challenging the services to justify their budgets and programs in the face of intensive questioning by the whiz kids, mostly from RAND. It had a major impact on the management of the military programs and the conduct of operations, especially Vietnam. By the time he left OSD in 1968, his approach was derided for its relentless focus on what could be measured rather than what actually needed to be understood. (We still suffer the curse of measuring, and only having SMART objectives so they can be measuring, and still managing to lose, because as stated above we ignore what can't be measured).

Then a great discussion on planning that is very applicable to the military. Planning cycles came to dominate corporate life, with everybody waiting for a formal document that would tell them how to behave. Politically, the result was to strengthen the center at the expense of alienating those responsible for implementation, who were apt to become cynical in the face of meaningless targets.

The long-range forecasts upon which they depended were inherently unreliable, and the organizational inform was often dated, collected haphazardly into inappropriate categories and taking little account of cultural factors. These structures risked paralyzing decision-making and came at the expense of flexibility.

The success of planning depended on the ability to control the future consequences of present actions. This meant controlling the decisions of many people, with different interests and purposes, so as to secure a premeditated effect. Some causal theory must connect the planned actions with the desired future results, and then the ability to act on this theory.
By the 1980s, strategic planning was losing its luster. The planning departments became large and expensive, the next cycle began as soon as the previous one finished, and the outputs were ever more complicated. .

As in the military, the business world lost confidence in models based on centralized control, quantification, and rational analysis left an opening for alternative approaches to strategy (design?). Whether a superpower corporation or country, as the environment became less manageable, the cumbersome processes the model demanded became less dysfunctional and unresponsive.

In the 1980s, Harvard business professors complained managers abdicated their strategic responsibilities. They sought short term gains rather than long term innovation. The problemís root was managers increasingly relying principles that prize analytical detachment and methodology over insight.

This part was enlightening to me, he described the folly of confusing rank with expertise. The idea that any General, regardless of background, would be capable of leading a combat or stability operation, based on management or military principles is dangerous.

Freedman wrote, "A false and shallow concept of the professional manager had developed. Such people were pseudoprofessionals who had no expertise in a any particular industry or technology but were believed to be able to step into an unfamiliar company and run it successfully thru strict application of financial controls, portfolio concepts, and a market-driven strategy."

The good news is the military seems to be increasingly recognizing these problems. Next thoughts on hyper competitiveness.
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Old 04-05-2016   #3
Bill Moore
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Final post tonight, and perhaps for a few days. After which I want to start addressing strategy in the 21st Century, as it contrasts with traditional or legacy strategies.

Freedman's discussion on competition between businesses has equal merit between nations conducting competitive strategies short of war.

The Japanese managed to combine lower cost and superior quality and then imitated each other, which meant the approach was bound to be subject to diminishing marginal returns as it became harder to squeeze more productivity out of existing factories and others caught up with the efficiency of their operations. Cutting costs and product improvements could be easily emulated and so left the relative competitive position unchanged, In fact, hyper-competition left everyone worse off (except perhaps the consumers). A sustainable position required relating the company to its competitive environment. Outperformance required a difference that could be preserved.

Note our national security documents frequently refer to the eroding U.S. technological competitive advantage due to the rapid proliferation of military related technology. So along comes the Red Queen Effect.

The problems facing companies trying to maintain a competitive advantage when everyone was trying to improve along the same metric was described as the Red Queen Effect. By focusing solely on operational effectiveness the result would be mutual destruction, until somehow, the competition stopped, often through mergers. Hopeless firms were likely to be those competing w/o end in the red oceans, instead of moving out to the blue oceans where they might create new market space. (21st century military implications?)
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Old 04-05-2016   #4
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There are a mass of previous threads where 'strategy' features in the title and not all of them relate to President Obama.

It may help to return to the 2014 thread 'The Understanding and Meaning of Strategy has been lost', which IMHO touched upon the same issues; it was based on a book written by the British academic Hew Strachan:

I attended a local lecture given by Lawrence Freedman, part of the publication process and unlike previous talks he'd given on non-strategy subjects he was not persuasive, indeed it was all too overpowering.
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Old 04-05-2016   #5
Bill Moore
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I appreciate the thought, but that isn't the direction I want to take this thread. I'm not convinced the meaning of strategy has been lost. The idea that strategy only belongs in the realm of the military has been outdated since Kings quit leading their armies into battle. For me, Freedman touched on a number of issues I can relate to from personal experience. However, I only used Freedman to start the thread. It isn't about him, it is about identifying what has changed and what remains the same regarding strategy and strategic factors in the 211st century.
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Old 04-11-2016   #6
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Interesting topics Bill. One thought that immediately comes to mind: I think the U.S. suffers in this regard in part due to the barrier constructed between military strategy and political strategy, often leaving both military officers and political officials confused or frustrated with the other. This barrier has become increasingly destructive because of the intensification of 'political warfare' (a term I use broadly here to describe all the non-military activity taken by states to compel other states to change behavior). So, what element that has changed is that military strategy is most directly and strongly connected with political strategy than in previous generations.
When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles. - Louis Veuillot
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