Best Defense

A surprisingly good article on innovation — and why the Army is so damn bad at it

I say I was surprised because I barely made it past the first sentence of the article: “The Army is at an inflection point.”

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Best Defense is on summer hiatus. During this restful spell we offer re-runs from the past 12 months. This item  originally ran on Dec. 16, 2016.

I say I was surprised because I barely made it past the first sentence of the article: “The Army is at an inflection point.” Cliché alert. As Orwell said, bad writing tends to reflect bad thinking.

But for some reason I continued to read and soon was rewarded with some well-written, even pungent, observations on the Army and why it has trouble innovating:

— “Innovation is a process or chain of activities that starts with an idea and ends with an advantage.”

— “Innovation is differentiated from other forms of change such as improvisation and adaptation by the scale, scope and impact of that value creation.”

— The “industrial-age approach to officer management is the single greatest impediment to fostering innovation in the Army.”

— “Consider how the Army treats officers centrally selected for command-equivalent positions on a corps or joint task force staff, such as corps intelligence or signal officers. Despite promises to the contrary, the Army disenfranchises colonels selected for command-equivalent staff assignments with dismal promotion rates to brigadier general.” (Once again, little grasshoppers, we see that the key to changing the military is personnel policy, especially as it affects who gets promoted.)

— “These staff assignments are considered a necessary evil en route to senior command instead of admirable destinations for our best and brightest thinkers.” (I’m reminded here of the career of George Marshall.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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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