Best Defense

McChrystal’s book: A great discussion of how our military needs to adapt & change

My review of Team of Teams just appeared in the June issue of Marine Corps Gazette. I aver that it may be both the best military book of the year and the best business one.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 23:  Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal smiles after receiving the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal and the Army Distinguished Service Medal during a retirement ceremony at Fort McNair July 23, 2010 in Washington, DC.  The ceremony honored McChrystal, who was the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who has served in the military since 1976 is retiring after being relieved of command for comments he made to a Rolling Stone Reporter about President Barack Obama and his administration.  (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 23: Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal smiles after receiving the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal and the Army Distinguished Service Medal during a retirement ceremony at Fort McNair July 23, 2010 in Washington, DC. The ceremony honored McChrystal, who was the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who has served in the military since 1976 is retiring after being relieved of command for comments he made to a Rolling Stone Reporter about President Barack Obama and his administration. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

My review of Team of Teams just appeared in the June issue of Marine Corps Gazette. I aver that it may be both the best military book of the year and the best business one.

Some excerpts from my review:

— The theme of the book is that in the Information Age, hierarchical organizations cannot keep up with networked organizations. Those in a hierarchy may work as hard as they can, but the structure of their organization — with information going up the ladder and orders coming down — simply make them too slow to react in time.

— …his first great insight was to see that a military is only as good as its ability to deal with its environment, so an organization that is effective one day might be weak and feckless the next, if its context changes while it does not.

— This leads him to a fascinating point, one I had never seen put quite this way:Your structure is your strategy. In other words, how you organize your institution, how you think about questions of command and control, determines how you operate. You can talk about being agile and flexible all you like, but if you retain a traditional hierarchy, there are limits to how much you can achieve those goals. In order to really adapt, you must work not harder but differently.

aJust as the Industrial Revolution required the invention of a new military structure — fast moving mass armies of illiterate soldiers overseen by specialized staffs—so too, McChrystal concludes, the Information Age requires significant adaptation by today’s militaries. I suspect he is right.

— …as we dive deeper into the Information Age, the familiar military organizations of the industrial era are likely to be forced to change. To do so, the first thing for the regular military to understand is that a network is not anarchy. It still has a leader, but instead of sitting atop a ladder, he or she is the central node in a distributed network. Envision a spider in her web, feeling every tug of every thread, overseeing it all, making sure the web is strong. Judging by this book, that will be the model for the successful military leader of the future; the one who harnesses the power of our age. I just hope that it is an American who does that, and not one of our adversaries.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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