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A reflection on entreprenurial spirit and stability operations, and engagement areas in nation-building


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Thoughts while TDY:

action learning: a discipline/focus on actionable learning (see Lewin, Schein…)

Planning: we seek to understand so that we can act

Design: we act, iteratively, on the basis of fundamental principles, in order to learn

we live life forwards, but understand it looking backwards

we build nations and stabilize societies forward, on the basis of principled action, which counteracts the forces of entropy

to stabilize, we must act quickly, like entrepreneurs, and not like central planners

entrepreneurs act in order to learn; thy adapt and improvise and keep moving forward until they get something that takes root; failures aren’t failures, they are teachable moments; in order to stay in the game you must compartmentalize in order to limit losses, but also design “scalability” in from the very beginning so that if you get something that gains traction you can immediately scale up and rapidly propagate. this is an information network operation: each program and proposal, as soon as it is remotely feasible, gets tried, and results are studied like an experiment, and we rapidly adapt

in conventional MCO, we speak of “engagement areas”

ask yourself: what are the engagement areas in stability opns? in nation building?  what makes a good one? it’s an enterprise zone

we know how to build an engagement area in MCO and what the outcomes are: a closed system that “contains” the enemy with no escape”

in stability operations, an engagement area is an opportunity space where 2 or more actors get together, interact, and “grow”; they are changed in principle or in action in a way that we have a win-win that creates energy/value/potential/rewards/satisfaction that should lead to a desire to do more of it.; like popcorn, until it becomes an engine of change

we need entrepreneurial spirit from bottoms up, looking for ways to engage individual stakeholders, and sets of stakeholders at the moment we get inspired, and we must rapidly put those ideas into action, and get inside the action cycle of the forces of instability. we can’t afford to wait and study and plan and control; it takes too long and has a poor record of adaptation and success; we need the minimum amount of planning and structure in order to get into action, and then use the action learning cycle of plan-do-check-act to make progress adaptively

use micro-successes with some stakeholders who will partner early as evidence and incentive to other potential stakeholders to change their thinking

if there are “levels” or degrees of partnership,. seek to move them along the path towards full partnership.

the Romans knew how to do this 2000 years ago: study Caesar in Gaul and the iterative process of building civilization and stability by design

no central plan can ever hope to beat entrepreneurial spirit and action unleashed in a rich environment of opportunity.

Opportunity must be seen, dreamed, communicated: thats the point of strategic communication; not to “spin”, but rather to inspire.

dont waste time trying to build the optimal set of “correct” stakeholders and then try to define the problem with precision so you can predict and control the outcomes; get a few willing people together to act and get on with it; follow and support the results with reinforcing energy; except false starts, hiccups and glitches; they are your scouts helping you define the actionable space

operate on the principles of good design: follow what the stakeholders want, reinforce success: combine scalability with firewalls and risk management. make your action learning cycles faster than the forces of chaos

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