Posts Tagged ‘Army’

The Challenge of truth telling in the Army profession

July 12, 2014 Leave a comment

If a large organization like the Army which is so renowned for the quality and caliber of its leadership and integrity as difficulties with different levels of command and leaders telling the truth to each other, how much of an unseen force is the lack of candor in commercially-based organizations where there is more self-interest among individuals?
How important is it to the culture of the organization that people can tell the truth without fear of repercussions? If that’s not one of the cultural values of the organization, what are the implications going to be for large-scale transformations that require honest and open communication?
How do we break that political and cultural barrier?

Future Force in the news

February 14, 2012 Leave a comment


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A nice write-up in the Army Times on the Future Force game I designed for the Command & General Staff College. It was cool to see my family commenting in the discussion session.

October 28, 2011 Leave a comment

United States Army Command and General Staff C...

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Definitions of Terms

The following terms were used throughout many projects that were studied in my examination of Participatory Action Research (PAR) at the US Army Command & General Staff College from 2008-2011.

I was researching how PAR curriculum projects can change how we design and deliver curriculum within the military profession. A large part of the change we generated concerned the preparation of leaders to engage with uncertainty in the world. Along the way we began to develop an understanding of the language used in both the practical and theoretical literature.  I provide here our “terms of art”, with working definitions, and references to the source literature that informed our evolving judgment in hopes that it may speed your own search.

These terms became part of the common professional language used by stakeholders, project managers, leaders, faculty and students as they discussed their insights. The dialogue shaped the language they used and the language shaped the discussions because of the connection to the worlds of theory and practice. This summary reflects a broad set of common topics and themes found throughout the research.  Unless otherwise specifically noted, the general sense of the words and their definitions as noted below will apply:

chaos, complexity, uncertainty, risk: a collection of terms that Army vision documents and curriculum developers use interchangeably to describe various aspects of the operational environment that are beyond pure rationality; these have technical and detailed definitions within their respective professional domains that go beyond the scope of this research and in the way they are used within the profession. (Pascale, 1999; Strogatz, 2003; Miller & Page, 2007)

concept maps: a visual representation of concepts, constructs, people and organizations, theory and practice that reflects the connections between the elements in a dynamic way. (Novak, et. al., 2006)

decision-criteria: (suitable, feasible, acceptable): the Army’s doctrinal evaluation criteria for evaluating all proposed change (US Army FM 3.0, 2011; HTAR, 2011).

design vs. planning: military design thinking reflects a holistic, systematic, open-ended inquiry into root causes, theories of action and problem framing in finding, whereas planning reflects a rational choice theory of structured decision making. (Dawes, 1988; Mintzberg, 1993; Dorner, 1996; Gigerenzer, 2005; US Army FM 3.0, 2011; Paparone & Tenant, 2011; McConnell,, 2011)

doctrine: authoritative theoretical guidance, reflecting the accumulated wisdom and best generalized reflective practices of the military profession. (US Army FM 1-02, 2011).

emergence: a property of complex systems that describes features and qualities of systems that cannot be found neither in the individual components nor separately in the surrounding environment, and yet can be experienced as a holistic quality that is more than the sum of the parts. An example is the emergent quality of “wetness” of rain, which is found at the intersection on humidity, atmospheric conditions, the sensory organs of human skin and a consciousness that becomes aware of the sensation in that context. A more complex example is the self-organizing formations of Canadian geese in flight, who, without conscious design nor explicit direction adopt flight formations that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of group flying, resulting in sustained speeds of flight that cannot be achieved and sustained by even the strongest member of the flight as an individual (Klein, 2001; Strogatz, 2003; Scott & Wagner, 2003)

learning organizations: organizations that explicitly seek to manage knowledge, resources and processes in an informed way to improve operations. (Senge,, 2000)

lines of  action: a military term of art that describes a particular approach and supporting processes along a logical line of development and is usually considered to be part of a campaign plan of long duration (US Army FM 1-02, 2011).

milWiki & Army Knowledge online: Army wide knowledge management resources that are the centerpiece of the Army’s knowledge management strategy (Long, 2009; Richardson, 2010)

mindfulness: a multi-temporal conscious awareness of the moment and its dynamics within the context of an environment that acknowledges the influence of the past and the consequences of the future (Weick & Putnam, 2006)

network learning: an educational and learning theory and framework that explicitly considers the connections between agents and the various media by which knowledge can be created, disseminated, applied and adapted and in which various learning communities, both virtual and physical can be created (Siemens, 2005; Downes, 2007; Taylor & Lamoreaux, 2008; Richardson, 2010)

personal learning environment: the totality of the technology, environment, attitude of a learner in a digital and social learning context (Siemens, 2005; Downes, 2007, Richardson, 2010)

praxis: reflectively generated best practices from specific circumstances that favor a pragmatic assessment of utility. (Schon, 1990; Weick, 1993; Simon, 1997)

satisficing & bounded rationality: an approach to decision-making that acknowledges the limits of computability and the constraints of time, resources and forecasting on human decision-making based on the work of Herb Simon. (Simon, 1997; Henrich, 2001)

self-as-instrument: an emerging concept that explicitly includes the researchers actions, perspectives and paradigm as part of the research, including the effects of the research upon the researcher (Jamieson & Livingston, 2010)

sense-making: a cognitive function of creating satisfying narratives and meaning from a variety of data and knowledge (Weick, 1993; Klein, 2006; Boje, 2008; Watson, 2009).

small worlds management games: a broad category of experiential learning games that propose to model an operational environment to a certain degree of fidelity to provide students an opportunity to explore the dynamics in a direct action and feedback mode (Thole, et. al,1997; Macedonia, 2001; Rice, 2007; Long, 2010)

social media channels: (blog, wiki, vlog, Tweet): a collection of emerging digital communications technologies, and frameworks that support and extend the development of connected list network learning environments (Richardson, 2010)

stakeholders: people and organizations that have direct and indirect interests or are affected by the outcomes of policy decisions taken at CGSC (Bradbury, 2008; Jamieson & Livingston, 2010)

transformational change: change that goes beyond routine evolutionary adaptation to include major restructuring and changes of mindset; approaches and can include a change of paradigm in the Kuhnian sense. (French & Bell, 1999; Cooperider & Whitney, 2005; Cummings & Worley, 2009)


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January 4, 2011 1 comment

NEW YORK - MARCH 27:  New military recruits li...
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I am rarely in agreement with Richard Cohen, but I admire his willingness to take a position. His discussion of the increasing gap between the nation and it’s Army is spot on.


The Vietnam War Army happened to have been my Army. I was on active duty as a reservist, not for very long but long enough for the Army to have lost all its mystery. I found the Army to be no better and no worse than other large institutions. Some of its leaders were fools, and some soldiers were thieves, and everyone wasted money like there was no tomorrow. This is the truth and everyone once knew it.

No more. I sometimes think I am the only person around who has been in the military. This is because most people I know are college-educated professionals, many of them writers. But if I throw in politicians and even the White House staff, nothing much changes. Lots of people know the expression “lock ‘n load” but very few know how to do it.


Army budgets and programs under severe environmental (budgetary)pressure

September 28, 2010 3 comments

The Army is finally reading the signals from DoD that the budgetary truth has changed.  Not only are major programs under review, but our force structure itself is the oibject of scrutiny.  We could very easily see a return of a Division based Army once more, organized around major troop installations, acting as a resource manager for deploying force packages.

If things change, just wait a decade…?

A thought experiment in military logistics and visualization

August 29, 2010 4 comments

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I am an instructor of logistics and resource operations,  and a curriculum designer at the US Army Command & General Staff College at Ft Leavenworth. My 25 yrs of service were as an infantryman and a practitioner of brute force military logistics.

having retired, I am trying to add rigor to my own teaching, our curriculum and our field grade officer students by introducing and demonstrating the cumulative effects of uncertainty in large transportation networks in a theater of operations. I am a fan of your work and have reasonable practical excel skills.

I need to model the following “story problem” and provide a visual tool that allows students to make assumptions about the nature of the complex movement, to turn those assumptions into a visual distribution, and then monte carlo the results to see the performance of the transportation network contained within the set of their assumptions. The next step would be for them to vary their assumptions to see the effects, in order to reveal which of their assumptions are important and sensitive, so they can make decisions about where to deploy units in order to affect the plan.

For example:

1. should we employ the Military Police brigade forward to guard an assembly area at the end of the network and thereby accept risk along the lines of communication, or should we guard the roads and accept risk forward near the battle area?

2. What are the Intelligence officers estimate of how many days out of 100 that the weather will degrade road movements by 1 of perhaps 5 categories (0 -.2)(.2 -.4)(.4 -.6)(.6 -.8)(.8 -1.) or to pick a distribution from among a set of choices that represents their estimate.

3. If we move a civilian population away from the battle pre-emptively, what will that do to our performance (ie no displaced civilians around to clog the roads in the heat of combat) vs waiting until the last minute

4. etc

The transportation challenge in our scenario: sitting on the ground at 2 seaports waiting to be moved forward are 750 Army units, and 100,000 short tons of cargo, with “x” number of trucks, over poor roads, a distance of 600km and about 2000km of total road network, , with an uncertain enemy, an uncertain civlian population, with a variable degree of road march discipline among the 750 units, and a choice of parameters about how fast and how densely we may organize our movements, mission to be completed in less than 100 days.  The commander needs our estimate of how soon we’ll be done. we need to express that reasonably and with proper confidence, and give him choices

there are so many variables and combinations, that we cannot rely on our intuitions to describe our capabilities and expected performance in a meaningful way to a commander. we cant describe the impact of the choices he has

My problem: the military ORSA community at TRAC (TRADOC Research and Analysis Center) are interested but without much funding, I cannot jump to the head of the line; I believe either XLsim 3 or Risk Solver will do everything I need, but i’d appreciate your insight into which platform is sufficient. I ‘ve found a student (no modelling skills) here with an interest in exploring this in his thesis next year at the school for advanced military studies (SAMS) the “Jedi Knights” and i may have another, who is an Excel wizard who I might convince to play along too.

The potential of this model is enormous, as the curriculum I write will be taught to EVERY major in the US Army (active and reserve) and many Navy, Air force, Marine offices, and several hundred international officers. This is about 5000 officers a year

I am hoping that this visualization and simple model will do for their appreciation and respect for risk and modelling what your book has done for mine.

I am hoping that this model will help them learn to operationalize the implications of their assumptions, and demonstrate a way to manage, appreciate and explore complexity beyond the limits of their intuition

I am envisioning a model of the network which defines a complex of nodes and pipes, each of whose performance would be modeled in a standard way with the variables above, and which would permit insight into how variable performance oalong each node serves to degrade performance more than a simple avergage of all their performances in the time period

I’ve designed a small world simulation that we are already using to let students sample these ideas simply thru game play in a small way, but we need more depth toctake it to the next level

I say all that to simply say: is XLSim3 sufficiently robust to explore this model, or would you recommend Risk Solver? In a perfect world I’d have something that I could deploy in January 2011, and I am prepared to spend my own money on this if I cant convince our leadership to provide some money, because i believe this is crucial to our profession.

I’d be grateful for your thoughts. I’d be even more grateful if you had a spare ORSA grad student with an inquiring mind and some modelling chops 😛

my work email, if you’d like to comment to me directly is

Excellent summary of forward thinking Army leaders

May 21, 2010 6 comments

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The Best Defense ( May 17, 2010

A General Covers An Army War Game

By Lt. Gen. David Barno, U.S. Army (ret.), Best Defense chief Army correspondent

The annual “Unified Quest” futures war game held recently at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was pretty impressive — and also a refreshing change from my many previous forays.

Led by the human energizer Brigadier “HR” McMaster, this forum kicked off as a Very-Different-from-the-Big-Army event by enforcing a “NO POWERPOINT” rule. (OK, they showed about five slides over four-plus days.) Army insiders recognize how fundamentally heart-stopping this notion is among any audience of generals. A four-day conversation — scary for some, I know!

Although labeled a “war game” (and based on some scarily realistic scenarios), this week was more of a graduate seminar for a fistful of Army generals and senior civilians, as well as a smattering of U.S. allies and partners. 4-star TRADOC Commander Marty Dempsey chaired all four days– a huge commitment that I’ve never seen made by his predecessors in earlier years.

A “powerpoint-free” setting actually encouraged a free-wheeling conversation all around the room — light colonels and civilians challenging three-and four-star generals in surprisingly frank discussions. And on the couple of occasions they flipped up a slide, all conversation rapidly shut down — quite telling. The atmospherics were surprisingly relaxed and open — and everyone seemed feisty and ready to jump into any conversation — another good sign.

The conference “deliverable” was both to spin up an Army “Operating Concept” to round out its recent overarching “Capstone Concept” and to provide Army Chief of Staff George Casey some hard-hitting recommendations that could be used to influence the shape of the Army via the 2014-2019 budget years — decisions needed by next winter. I can’t share those recommendations, but for the flavor of the discussion, here are some highlights of the conversation, on a not-for-attribution basis:

*”We can’t see ourselves – all of us are positive illusion factories.”

*”We are approaching a strategic transition for the United States” [that is, an era of changed strategic context, when economic dominance is no longer assured, and budgetary realities will force choices]. “We are no longer going to be operating from a position of strategic superiority.”

*”Over-burdened terms” have proliferated and add confusion to our efforts — “what does C4ISR really mean? Does anyone really know?”

*”Beware Heroic Assumptions in the Next World” — not all wars will be like Iraq and Afghanistan. What’s the most demanding scenario the Army could face?

*”Tactical excellence alone does not win wars. Strategic coherence and operational excellence will be shaped by Army leaders.”

*”Mission Command — you are trying to balance a culture of competing virtues.” Can you build a commander-centric model founded upon decentralized operations as the norm?

*”How to use technology to enable decentralization while building trust and cohesion at the same time?” Can the science of command — technology and process — enable the art of command?

*”We’ve power-pointed over the problem” of the Army division and corps headquarters echelons of commands and what their roles should be. The Army is more than just a collection of brigades.

*”We need to think about blurring the distinctions between the Operating Force and the Generating Force” — it’s now gotten harmful. Gotta break down the cultural barriers between the deployed and deploying forces and the institutional Army that prepares and educates the force for the future

*”This is when we do our Interpretive Dance of Army organizational structures.” (Cue: Show Powerpoint Spaghetti Chart) How is the Army’s Force Management model — “ARFORGEN” — impacting Leader Development?

*”What has an overriding focus on Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) done to the Army’s operational and strategic leadership skills?” What are the second and third order effects of “modularity” — centering so much of the Army organization around the BCT?

*Allies: Lots of concern as well as admiration. “Is the U.S. Army of the future going to be designed and built to work with allies?” “Design us in!” “The U.S. Army goes down an amazing variety of multiple rabbit holes — we just want to see where you come up!”

*”How are we defining — and teaching — Risk?” How to inculcate a culture of initiative and risk-taking — not risk aversion? What is the message to young leaders of the recent investigations into tough combat actions?

*”Are we thinking enough about lethality? We’re four days into this and the term has not come up!” How does the Army look at its future role in delivering lethal effects?

*And finally — “What is the proper role of the Army in civil society? What’s the proper role of the Army officer in the republic?” Do we teach the meaning of a commission, explain the constitutional foundations of officership, and establish expectations for an apolitical officer corps? And do we reinforce this understanding throughout an officers’ career?

Most encouraging in the week’s efforts was the obvious commitment of this part of the Army — the TRADOC leadership — to thinking about the big issues facing the Army beyond today’s fights. First and foremost was an understanding of the critical importance of the human dimension in war. Dempsey and McMaster’s red-hot focus on leader development, decentralized mission command, and a clear recognition of the unpredictability of future conflict gave me confidence. Most importantly, they understood that Job One for Army leaders in the coming lean years is: “Don’t Lose this Generation!” Keeping the Army’s uniquely talented young leaders on board is the only reliable insurance policy against an unknown future.

This group — Dempsey and McMaster foremost — “gets it.” The challenge will be whether they can “sell it” to the rest of the Army in the midst of two grinding wars — and who may well not see it the same way quite yet.

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