Best Defense

How militaries resist innovation… and how to respond to the blockers and haters

Best Defense is in summer reruns. Here is an item that originally ran on January 13, 2016.



Best Defense is in summer reruns. Here is an item that originally ran on January 13, 2016.

First Parameters  woke up. Now Naval War College Review, which has been napping for some time, has a good article, titled “Systems of Denial: Strategic Resistance to Military Innovation.”

The issue the article addresses is that organizations tend to stick with approaches that have worked even after they have stopped working. And the leaders of those organizations don’t like suggestions that they don’t perceive reality. What to do?

The authors offer up ten commandants for helping organizations adapt. I think all of them are worth meditating on.

— “Identify anomalies in the external environment.”

— “Deliberately seek and explore anomalies.”

— “Conduct formal thought experiments with the help of a team.”

— “Create conditions in which surprising experimental results are not just possible, but desired.”

— “Don’t succumb to the tyranny of expertise; institutionalize brokerage.”

— “Create space for planned and unplanned variance.” They add that, “The more variance we tolerate, the more likely we are to learn.”

— “Revise the theory the right way, or replace it with something better.”

— “Make the old theory work for a living.”

— “Build organizational units that succeed with a new theory.”

— Perhaps most of all, educate your officers. “We need intelligent, open-minded leaders — men and women who understand the fundamental principles of logic and evidence, are nimble enough to recognize the significance of strategic anomalies, and have the mental tools to think of what to do next.”

Image credit: The Ten Commandments/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 @tomricks1

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