Where did State’s Policy Planning Staff get its “avoid trivia” slogan?

We noticed something odd as we settled in for today’s event: The seal for the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff includes the slogan, "Avoid Trivia." What gives? Apparently the phrase originated with former Secretary of State George Marshall, who instructed George Kennan to "avoid trivia" when he asked Kennan to create the Policy Planning Staff ...

617188_img_02752.jpg
617188_img_02752.jpg

We noticed something odd as we settled in for today's event: The seal for the State Department's Policy Planning Staff includes the slogan, "Avoid Trivia." What gives?

Apparently the phrase originated with former Secretary of State George Marshall, who instructed George Kennan to "avoid trivia" when he asked Kennan to create the Policy Planning Staff in 1947.

What Kennan meant was that the strategic arm of the State Department should see the big picture and not get bogged down in day-to-day minutia. This morning, Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan referenced the slogan but added that former Secretary of State Dean Acheson also summed up Policy Planning's mission well: "To look ahead, not into the distant future, but beyond the vision of the operating officers caught in the smoke and crises of current battle; far enough ahead to see the emerging form of things to come and outline what should be done to meet or anticipate them."

We noticed something odd as we settled in for today’s event: The seal for the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff includes the slogan, "Avoid Trivia." What gives?

Apparently the phrase originated with former Secretary of State George Marshall, who instructed George Kennan to "avoid trivia" when he asked Kennan to create the Policy Planning Staff in 1947.

What Kennan meant was that the strategic arm of the State Department should see the big picture and not get bogged down in day-to-day minutia. This morning, Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan referenced the slogan but added that former Secretary of State Dean Acheson also summed up Policy Planning’s mission well: "To look ahead, not into the distant future, but beyond the vision of the operating officers caught in the smoke and crises of current battle; far enough ahead to see the emerging form of things to come and outline what should be done to meet or anticipate them."

A compelling perspective as we kick off today’s Transformational Trends" discussion. 

Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland. Twitter: @UriLF

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