Category Archives: Education

Thinking Effectively First

By Mie Augier and Sean F. X. Barrett


Captain Wayne Hughes, USN, who would have turned 90-years-old this spring, left us a huge legacy on which to build and from which to learn regarding the intellectual content of naval research, our approaches to instruction, and how we organize our naval PME institutions. Hughes is widely recognized and respected for his work on naval tactics and operations research (OR) and his “fire effectively first” aphorism, which continues to inform the thinking behind many strategic documents.1

If we take a more expansive look at Hughes’ contributions, however, we also find writings on naval maneuver warfare,2 the influence of organizations on naval tactics,3 the limitations of analytical models and their ability to reduce risk but not eliminate uncertainty,4 education and mentorship,5 his favorite admirals,6 maritime innovation and shipbuilding adaptation,7 the need for innovative leaders and the role of PME in educating them, and the importance of people, among other topics. Concerning the range of his own intellectual interests, he noted, “I like everything, but that means I can’t be very deep at anything.”8 Though he did obviously go deep into key topics, he maintained his broad interest, which also manifested itself in the variety of books he reviewed and his touching upon some unexpected topics, such as rituals and religion,in the context of naval warfare. His intellectual, theoretical, disciplinary, and methodological range exemplified that of an integrative mind.

In addition to his research and writing, he advised countless students at the Naval Postgraduate School and often eagerly visited classrooms, even in his last years, to discuss some of his favorite topics, as well as what interested the students. He favored active learning approaches (e.g., cases, discussions, gaming, and simulations as opposed to lecturing) since they facilitated more interaction, mutual learning, and a continuing integration of conceptual frameworks, instructor and student interests, and naval issues. Hughes’ approach to active learning is quite consistent with General David H. Berger’s plea in his Commandant’s Planning Guidance to move beyond our industrial age model for training and education. C. S. Lewis once said, “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.”10 In other words, cultivating lifelong learning requires patience, mutual learning, and open minds – a topic that remains central to military professionals today.

We wanted to write a brief note in Hughes’ honor and memory that complements and expands upon his “fire effectively first” lens by incorporating the importance of the “think effectively first” truism it implies.11 We use some of Hughes’ reflections to identify the traits, attitudes, and values he admired in others and thought we should strive to inculcate in our naval leaders. Just as integration is key to instruction and active learning approaches, intellectual integration and synthesis helps develop the good thinking and judgment that enables our warfighters to develop the intellectual adaptiveness central to “thinking effectively first.”

The Skills and Traits of Hughes’ Favorite Admirals

During the spring of 2017, Thomas Ricks posted a series of four articles to his Best Defense blog that Hughes—“an old salt”—had written about his four favorite admirals: Spruance, Burke, Fiske, and Nimitz. They illustrate both Hughes’ implicit (and sometimes explicit) recognition of the attitudes and skills central to “thinking effectively first,” and his own integrative way of thinking.

As a youthful teacher of naval history, Hughes first gained an early appreciation for Raymond Spruance while reading about his meeting with Admiral Nimitz before the Battle of Midway. Hughes identified Spruance’s background in electrical engineering and his operational and command tours as a few of the foundations for Spruance’s greatness since they provided him a broad range of experiences and insights upon which to draw and enhanced his ability to integrate and synthesize information.12 This helped him identify what was truly relevant and deepened his understanding of situations. In an earlier article on Spruance, Hughes noted, “As operational commander of hundreds of ships and aircraft, Admiral Raymond A. Spruance had the capacity to distill what he observed – and sometimes felt – into its essence and to focus on the important details by mental synthesis.” According to Hughes, “Spruance had to an extraordinary degree the mental equivalent of peripheral vision.”13 Importantly, Spruance objected to efforts intended to reduce decision-making to a recipe or checklist. As Spruance might have attested, developing the “cognitive flexibility” to transfer knowledge between domains and apply knowledge to new situations necessitates education focused more on broad concepts than on specific information or processes. Additionally, given the complexity of and unpredictability in today’s operating environment, it is increasingly important to nurture well-rounded naval leaders like Spruance who are able to identify connections across disciplines so they can effectively determine the deep structure of a given problem, understand the larger forces shaping situations, and thus anticipate possible outcomes and actions.14

Like Spruance, Admiral Arleigh Burke also had an impressive technical background that led to his serving more tours as an engineer than he might have liked. Burke was an excellent strategic leader who created an effective organization by understanding how organizations work and how to get things done in (and with) them. According to Hughes, “He was the last CNO to actually command the Navy’s operations.”15 In other words, Burke did not become mired in administrivia as an escape or diversion as the Navy confronted a strategic inflection point. Instead, he identified new opportunities and ways of operating and deployed resources to see them through.16 This is particularly relevant for the U.S. military, which has been described as “too busy to think” and operating in “a vacuum, one of strategy-free actions,” as it confronts interstate strategic competition following two decades of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations.17

Hughes dubbed Bradley A. Fiske a true “Renaissance Man.” A reformer, prolific author, and inventor, and an innovative strategist and tactician, Fiske helped lead the Navy through the transition from sail to steam. Early in his career, Fiske identified the need for electricity in the ships of the new Navy, so he requested a leave of absence to study its potential for warships. At the time there were not any postgraduate schools for science and technology, so he ended up at the GE plant in Schenectady, New York.18 Later, he became an aviation enthusiast and advocated using it in an anti-amphibious role in support of early versions of War Plan Orange.19 In his many roles, Fiske maintained a practical appreciation for technology as opposed to a narrow focus on analytical models or technical expertise, and based on his deep understanding of what was driving the strategic environment, he had an uncanny ability to identify emerging technologies and embrace them. In class, Hughes occasionally brought up Kodak as a counterexample. While Kodak had early technical expertise in digital technology, they failed to see how it would influence the strategic environment and, ultimately, erode their competitive advantages.

Lastly, like the others, Chester Nimitz also had a deep understanding of technology and its relation to tactics, a theme consistent with all of Hughes’ “greats.” Nimitz became an expert in diesel propulsion, remained current with both submarines and surface ships, and even wrote a Naval War College term paper on underway replenishment. He was not only an admired strategist, but also a superb tactician, which was on display at the Battle of Midway, and a brilliant leader. Hughes credits his morale-building after taking over as Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet following the Pearl Harbor attacks with our later success in the Pacific.20 And yet we might draw an important lesson from his time commanding a destroyer as an ensign when he ran the ship aground. The mistake did not end his career as it might today. As Hughes used to say, the only way to never make a mistake is to never make a decision, thus recognizing the danger of the no-default mentality on individual and organizational adaptability and thinking

Having briefly discussed Hughes’ reasons for choosing his favorite admirals, we note his appreciation of their knowledge of technology. However, this was not the only factor (and probably not even the most important one) when one looks at their accomplishments more broadly. Hughes valued judgment and thinking, the development of insight, broad understanding and the ability to synthesize, and organizational leadership skills. These are themes that resonate well with modern strategic documents, such as the Education for Seapower report and General David H. Berger’s Commandant’s Planning Guidance.

July 3, 2018 – NPS Dean Emeritus Wayne Hughes holds the latest edition of his seminal work, Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Nathan Serpico)

It also worth remembering that these qualities were valued much earlier in the history of naval education and during periods of vast technological change similar to our own. For example, The Record of the United States Naval Institute (later, Proceedings) established an annual prize essay competition in 1879, and the first topic concerned naval education. In the third-prize essay, then Commander A. T. Mahan cautioned, over a decade before the publication of his famous treatise, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660-1783, against focusing too narrowly on mechanical processes and mathematical reasoning “under the delusive cry of science.” Despite the increasing technical complexity associated with the ships of the new Navy and the onset of steam, Mahan observed, “The necessarily materialistic character of mechanical science tends rather to narrowness and low ideals.” He believed that a narrow scientific focus ultimately undermined the practical discharge of the line officer’s duties, and while Mahan acknowledged a small class of specialists should be devoted to this type of knowledge, he also argued the line officer required a broader educational approach in order to discharge all of his many and varied duties.21

Following World War I, the Knox-Pye-King Board conducted the first (and until E4S, only) comprehensive analysis of U.S. naval education. At the time, a salt-horse culture prevailed in the Navy, and seagoing experience established naval officers’ reputations for higher commands. The curriculum at the U.S. Naval Academy trained future naval officers to adopt mathematical approaches to solving even the most abstract problems, memorize accepted solutions, and adhere to hierarchical authority at the expense of open inquiry and debate. However, as Admirals Henry T. Mayo and William S. Sims provided bureaucratic top cover, Captains Dudley W. Knox and Ernest J. King, with Commander William S. Pye contributing, leveraged the board’s report to proffer their assessment that naval officers stood ill-equipped to meet the broad spectrum of challenges they faced and to establish higher professional education standards.22 While the officers acknowledged the need for a certain degree of specialization, it had to be balanced with a more generalist mindset. The board observed that, at present, the naval officer was “‘educated’ only in preparation for the lowest commissioned grade” and lacked sufficient understanding of higher operational elements of warfare or broader strategic considerations. The board outlined an education continuum for an officers’ career, which progressively evolved away from more technical matters and toward strategy, management, international relations, and economic, political, and social sciences.23

Given the increasing complexity and prevalence of technologies and their rapid rate of advancement, calls for increasing the number of specialists in the DoD and national security establishment are certainly understandable. However, as we observe in Hughes’ reflections and in the thoughts of some of our other great naval officers, we must not view this as a sufficient condition. We must also cultivate the other skills and attitudes Hughes valued to develop leaders who are intellectually adaptive and capable of identifying strategic trends, understanding and solving complex problems in an interdisciplinary manner, and thinking effectively first.

How to Cultivate the “Think Effectively First” Mentality

“I think art comes before science, and science is merely a representation of the dynamic structure and institutionalization of what the practical wisdom of people over the course of history develops.”24

While Hughes’ reflections are useful in helping us see the importance of “thinking effectively first,” it is also important to understand how Hughes was thinking (not just what he was thinking) and his way of integrating. In doing so, we might identify a few more useful implications that can help us better think about how we think, educate, learn, and analyze. 

Integrate education, research, and Navy problems—always with an eye for issues relevant to the warfighter. As with other great integrative minds, Hughes was a strong advocate for integrating research and education, always with a focus on what was relevant to Navy problems and warfighter issues. This problem-oriented focus helps integrate the different disciplines that are relevant to understanding such complex problems, as they rarely, if ever, fit any one or two disciplines very neatly. This may sound straightforward, but it is not easy. Nobel laureate Herbert Simon (1967) noted that for professional education, mixing the disciplinary perspectives of the scientists with practical problems of the professionals is like mixing oil and water. The task is never finished since it requires constant stirring.25 Additionally, integration across disciplines does not come from one discipline talking occasionally to his favorite intellectual neighbor who holds a (mostly) similar worldview, but rather through genuine intellectual appreciation for other perspectives and what they can bring to improving our understanding of warfighter issues. Fortunately, our PME institutions can help with this by facilitating and encouraging (perhaps even insisting) more mixing and integration of different disciplines in their application to explicit warfighter problems.

Focusing on integration helps us understand the promises and the limitations of models and analysis. In understanding Hughes’ way of thinking and (re)reading his analytic work, we also gain a better appreciation for the promises and pitfalls of analysis.26 Hughes acknowledges that analysis can help us prepare for war and has previously helped us win wars and reduce their cost more than is appreciated. Models, however, cannot capture certain imponderables (e.g., willpower, genius, surprise) that can unpredictability swing the course of events and thus require prudence in their application. They can never replace military judgment. Hughes cautioned us:

“Personally, I think that analysts—the good ones—next only to historians, understand best the imponderables of the next war. But in the heat of our petty contentions to sell our service, or some hardware, or an idea, or a strategy, we play down and eventually forget our doubts and misgivings. When the analysis is elegant, when the arguments are compelling, when the model is elaborate, that is the time to remember a statement by our host VADM Jim Stockdale: ‘if there was anything that helped us get through those eight years (as POWs), it was plebe year, and if there was anything that screwed up that (Vietnam) war, it was computers.’”27

Finally, educating for integrative minds and thinking effectively first requires cultivating the right mental habits, including some of the following:

  • Prioritize problem framing (and reframing) and actively seek alternative and opposing views to prove our own hypotheses incorrect.
  • Think critically, constructively, and strategically, and about the process of thinking itself to improve our intellectual adaptability and be learners that are always eager to extend our knowledge, whether through reading, experimentation, debates, or otherwise.
  • Encourage active open-mindedness and intuition, and inspire imagination and curiosity to inform judgment and integrate analytical, intuitive, and synthesizing ways of understanding Navy and warfighter problems.


We hope we have illustrated how the broader foundations and aspects of Hughes’ contributions are important for recognizing how the core of his approach was not a narrow focus on specific disciplines and models, but rather a larger appreciation of both the art and science of naval warfare. Additionally, his work on analysis and tactics – the key to “fighting effectively first” – might be usefully supplemented with an emphasis on “thinking effectively first.” The Joint Chiefs of Staff reminds us, “There is more to sustaining a competitive advantage than acquiring hardware; we must gain and sustain an intellectual overmatch as well.”28 While effective fighting requires mental rigor and stamina and a sound assessment of the enemy, the operating environment, and ourselves, we must cultivate effective thinking and judgement above all. Let us embrace this challenge in the spirit of Captain Wayne Hughes’ legacy.

Dr. Mie Augier is a Professor in the Graduate School of Defense Management at the Naval Postgraduate School and a Founding Member of the Naval Warfare Studies Institute (NWSI). She is interested in strategy, organizations, innovation, leadership, and how to educate strategic and innovative thinkers.

Major Sean F. X. Barrett is an active duty Marine Corps intelligence officer. He is currently the operations officer for the Headquarters Marine Corps Directorate of Analytics & Performance Optimization.


1. David H. Berger, Force Design 2030 (Washington, DC: U.S. Marine Corps, 2020), 12; David H. Berger, “The Case for Change,” Marine Corps Gazette 104, no. 6 (Jun. 2020): 12.

2. Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., “Maneuvering Past Maneuver Warfare,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 122, no. 5 (Mar. 1996): 16, 19; Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., “Naval Maneuver Warfare,” Naval War College Review 50, no. 3 (Summer 1997): 25-49.

3. Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., “Garbage Cans at Sea,” in Ambiguity and Command: Organizational Perspectives on Military Decision Making, eds. James G. March and Roger Weissinger-Baylon (Marshfield, MA: Pitman Publishing Inc., 1986), 249-257.

4. Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., “Uncertainty in Combat,” Military Operations Research (Summer 1994): 45-57; Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., “What Studies Say—And Don’t,” Phalanx 12, no. 5 (Mar. 1980): 1, 12-15.

5. Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., “New Directions in Naval Academy Education,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 87, no. 5 (May 1960): 36-45; Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., “Restore Mentorship Through Mentoring,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 144, no. 2 (Feb. 2018): 76-77; Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., “Naval Tactics Needed in Sea Power Education,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 145, no. 11 (Nov. 2019): 12-13.

6. See, for example, Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., “Clear Purpose, Comprehensive Execution—Raymond Ames Spruance (1886-1969),” Naval War College Review 62, no. 4 (Autumn 2009): 117-130.

7.  Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., “A Business Strategy for Shipbuilders,” (lecture, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, July 28, 2014),

8.  Michael Garrambone, “Military Operations Research Society (MORS) Oral History Project Interview of Wayne P. Hughes, FS,” Military Operations Research 9, no. 4 (2004): 29-53.

9. Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., “Pacifists and Peacemakers,” Naval War College Review 27, no. 3 (May-Jun. 1974): 83-86; Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., “On Ritual,” Phalanx 27, no. 1 (Mar. 1994): 35.

10. C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (Québec, ON: Samizdat University Press, 2014), 6.

11. While Hughes noted the importance of critical thinking, decentralization, delegation, enabling initiative, and judgment, he rarely expanded upon his reasoning or explained why they are so important to the continued nurturing of our naval leaders, perhaps because he was one of those rare individuals who naturally thought critically and constructively about things. For the rest of us, we can look to the recent literature on thinking and learning.

12. Wayne P. Hughes, “An Old Salt Picks His 4 Favorite American Admirals—And Explains Why (Part I),” Best Defense, August 11, 2017, This piece originally ran on March 29, 2017.

13. Hughes, “Clear Purpose,” 117, 125.

14. David Epstein, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (New York: Riverhead Books, 2019), 45, 50, 115.

15. Wayne P. Hughes, “An Old Salt Picks His 4 Favorite American Admirals—And Explains Why (II): Burke,” Best Defense, April 3, 2017, Hughes admired Burke’s tactical prowess, exploiting radar and torpedoes to our advantage in the Pacific. As a captain in the late 1940s, Burke had the gumption and technical acumen to serve as part of the brainpower behind the “Revolt of the Admirals,” and then as Chief of Naval Operations, he supported the development of the Polaris missile and SSBNs.

16. For more on identifying and navigating through strategic inflection points, see Andrew S. Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company and Career (London: Profile Books, LTD, 1996), 101-164.

17. Robert H. Scales, “Too Busy To Learn,” Army History 76 (Summer 2010): 27-31; James N. Mattis, “Remarks by Secretary Mattis at the U.S. Naval War College Commencement, Newport, Rhode Island” (speech, Newport, RI, June 15, 2018), U.S. Department of Defense, 

18. Wayne P. Hughes, “An Old Salt Picks His 4 Favorite American Admirals—And Explains Why (III): Fiske,” Best Defense, April 11, 2017,

19. John T. Kuehn, America’s First General Staff: A Short History of the Rise and Fall of the General Board of the Navy, 1900-1950 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2017), 84-85. Fiske was also part of an insurgent group of reformers that believed the Navy was unprepared war and as a result pushed for a General Staff akin to the German model. Given the advancement in technology, the secretary of the Navy had too much control over constructing and operating the fleet and was out of his depth. Fiske eventually served as the Aide for Operations (and thus the number two man on the General Board) and was instrumental in pushing legislation through Congress that established the position of Chief of Naval of Operations and his supporting staff.

20. Wayne P. Hughes, “An Old Salt Picks His 4 Favorite American Admirals—And Explains Why (IV): Nimitz,” Best Defense, August 11, 2017, This piece originally ran on April 18, 2017.

21. A. T. Mahan, “Naval Education,” The Record of the United States Naval Institute 5, no. 9 (1878-1879): 345-376.

22. David Kohnen, “Charting a New Course: The Knox-Pye-King Board and Naval Professional Education, 1919-1923,” Naval War College Review 71, no. 3 (Summer 2018): 121-141.

23. “Report and Recommendations of a Board Appointed by the Bureau of Navigation Regarding the Instruction and Training of Line Officers,” Proceedings 46, no 8 (Aug. 1920): 1265-1292.

24. Garrambone, “MORS,” 33.

25. Herbert A. Simon, “The Business School: A Problem in Organizational Design,” Journal of Management Studies 4, no. 1 (Feb. 1967): 1-16.

26. See, for example, Jeffrey E. Kline, Wayne P. Hughes, and Douglas A. L. Otte, “Campaign Analysis: An Introductory Review,” Military Operations Research Society (2011): 12, accessed June 21, 2020, Kline, Hughes, and Otte note, “Campaign analysis is an applied field of endeavor designed to provide quantitative insights to a decision maker on how to best use military forces to achieve strategic and operational goals. Analysis at the campaign level may aid in concept generation and course of action selection. But because of the sheer number of variables and because a campaign is conducted against a thinking, adaptive enemy, it can only supplement, never replace, experienced military and naval judgment.”

27. Hughes, “What Studies Say,” 13-14.

28. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Developing Today’s Joint Officers for Tomorrow’s Ways of War: The Joint Chiefs of Staff Vision and Guidance for Professional Military Education & Talent Management (Washington, DC: May 2020), 2.

Featured Image: Retired Navy Captain Wayne P. Hughes, shown addressing the Naval Postgraduate School commencement in December 2011, emphasized the importance of studying tactics. (NPS photo)

Blue Books for the Green Side: A Reading List on Naval Integration 

By Walker D. Mills and Joseph E. Hanacek

“Naval Integration” has quickly become a focus within the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy. It was a critical section in the 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Planning Guidance, where the Commandant elaborated: “I intend to seek greater integration between the Navy and Marine Corps….Navy and Marine Corps officers developed a tendency to view their operational responsibilities as separate and distinct, rather than intertwined…. there is a need to reestablish a more integrated approach to operations in the maritime domain.” Emerging great power competition in the Pacific is again forcing the Marine Corps and the Navy to work more closely and solve complicated new problems. New Marine concepts like Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment and Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations are reintroducing naval operations to the center of Marine thinking and warfighting. Despite this recent shift, there is still a glaring lack of naval-oriented education in the Marines.

Over the last few decades, Marines have increasingly left their naval roots behind and conducted campaigns in the rugged mountains of land-locked Afghanistan and the arid deserts of Iraq. The current generation of Marines is less likely to have served on ship than to have served on the ground in the Middle East. Recent commentary has questioned the true significance of their relationship to the Navy, such as by asking “Are we naval in character or purpose?” A flood of responses revealed, if not a clear answer, at least a resounding acknowledgement that the Marine Corps’ relationship with the Navy is a key attribute, if not the defining attribute of the force. Yet naval campaigns, despite being a raison d’etre for the Marine Corps, do not feature in junior officer education and may not be encountered at all by officers until many years later into their careers. Instead, land operations consist of the grand majority of the material taught. Even in classes on amphibious case studies like the Falklands, Marine instructors often largely if not totally ignore the larger maritime campaign and start with the ship-to-shore movement.

The atrophy of combined Navy and Marine Corps thinking is far from being solely a Marine Corps issue. For years the Navy’s approach to maritime warfare has been built around specialization instead of integration. The aforementioned Marines learning about the Falklands campaign didn’t focus on the war at sea because that was the fleet’s specialty, not theirs. The same can be true of the fight on the ground from the perspective of the Navy. While this type of unilateral approach to problem solving has been sufficient in the era of unchallenged U.S. maritime supremacy, it can no longer be accepted given the growing scope and complexity of potential military challenges.

One of the most valuable attributes of a well-integrated team is its resilience. While some efficiency may be lost in cross-training, traits such as adaptability, effectiveness, and survivability can be greatly enhanced. Marines need to understand amphibious and sea control operations in the context of larger naval campaigns, especially because the modern character of those campaigns is evolving into a far more threatening challenge. Marines need to have a basic literacy of naval strategy, operations, and tactics as it pertains to their roles in supporting those campaigns. This effort not only enhances the fleet when campaigns are functioning well, but it provides the fleet with an insurance policy when combat friction begins to manifest.

Naval integration is not a passing fad, nor a flavor of the day. It is supposed to be the core attribute of the Marine Corps. The meat of the Title 10 roles and responsibilities of the Marine Corps are: “The Marine Corps shall be organized, trained, and equipped to provide fleet marine forces… for service with the fleet… as may be essential to the prosecution of a naval campaign.” The Marine Corps is a force designed to operate in support of and in conjunction with the U.S. Navy.

In this vein, we have assembled a short reading list focused along the theme of naval integration. These readings can serve as a primer in naval operations for Marines and other landlubbers, or supplement and advance a foundation of naval knowledge for any interested reader. The books generally fall into three categories – fundamentals, history, and current issues. We have also included our favorite periodicals that often run articles and debates oncontemporary tactics and proposals for future concepts.

These readings of interest include:

Naval Strategy and Operations in Narrow Seas by Milan Vego

Vego, a professor at the United States Naval War College, may be the world’s leading scholar of littoral warfare. In Naval Strategy and Operations in Narrow Seas, Vego melds his own experience serving in the Adriatic with the Yugoslavian Navy, naval history, and more current naval operations. His book is a comprehensive examination of littoral warfare for the student or practitioner and covers everything from the space and geometries of the littoral to sea denial and relevant weapons systems. It is a perfect book to use both as an introduction and a deeper dive into littoral warfare. However, originally published in 1999, Vego’s book has not been updated to reflect geopolitical and technological changes.

Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations, Third Ed. by Captain Wayne P. Hughes (ret.) and Rear Admiral Robert P. Girrier (ret.)

Hughes, a recently passed professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and former U.S. Navy officer, was a giant in the study of naval tactics. The third edition of Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat is similar to Naval Strategy and Operations in Narrow Seas in that it breaks down and explains warfare in the littoral. The book also explains Hughes’ salvo model for missile combat, which is the standard for modeling missile combat at sea, and provides an excellent starting point from which Marines can begin to factor their shore-and air-based fires into the maritime fight. The book is an A-Z explanation of littoral warfare and also looks forward into continuing trends and the future of littoral warfare. The most recent edition, co-authored by Rear Admiral Robert P. Girrier, and with a forward written by then-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, includes a chapter discussing current revolutions in military affairs and a fictional scenario depicting how a modern war in the littorals could feasibly unfold.

Navy Strategic Culture: Why the Navy Thinks Differently by Roger W. Barnett

Navy Strategic Culture is an important book because it dissects what makes the Navy different from the other services and critically, why that matters. Barnett is another former U.S. naval officer and instructor at the U.S. Naval War College. His book can either be a jumping-off point for a reader who wants to better understand the Navy and does not know where to start, or for a reader who has experienced the Navy firsthand and wants to understand why the Navy is unique. The book will provide the reader with both a better understanding and a better appreciation for the U.S. Navy and its contribution to U.S. strategy writ large.

Learning War: The Evolution of Fighting Doctrine in the U.S. Navy, 1898–1945 by Trent Hone

Whenever young naval officers ask for book recommendations from senior commanders, this book is almost guaranteed to be on the list. Learning War assesses the generations of work and force development that was done in the years leading up to the Second World War that transformed the U.S. Navy into an organization that can adapt to and excel against emerging great power threats. The book, a favorite of CNO Richardson’s, shows how even after several bruising defeats early in the war the U.S. Navy still needed time to adapt and evolve. In future conflicts, critical events could very well be decided on a far shorter timeframe, begging the question as to whether our current learning culture as a military service is going to be up to the challenge in a future war that might only last months as opposed to years. 

The Price of Admiralty: The Evolution of Naval Warfare by John Keegan

John Keegan is an award-winning British historian and former lecturer at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. The Price of Admiralty is his attempt to write about naval history, as Keegan is, in the words of a critical review by Wayne Hughes, a “landlubber.” He has researched and written extensively on ground combat, however he can still deliver in his explanations and descriptions of naval combat. The Price of Admiralty is as exhaustively researched as his other books and presents an accessible and valuable history of naval warfare from the perspectives of the combatants. Though British-centric, The Price of Admiralty can provide any reader with a better understanding of what naval combat is, how it feels, and how it has evolved over the centuries. 

Small Boats and Daring Men: Maritime Raiding, Irregular Warfare and the Early American Navy by Benjamin Armstrong

The core argument in Armstrong’s new book Small Boats and Daring Men is that irregular warfare at sea was critical to the success of the early American navy, and was quite common. Armstrong, a history professor at the United States Naval Academy, mixes well-known cases of irregular warfare, like those conducted against the Barbary Pirates, with lesser known but equally interesting cases like the U.S. naval expeditions to Sumatra. Small Boats and Daring Men is a fascinating study of 18th and 19th century maritime competition and conflict that may change the reader’s perspective on the age of sail and the history of the U.S. Navy. It also offers a historical basis for irregular littoral operations. 

Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal by James D. Hornfischer

The Marine Corps solemnly remembers the 1,592 Marines killed during the Guadalcanal campaign and the horrific fighting that ensued there. It is also quick to recall that the first month of the campaign was conducted largely without the support of naval forces, which were intended to support the troops on the ground. What is often forgotten is that during the operation U.S. and Japanese naval forces were relatively similar in strength, that the outcome of the battle at sea was far from certain, and a naval defeat would spell certain defeat on land. Hornfischer, with several other award-winning books about the U.S. Navy to his name, is well-versed in applying narrative history to naval storytelling. His work here provides ready and digestible insights into how naval- and land-based objectives became intertwined at the tactical and operational level of war and, in doing so, he gives the reader a critical retelling of this pivotal littoral battle so familiar to Marines, from the naval perspective.

There are several other outstanding histories of the Solomons Campaign and Guadalcanal that are worthy mentions, including Ian W. Toll’s Pacific Crucible, Joseph Wheelan’s Midnight in the Pacific, and Richard B. Frank’s Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account

One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander by Patrick Robinson and Sandy Woodward

The Falklands War is the best case of a “modern” amphibious battle. Fought over islands in the South Atlantic between the United Kingdom and Argentina, the Falklands campaign is frequently referred to as a case study on how modern naval combat works. Much of the weaponry and tactics used in the Falklands are still standard today, and the war saw joint forces on both sides fighting maritime campaigns, including amphibious operations. The reader can learn many lessons from Woodward – the British task force commander. His memoir is frank and he candidly discusses his successes and mistakes. A careful reader would also do well to note the changes in naval warfare and the operating environment over the last four decades so as to not get caught in the trap of fighting the last war.

There are several other worthwhile studies of the Falklands War including The Official History of the Falklands Campaign by Sir Lawrence Freedman, a professor at King’s College in London, and Battle for the Falklands by journalists Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins. 

Red Star Over The Pacific: China’s Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy, Second Ed. by Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes

In Red Star Over The Pacific, Holmes and Yoshihara provide a much-needed update to their original 2013 edition. Yoshihara and Holmes are China and maritime strategy experts – Holmes is currently the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College, and Yoshihara formerly held the John A. van Beuren Chair of Asia-Pacific Studies at the Naval War College and is now a senior fellow at CSBA. Their book outlines the massive growth in capability and size of China’s naval forces in a way that is straightforward to understand, and they also cover the implications of Chinese naval force development and the way it impacts and compares to the U.S. Navy. Fascinating and current, the book is also a warning to the reader to take competition and potential conflict in the Pacific seriously, as the authors make clear just how important naval power has become to Chinese grand strategy.

The War for Muddy Waters: Pirates, Terrorists, Traffickers and Maritime Security by Joshua Tallis

Tallis’s new book is easily among the most current on this list. What Tallis argues in The War for Muddy Waters is that maritime security is as important and will continue to be as important as traditional naval warfare. Tallis dives into security issues in the littoral with pirates, smugglers, and terrorists and presents a view of maritime security challenges that is often overlooked but increasingly important as demographics shift toward ever more littoralization. The War for Muddy Waters will expose the reader to the broader but equally relevant world of maritime security beyond limited naval issues.

Front Burner: Al Qaeda’s Attack on USS Cole by Kirk Lippold is an excellent anti-terrorism and force protection case study that expands on the irregular threat to warships and the Navy in port and in the littoral. Another great and recent book on non-naval maritime issues is journalist Ian Urbina’s The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier.

Beans, Bullets, and Black Oil by Worrall R. Carter

If General Omar Bradley was correct in his alleged quip that “Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics,” there is no better place to begin the discussion of naval logistics than with Beans, Bullets, and Black Oil. Carter details the logistics efforts of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific theater during the Second World War. The book covers many facets of modern naval logistics including expeditionary logistics, forward basing and sea basing, maintenance, and supply activities inside in contested areas. Many of the logistics fundamentals the Navy dealt with in the Second World War still apply today. If nothing else, the book is sure to give Marines and sailors alike a far greater appreciation of the immense logistical effort required to sustain maritime campaigns across an area as large as the Pacific. 


We would also like to emphasize the great periodical publishing on naval and maritime security issues. Proceedings is a professional publication of the United States Naval Institute, and it publishes a monthly issue with articles on a range of issues relevant to the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard online and in print. It also features regular essay contests on a variety of topics.

The U.S. Naval War College publishes the Naval War College Review quarterly but also has a variety of longer-form manuscripts and working papers. Because it is a government-funded entity, all War College publications are free to download from their website.

Lastly, the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) publishes a range of content on a near-daily basis related to maritime security, all of it fully available to read for free on their website. CIMSEC is U.S. based, but not U.S. centric – which makes for a more international perspective. They also release regular calls for submissions on specific topics.


We believe that these books and publications are an excellent jumping-off point for any landlubber looking to learn more about naval and maritime perspectives, but especially for Marines who recognize that these perspectives have been missing from their professional military education. This is by no means an exclusive list – there are dozens if not hundreds of more fantastic books out there. These are just our personal recommendations and books that have been important in our own learning. More books on naval integration may be in the making, and certainly many have already been published that cover the Navy-Marine relationship, just waiting to be discovered and shared.

Happy reading. 

Walker D. Mills is a Marine infantry officer currently serving as an exchange officer in Cartagena, Colombia. He has previously authored commentary for CIMSEC, the Marine Corps Gazette, Proceedings, West Point’s Modern War Institute and War on the Rocks. He is an associate editor at CIMSEC. He can be found on twitter @WDMills1992.

Joseph E. Hanacek is a Surface Warfare Officer stationed in San Diego, CA. He has served aboard USS Lake Champlain (CG-57) and USS Jackson (LCS 6), and recently graduated from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. He has previously authored commentary for Proceedings and War on the Rocks.

Featured Image: A Marine puts away returned books in the library aboard USS Bataan (LHD 5). (Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Aaron T. Kiser/Navy)

Playing to Win: Crafting a Creative Strategic Vision for Maritime Superiority

By Heather Venable

Daydreaming, meditation, and long walks in the forest do not spring to mind as ways to achieve maritime superiority, much less to win the next peer conflict. But these simple approaches to thinking reward institutions with unparalleled dividends. The deepest discernment, as Isaac Asimov explains, occurs when the mind can “take new pathways and make erratic associations you would not think of consciously. The solution will then come while you think you are not thinking.”1

This approach is imperative because—amidst the proliferation of many weapons technologies—the Navy faces a challenge to its current force structure potentially more disruptive than the shift from battleships to carriers or even from sail to steam.2 Yet it sometimes takes institutions too long to accept ideas internally even as it becomes clear to external observers how desperately updating is required.3 Simultaneously, the Navy must open up spaces for creative thinking in order to regain its lost strategic acumen.4 Fortunately, solutions are not costly, but they do require a cultural shift that recognizes the importance of creativity in crafting strategy.5

Historical precedent reveals insights into how and why creativity fosters the best strategy. In the 1950s, a handful of naval officers began working to revitalize naval education by thinking carefully about how they studied history to make strategy. This group included J.C. Wylie, who actively pursued creative thinking throughout his career by challenging accepted ways of doing things, as will be seen.

Wylie also benefited from attending the regular and the advanced courses at the Naval War College on two separate assignments.6 This education provided him with the requisite depth to imbibe basic patterns of strategic thought. As Wylie explained, getting to the “heart of the problem” required diving into the “strategic patterns of thought from which grow the actions of war itself.”7

Creativity cannot occur until one has “mastered the old ways of doing or thinking.8 As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains, “One cannot be creative without learning what others know, but then one cannot be creative without becoming dissatisfied with that knowledge and rejecting it (or some of it) for a better way.”9 As such, much of the seminar format of professional military education (PME) focusing on history and international relations is sound. One cannot help one’s service push forward to viable solutions until one understands the foundational knowledge upon which past decisions have been made.

But that is not enough. Depth must be married to breadth in a way that spurs creative thought. But naval officers have not internalized these rules deeply enough because they lack a strong educational foundation. Fortunately, recent steps improve requirements for future flag officers, to include requiring all “future unrestricted line Flag and General Officers” to graduate from in-residence programs by the end of 2021.10 Key documents like the National Defense Strategy (2018) and A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Version 2.0 (2018) recognize creativity’s importance.11 Still, creativity receives only a brief head nod, providing no vision to pursue.

The tendency to recognize creativity’s importance before quickly dismissing it runs throughout the defense community. One commentator recently called for the military to develop “creative solutions” to acquire new technology, citing the example of a “commercial cloud.” But this idea is not new at all.12 This exemplifies how a technical rationalist mindset pervades much of the Department of Defense (DOD), with cursory mentions of creativity predominantly linked to inventing new products. Creativity, in other words, is assumed to contribute the most to the development of new things, rather than new thoughts.

Innovation continually underperforms because it must occur after ideas. Previous eras of transformational change required societies to tackle “primarily intellectual, not technical” challenges.13 Placing too much emphasis on the tools with which to fight results in a lack of knowledge of how to fight or to what end.

Even the 2018 Education for Seapower study undervalues creativity. After mentioning creativity twice and characterizing it, along with talent, as the Navy’s “most critical resource,” the 468-page study fails to address creativity until an appendix, which ironically details the British appreciation for this trait in its PME.14 By contrast, the report repeatedly highlights the twin concepts of strategic and critical thinking, even defining “critical thinking” in the glossary but not creativity.15

Yet creativity provides the missing link to complete a triangle consisting also of strategy and critical thinking, without which the Navy just has a wobbly “stool.”16 Creativity’s ultimate value centers on its ability to trigger new ways of thinking, which requires individuals to make mental connections in unexpected ways.17

Those responsible for crafting U.S. naval strategy must foster new ways of thinking to challenge the nation’s current strategic paradigm.18 Although the U.S. military acknowledges this need—recognizing that peer adversaries have been studying U.S. successes since Operation Desert Storm—it has not figured out how to change the rules of the game because of “functional fixedness,” or the process whereby cognitive bias “limits the way we use an object to what it was originally intended for and keeps us from seeking new usages.”19 Take multi-domain operations as an example. The Army and Air Force’s newest solution to future war has striking overlaps with its predecessor AirLand battle.20 It seeks to improve upon jointness, even as it exacerbates the communication requirements that constitute the nation’s warfighting Achilles heel. It provides evolutionary improvements but no shift in strategy because the military feels more comfortable focusing on operational solutions.21 Thus the Navy is not alone in its strategic crisis.

Likewise, the Navy struggled to adjust to the new realities of the nuclear age after World War II, a point at which Wylie and others turned to strategy to articulate the Navy’s purpose.22 Surveying the key theorists from each domain, Wylie expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of a general theory. Of the various theories, however, he found himself most drawn to Mao’s thinking on wars of national liberation as most “sophisticated.”23 He appreciated Mao’s thinking because it did not limit itself to the “bounds of military action.”24

By contrast, Wylie identified the dangerous direction that the U.S. military had taken. In effect, he argued that the DOD had embraced the ultimate measure of the airpower domain: destruction. While Wylie found destruction to be the air domain’s most logical goal, he did not necessarily see it as the key outcome for the Army or the Navy.25 But the DOD could not resist the air domain’s dangerously seductive quantitative form of measurement.

This approach continues to characterize the U.S. military’s underlying philosophy in what has been characterized as a “continuous movement away from the political objectives of war toward a focus on killing and destroying things.”26 This tendency can be seen in the Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0’s mission statement (emphasis added):

“The United States Navy will be ready to conduct prompt and sustained combat incident to operations at sea. Our Navy will protect America from attack, promote American prosperity, and preserve America’s strategic influence. U.S. naval operations – from the seafloor to space, from blue water to the littorals, and in the information domain – will deter aggression and enable resolution of crises on terms acceptable to the United States and our allies and partners. If deterrence fails, the Navy will conduct decisive combat operations to defeat any enemy.27

Currently, the mission statement sandwiches hints of a holistic naval strategy between “prompt and sustained combat” and “decisive combat operations.” Those operational and tactical tasks go last, not first and last.

Wylie posited shifting away from pure destruction toward asserting control. By control, Wylie did not refer to control of the sea—a concept so natural to naval thinkers—but something much broader. He defined control as how a “social entity” exerted control over individuals through the power of ideas.  he sought to prod the U.S. to “articulat[e] . . . a philosophy to be ‘for.’”28 Promoting aspects of an ideological enemy’s vision during the Cold War required moral courage and intellectual openness.

For the Navy to regain its strategic acumen similarly requires traditional ways of thinking to be “disrupt[ed]” so that one achieves a perspective typical of an outsider rather than an insider.29 As Geoff Colvin asks, “Why didn’t IBM invent the personal computer? Over and over, the organizations that knew all there was to know about a technology or an industry failed to make the creative breakthrough that would transform the business.”30

One of the easiest ways to facilitate this process is to locate strategists on cultural fault lines because they trigger new ways of seeing and understanding, which helps them envision how to change the rules of the game rather than reacting to what others do. As Everett Dolman explains:

“When confronted with an unbreakable logic, such as the paper-scissors-rock dilemma of the of the Swiss pike, which is superior to the French cavalry, which is superior to the Spanish tercio, which is superior to the Swiss pike, ad infinitum, the only way out is to move beyond the conundrum and change the rules of the game.”31

This problem is made more challenging by differences in perspective between tactical thinkers and strategic ones.32 A tactical thinker concentrates on the short-term prospect of winning a clear-cut victory. A strategic thinker, by contrast, plays the long game, continually asking, “then what?” These two perspectives often exist in tension. In the case of a father who wants to teach his daughter how to play chess, the tactical mindset of seeking to “win” a game sits at odds with the more strategic perspective of ensuring that the father does not extinguish the daughter’s motivation to learn when she keeps losing.33

Recently, then-Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson, explained that the Navy had a new strategy of “making the first moves ‘so that we can force our competitors to respond.’”34 A “first move,” however, epitomizes this short-term tactical approach. A more holistic method begins with the consideration of desired ends. Richardson made his comments in the wake of another freedom of navigation operation, also making the strategy’s novelty unclear. Richardson’s rectitude can be understood in light of the nation’s return to great power conflict; still, the deepest creative thinking cannot occur if the Navy shuts itself off from outside connections that stimulate originality. Indeed, the U.S.’s greatest strategic advantage may be how it fosters the sharing of information; China’s tight control of information, by contrast, could result in a creative drought in some areas, although it might be able to overcome these limitations in other ways that it facilitates creativity.35

Because of the range of political, economic, diplomatic, and military responsibilities inherent to the maritime domain, it is arguable that the Navy should be the most comfortable with thinking strategically, as some have argued.36 Other advantages result from the Navy’s greater experience with cumulative as opposed to sequential strategies. The Army, for example, struggled to adjust to a non-linear battlefield during the Global War on Terror. By contrast, the Navy may possess a seamless ability to perceive and understand a kind of “spatial non-linearity” because its officers are comfortable with the ocean, which lacks an “obvious threat direction.”37 The Navy also has helped to contest “excessive maritime claims and practices,” a perspective useful for rising above military solutions. These experiences should position the Navy to think creatively about future warfare.

Yet this optimistic assessment of naval talent should be considered in light of the reality that naval officers “underperform” in graduate programs, although the Secretary of the Navy’s response to Education for Seapower indicates that important changes are underway.38 The study, however, stops short of identifying a holistic solution to the Navy’s strategic shortfalls.39

By contrast, Wylie’s career honed his ability to step outside of expected patterns of thought. In particular, his time serving on the USS Augusta in the Asiatic Fleet gave him an “appreciation of cultural differences” and useful experiences with diplomacy even if he could not participate in fleet exercises in home waters.40 In short, it broadened his vision. Assigned in World War II to instruct at a school for destroyers arriving in the Pacific theater, Wylie confronted “ingrained patterns of thought” in those crewmembers he had the responsibility for training.41

Wylie’s ability to command and control depended on creative communications solutions that he devised in opposition to the doctrine du jour while challenging accepted norms of naval warfighting culture.42 Rather than fight at the conventional steering position, he positioned himself at the radar scope so that he could better visualize the unfolding battle.43 His accomplishments—some of them working in tandem with his ship captain Commander William Cole—epitomize the challenges of integrating new technology seamlessly into an institution against ingrained ways of thinking.44 As has been recognized, technology is easy. People are hard.

Wylie acted similarly at the Naval War College by fostering new ways of doing things. As described by long-time instructor and supporter of the institution Rear Admiral Henry Eccles, Wylie “demonstrated his imagination and his independence of mind in a continuing challenge of conventional assumptions and routine formulations.”45 Much of his effort centered on encouraging a broader and more active study of naval history. Wylie believed that the U.S. should adopt the British model of producing strategists by widening their horizons, to include exploring connections with politics, the economy, and culture.46

The resulting program required participants to develop their thoughts on a weekly basis, writing a paper each week and then “defending” it in a seminar attended by various experts.47 This kind of habitual writing offered deep learning, providing the key foundational knowledge to engage in significant strategic thought. Indeed, it walked Wylie through a series of baby steps. Shorter articles eventually led to his work on naval strategy being published in 1967.

And, before the joint mandates of the Goldwater-Nichols Act, Wylie sought to understand other services’ perspectives, even beginning his work with such a discussion.48 Likewise, Wylie’s strategic vision anticipated the perspective needed to undergird multi-domain operations (although the Navy has not yet bought in fully).49

Multi-domain operations require naval strategists to balance an understanding of their own service’s capabilities and limitations with a holistic comprehension of other services, enlarging their own perspective outside of their own domain. Or, as one author describes it, “Multi-domain operations start with the recognition that maneuver in one’s domain is dependent upon actions, both friendly and adversarial, that occur within other domains.”50 Yet some naval officers already struggle to look beyond their own tribe within the Navy, much less beyond their own expertise in and familiarity with their own domain.51

Having taken important steps to improve its foundation of learning, the Navy need not create more administration or sponsor expensive studies to begin fostering creativity. It might sound trite, but more creativity occurs in the shower than at work.52 The simple act of walking, for example, physiologically improves creativity.53

Specific recommendations designed to target multiple aspects of naval culture and the DOD include:

  • Begin all Navy education courses with a discussion of creativity and how to channel it daily. Creativity is a way of thinking that more sailors must understand how to harness. Resident PME provides an ideal space for teaching creative approaches until they become habitual. Likewise, the Navy also must recognize those who genuinely crave intellectual engagement and have a “drive for exploration”—the best predictor of creativity—and place them in positions where they can create.54
  • Crowdsource ideas for naval strategy in conjunction with naval strategists screened for their creative potential who possess both depth and breadth.55 While this suggestion appears the most outlandish, it best reflects how creativity functions in the 21st century.56 Add to the mix a handful of graduate school interns to craft a holistic strategy for the Navy. Provide them the opportunity to engage with others on cultural fault lines like San Francisco or Calcutta.
  • The CNO must do something novel and attention-getting to demonstrate how the Navy truly cares about PME.57 The CNO should convey his message in a personal manner across the ranks of the Navy, including what has been called the Navy’s “frozen middle.”58 The Navy may not control budget battles, but it must control its own culture. The CNO should also provide an equivalent of the Rapid Innovation Cell for ideas to transform the Navy’s strategic thinking, which previously fell under his office and allowed for junior officers to bring diverse perspectives and opinions to his attention.59 Again, this is something being done with innovation more so than with ideas.60
  • In negotiating with the Army and the Air Force over the future of multi-domain operations, it is imperative that the Navy not buy in until it can get the other services to agree to a holistic strategy befitting the broadest tradition of naval thinking. As Wylie noted, for too long the U.S. has been dominated by the “comfortable and placid acceptance of a single idea, a single and exclusively dominant military pattern of thought” that could be characterized today as an emphasis on destruction.61

These steps can begin changing institutionalized culture while paying strategic dividends at bargain-basement prices.

The Navy’s need to craft a creative and holistic strategy has not been so urgent in decades. Wylie’s vision of how one loses maritime superiority resonates powerfully in light of recent events in the South China Sea. He explains how:

“the exploitation of sea power is usually a combination of general slow stiflings with a few critical thrusts. These latter are frequently spectacular and draw our attention to the exclusion of the former, while in point of fact the critical thrusts would not be critical were it not for the tedious and constant tightening of the screws that make them possible.”62

Only a strategic vision cognizant of how the military is “inextricably woven into the whole social power fabric” can provide the necessary answers to help the Navy and the military as a whole be the global force for good it can be when focused on ends.63

Heather Venable is an associate professor of military and security studies at the U.S. Air Command and Staff College and teaches in the Department of Airpower. She is the author of How the Few Became the Proud: Crafting the Marine Corps Mystique, 1874-1918. The views expressed are the author’s alone and do not represent the official position of the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


1. See, for example, Isaac Asimov, “The Eureka Phenomenon,”

2. Andrew, Krepinevich, “Get Ready for the Democratization of Destruction,” Foreign Affairs, 15 Aug 2011;

3. Jamshid Gharajedaghi, Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity: A Platform for Designing Business Architecture, 3rd ed., (New York: Morgan Kaufmann, 2011), especially pp. 4-7.

4. For one example of this assessment, with others cited throughout this article, see Christopher P. Cavas, “Does the US Navy have a Strategy beyond Hope,” Defense News, 4 Jan 2018, “ In a related vein, the National Defense Strategy has come under fire for not even being a strategy. Gregory D. Foster, “The National Defense Strategy is No Strategy,” Defense One, 4 April 2019; at

5. For an innovative solution derailed by budgetary constraints, see Jason Knudson, “The Frozen Middle and the CRIC,” U.S. Naval Institute Blog, 19 Feb 2016,

6. Naval History and Heritage Command, “Joseph Caldwell Wylie Jr., 20 March 1911-29 March 1993,”

7. J.C. Wylie, Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014); reprint, 1967, p. 79.

8. Francisco Camara Pereira, Creativity and Artificial Intelligence: A Conceptual Blending Approach (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2007), p. 23.

9. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (New York: Harper, 2013), p. 90.

10. Secretary of the Navy, “Education for Seapower Decisions and Immediate Actions,” 5 Feb 2019, The percentage of flag officers who have attended the residence course at the Naval War College currently is a dismal 20 percent. Education for Seapower, p. 31.

11. Department of Defense, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America, p. 8;;U.S. Navy, A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Version 2.0, December 2018, pp. 5 and 9.

12. VADM T.J. White, RDML Danelle Barrett, and LCDR Robert Bebber, “The Future of Information Combat Power: Winning the Information War,” 14 March 2019,

13. Quoted in Dave Lyle, “Fifth Generation Warfare and Other Myths: Clarifying Muddled Thinking in Our Current Defense Debates,” 4 Dec 2017, Also see Lt Col Dave Lyle, “The Foundations of Innovation—A Model of Innovative Change,” Part 2 of 7; For more on the failure to innovate organizationally, see Lt. Gen. Michael G. Dana, “Future War: Not Back to the Future,” 6 Mar 2019, War on the Rocks;

14. Education for Seapower, p. 110; “Memorandum for Distribution,” 19 April 2018, n.p. in Department of the Navy, Education for Seapower, Dec. 2018,

15. Education for Seapower, pp. 5, 13, 15, 28, 32, 36, 39, 54, and 69.

16. The stool analogy has been borrowed from Art Lykke. See H. Richard Yarger, “Towards a Theory of Strategy: Art Lykke and the Army War College Strategy Model,”

17. Scott Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (New York: Tarcher Perigee, 2016), p. 92.

18. For an assessment of what the authors call the Navy’s “strategic deficit,” see James A. Russell, James J. Wirtz, Donald Abenheim, Thomas-Durrell Young, and Diana Wueger, Navy Strategy Development: Strategy in the 21st Century, June 2015, p. 4;

19. Design 2.0, p. 3; Wired to Create, p. 182.

20. See, for example, Colin Clark, “Army Unveils Multi-Domain Concept; Joined at Hip with Air Force,” 10 Oct 2018, Breaking Defense,

21. See, for example, LTC Antulio J. Echevarria II, “An American Way of War or Way of Battle,” Parameters, 1 January 2004,

22. Nick Prime, “On J.C. Wylie’s ‘Military Strategy’ with Nick Prime,” Strategy Bridge, 24 March 2019;

23. Wylie, Military Strategy, p. 104.

24. Wylie, Military Strategy, p. 126.

25. Wylie, Military Strategy, p. 180.

26. Frederick Kagan, Finding the Target (New York: Encounter Books, 2006), p. 358; Wylie, Military Strategy, p. 181; Peter Haynes, Toward a New Maritime Strategy: American Naval Thinking in the Post-Cold War Era (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015), p. 5.

27. Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Version 2.0, December 2018, p. 1.

28. Wylie, Military Strategy, p. 183 and p. 188.

29. Wired to Create, pp. 93-94.

30. Wired to Create, p. 95.

31. For an example from the popular movie Princess Bride that Dolman discusses as well, see Mark McNeilly, “’The Princess Bride’ and the Man in Black’s Lessons in Competitive Strategy,” 2 October 2012,

32. Everett Carl Dolman, “Seeking Strategy” in Strategy: Context and Adaptation from Archidamus to Airpower. Eds. Richard Bailey and James Forsyth (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2016), pp. 5-37.

33. Dolman, “Seeking Strategy,” p. 18.

34. Paul McLeary, “CNO: New Strategy is to ‘Force Our Competitors to Respond,’” Breaking Defense, 29 April 2019;

35. See, for example, Kai-Fu Lee, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008).

36. Roger W. Barnett, Navy Strategic Culture: Why the Navy Thinks Differently (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2009), p. 1.

37. Barnett, Navy Strategic Culture, p. 26.

38. Education for Seapower, p. 46.

39. Education for Seapower might better be titled Administration for Education for Seapower as its overarching conclusion recommends creating a Navy University. This recommendation has real merit in seeking to provide an overarching strategic vision; after all, the other services benefit from this administrative structure.

40. Wylie, Military Strategy, Kindle Location 89 of 3186 and 117. A short biography can be found here: “Joseph Caldwell Wylie Jr., 20 March 1911-29 March 1993,” Naval History and Heritage Command,

41. Wylie, Military Strategy, Kindle Location 211 of 3186.

42. Wylie, Military Strategy, Kindle Location 147 and 179.

43. Cole and Wylie Essay, available online at

44. Preface, CIC Handbook for Destroyers, Pacific Fleet, June 1943; available on at; “USS Fletcher,” available online at

45. Quoted in John B. Hattendorf, “Introduction,” Wylie, Military Strategy, p. 128.

46. Wylie, Military Strategy, Kindle Location 275; also see Wylie, Military Strategy, p. 83

47. Wylie, Military Strategy, Kindle location, 307.

48. Wylie, Military Strategy, pp. 67-68 and p. 99.

49. Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., “All Services Sign on to Data Sharing—But Not to Multi-Domain,” Breaking Defense, 8 Feb 2019;

50. Brian Willis, “Multi-Domain Operations at the Strategic Level,” 2 March 2018;

51. Education for Seapower, p. 29.

52. Wired to Create, p. 38.

53. Wired to Create, p. 39.

54. Wired to Create, p. 84; Education for Seapower, p. 118.

55. “The Role of the Knowledge Base in Creative Learning” in Creativity and Reason in Cognitive Development¸ eds. James C. Kaufman and John Baer (Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 139; available online

56. Steve Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (Riverhead Books, 2010). This theme runs throughout his work.

57. For how to institutionalize it, see, for example, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs, Air Force announces selection process for officer instructor and recruiting special duty assignments,” 11 April 2019;

58. Jason Knudson, “The Frozen Middle and the CRIC,” 19 Feb 2016,

59. Jason Knudson, “The Frozen Middle and the CRIC,” 19 Feb 2016,; U.S. Navy, CHIPS Magazine, “CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell,” 27 Jan 2015; available online at

60. See, for example, National Innovation Security Network at

61. Quoted in Haynes, New Maritime Strategy, pp. 25 and 170.

62. Wylie, “Appendix B: On Maritime Strategy” in Military Strategy, Kindle Location 2390. The quote does not have an endnote in the Kindle location, and it does not appear elsewhere in the book.

63. Wylie, Military Strategy, p. 188.

Featured Image: NEWPORT, R.I. (June 27, 2017) James Giordano, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. gives a presentation at a symposium hosted by the Center for Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups (CIWAG) at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. (U.S. Navy photo by Daniel L. Kuester/Released)

Skills for Seapower: Why the Navy Needs to Teach Soft and Hard Skills

By Mie Augier, Sean F. X. Barrett, and Nicholas Dew1

“Communication skills and the ability to work well with different types of people are very important too. A lot of people assume that creating software is purely a solitary activity where you sit in an office with the door closed all day and write lots of code. This isn’t true at all. Software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people, and to sit down and talk with customers and get their feedback and understand their needs. I also place a high value on having a passion for ongoing learning.” –Bill Gates2

“The cognitive skills and abilities of naval leaders must be viewed as a strategic national asset.”–Education for Seapower3


While the Department of the Navy’s recently published Education for Seapower (E4S) study is designed specifically to respond to the highly competitive security environment of today, it is no coincidence that it emphasizes the need for officer skills that are consistent with larger trends in education and employment. In this paper, we dig into the emphasis E4S puts on the development of both STEM skills and leadership skills among future naval officers. Based on our word count, leader is among the most frequently mentioned terms in the E4S study, implying a set of skills that is not purely technical. At the same time, the Navy and Marine Corps are calling for officers with strong STEM skills, with the implication being that both STEM and leadership skills are needed for success in the “Cognitive Age.” According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, there is abundant evidence suggesting that this combination of hard and soft skills is in high demand outside the Navy as well as within it.4

Given the centrality of a combination of hard and soft skills to the Navy and Marine Corps warfighting philosophy, it is worth asking how the Department might improve the way it develops these skills and makes them more abundant across the naval force. It is a particularly opportune time to think carefully about this question because the Navy is currently writing its very first Naval Education Strategy to deliver on the promise of E4S. This strategy will likely influence the path of naval education for many years to come. Hence, it is incredibly important that the strategy be based on sound education principles – rather than reflecting the flavor of the moment, or the Department’s needs of the moment, or the Department’s entrenched, parochial interests. This will not be an easy feat, yet E4S has already recognized that getting the Naval Education Strategy right is much more than just a little important: it may be one of the most consequential initiatives the Department will undertake in the foreseeable future. Its education plans therefore ought to be based on very well-researched and carefully thought out principles designed to serve it well over the long run.

We argue that it is vital to keep in mind this combination of hard and soft skills as the Department moves forward with its plans for investing in the education of its leaders of the future.5 The National Academies highlight a baseline skillset that includes communication, teamwork and interpersonal skills, critical thinking, and problem-solving capability in complex, multidisciplinary situations. These skills are highly generalizable, leaders rely on them more heavily than their technical skills, they are more important to an individual’s success, and employers place the greatest value on them when making hiring decisions.6

Unfortunately, there is an unjustified tendency to either implicitly or explicitly assume soft skills are innate, or are only learned via job experience, or are simply some kind of mystery. Nothing is further from the truth. Instead, we should be educating future Navy leaders for a combination of both soft and hard skills that the empirical data suggests are needed together for high performance across a naval career. General David Berger, USMC, in his Commandant’s Planning Guidance (CPG), also captures the importance of this skill mix when he talks about identifying “those with a special aptitude as instructors, educators, commanders, staff officers, mentors, or with special technical skills,” which he reinforces by identifying the need to change how the Marine Corps attracts and retains the talent necessary to win on today’s new battlefield.7

Hard and Soft Evidence of Increasing Demand for Hard and Soft Skills

Both anecdotal and systematic data indicate that job growth and rewards are increasingly flowing to jobs that require high social skills. Anecdotally, the 2018 Financial Times Skills Gap survey reveals that top employers identify “soft skills” as the most important skills in MBA graduates.“Soft skills” include the ability to work on a team, to work with a wide variety of people, and to solve complex problems. However, this result is tempered by the observation that “unless [MBA graduates] have technical skill requirements, they are not even getting through the door.”9 This highlights that both soft skills and hard skills are important in today’s labor market. Similar results have been found for college graduates, for whom problem-solving skills and the ability to work on a team are the two most desired attributes employers are seeking.10

Systematic evidence shows that soft skills explain an important part of workplace performance.11 Recent research by Harvard economist David Deming finds that the workplace has particularly rewarded jobs requiring both high cognitive and high social skills:

“Between 1980 and 2012, jobs requiring high levels of social interaction grew by nearly 12 percentage points as a share of the U.S. labor force. Math-intensive but less social jobs – including many STEM occupations – shrank by 3.3 percentage points over the same period. Employment and wage growth were particularly strong for jobs requiring high levels of both math skill and social skills.”12

Figure 113

Another way of expressing these results is that social skills coupled with STEM skills are a much stronger predictor of employment for today’s young adults than they were a generation ago. It is especially important for senior naval leadership to recognize that workplace changes have altered the balance of skills needed for today’s rising leaders compared to a generation ago.

Why Soft – as Well as Hard – Skills are Important in Organizations

In today’s highly technical work environments, it is easy to understand why great engineering skills or computer programming skills are highly valuable to organizations such as the Navy. These skills clearly have an important role in making the Navy and Marine Corps competitive against our adversaries. But what do soft skills do for an organization? Why is it an advantage to have leaders that also have excellent soft skills?

One answer is that soft skills decrease the cost of coordinating work in organizations. As work gets more highly skilled, it becomes more specialized, thus putting more demands on skills and flexibility in organizing work. This is a reason why the ability to lead teams effectively has become so important in today’s workplace. As the complexity of the work increases, so do the demands on those who organize it. Hard skills may be prized among leaders for understanding complex technology, but the organizational demands of these complex workplaces can only be met by those who have elevated levels of soft skills as well.

A recent Harvard Business Review article emphasizes this point. Casciaro, Edmondson, and Jang asked companies around the world which relationships are most important to creating value for their customers. Their responses indicate, “Today the vast majority of innovation and business-development opportunities lie in the interfaces between functions, offices, or organizations.”14 Operating effectively at these interfaces requires “learning about people on the other side and relating to them.”15 Brokering those relationships requires strong interpersonal skills to bring together the knowledge needed to create valuable new solutions.16 Deming similarly notes the importance of these interpersonal skills.17

The importance of soft skills to our warfighting capabilities should come as no surprise to today’s naval forces, who embrace the maneuver warfare philosophy, which decentralizes control and decision making through the use of mission tactics, or “assigning a subordinate a mission without specifying how the mission must be accomplished . . . thereby allowing him the freedom—and establishing the duty—to take whatever steps he deems necessary based on the situation.”18 Soft skills that nurture familiarity and trust are central to the philosophy of command on which maneuver warfare is based: “We believe that implicit communication—to communicate through mutual understanding, using a minimum of key, well-understood phrases or even anticipating each other’s thoughts—is a faster, more effective way to communicate than through the use of detailed, explicit instructions. We develop this ability through familiarity and trust.”19

What Might the Navy Do?

“We should use money like a focused weapon, and aim it at the exact individual we need. Currently, we target people via a mass fires approach, instead of more selective targeting. While we hope this results in the retention of the most talented, our antiquated models may also retain poor performers.” –General David Berger, USMC20

“Over the next few months, I will share some thoughts on two of our highest priorities: the creation of the new Naval Community College for enlisted Sailors and Marines as well as the writing of the first Naval Education Strategy to guide our reform efforts.” –John Kroger, Chief Learning Officer, Department of the Navy21

Since the demands of an increasingly complex security environment are not likely to relent anytime soon, it is likely that more will be asked of individual sailors and Marines. Given scarce resources, the Department will have to make judgments about where to invest in education to get the best bang for its buck in order to obtain broader and deeper skillsets. In particular, the Department’s manpower system is intrinsically linked to its ability to deliver on its education strategy. The current DoD manpower system, however, is neither equipped to identify, incentivize, or develop specialized skills (hard or soft) nor accurately register the demand for such skills or match servicemembers that possess them with billets that require them. The development of these skills in the naval officer corps thus depends on fundamental changes to the manpower system in order to properly unleash the talent potential of the Navy and Marine Corps. In order to invest in developing soft (and hard) skills among our officer corps, we need to change our manpower management system to embrace the maneuver philosophy not just in how we fight our forces, but also in how we administer them. Doing so requires a fundamental change in how the DoN (and larger DoD) identifies, educates, trains, and unleashes its talent.22

The current DoD manpower system is based on cutting edge management science—from the turn of the 20th century. In 1899, President McKinley appointed Elihu Root as Secretary of War “to bring ‘modern business practices’ to the ‘backward’ War Department.”23 Based on the Taylorism concept of breaking down complex production into simple, sequenced, standardized tasks, this system was created to maximize efficiencies in a stable, predictable environment. People were trained to be interchangeable parts in an organizational structure emphasizing hierarchical, centralized control. This system, firmly rooted in industrial-era thinking and practices, continues today, manifesting itself in cookie-cutter career paths; the devaluation of specialized skills; and information asymmetries between unit commanders, individual officers, and manpower managers that result in mismatches between officers and the billets they hold. Our manpower bureaucracy’s ability to accurately capture specialized skills is currently quite limited. It is challenging to capture individual experience, skills, and knowledge using combinations of designators in the Navy and primary military occupational specialty (MOS), additional MOS, free MOS, and necessary MOS codes in the Marine Corps. A given bureaucratic code may capture a baseline level of training or experience, but it does not enable differentiation therein.

One model for fixing these problems entails pushing manpower decisions down to the commanders and individual officers themselves, affording officers more opportunity to take responsibility for their own career decisions. Deming notes that workers with higher social skills tend to self-select into occupations where they might better employ them – and be monetarily rewarded for them.24 This self-selection process can be leveraged to create a “matching” system similar to ZipRecruiter and LinkedIn (or dating apps) that incentivize individuals to reveal (and “sell”) their skills to commanders who are empowered to select who joins their unit. The DoN may be able to learn from the U.S. Air Force’s development of a web-based “talent marketplace” for the assignment of its officers from the rank of lieutenant colonel and below.25 The Air Force will use its platform to “publish and manage the Vulnerable-to-Move List, submit and prioritize fill actions (requisitions) and submit assignment preferences.” This increases the transparency of the assignment process and enables officers and commanders to better communicate their preferences to each other. The Army also has ambitions to build a similar technological capability.26 The Navy’s own pilot project, however, continues to languish in bureaucracy, while the Marine Corps does not even have one yet.27

These pilots, however, still operate within the confines of the current manpower model and other established procedures. More radical proposals might include scrapping standardized tables of organization and equipment, mission essential task lists that reward achieving a bare minimum in lieu of contested force-on-force exercises designed to differentiate among commanders, and pay charts based on grade and time in service instead of actual talent and performance. Doing so would provide commanders more flexibility in how they organize their respective units and more opportunity to make tradeoff decisions that would signal to the Department the skills more readily valued and in which the Department should invest.28 Individuals would be similarly incentivized to invest in developing more valued skills, and they would have more opportunities to visibly distinguish themselves.

Significant changes are needed to develop a fundamentally better manpower system.29 Changes are also needed to the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) and Goldwater-Nichols in order to allow for more variance from the cookie-cutter career paths currently established in our naval services. Additionally, there is opportunity for a bigger dose of informal training. Leaders at the unit level can develop the soft skills of their teams by encouraging them to take on new challenges (while also eschewing the “zero defect” mentality), teaching them how to ask good questions, encouraging them to learn from the perspectives of others, and bringing together cross-functional teams that expose members to more diverse viewpoints and professional networks.30

The Naval Education Strategy needs to recognize that current manpower systems can limit the potential for progress and hold the Department’s educational investments hostage. It is very important for the strategy to be clear-eyed about this issue. Systems and processes rooted in the industrial age risk trapping the Department in industrial-era thinking while the rest of the world has moved well beyond that. Because these systems and processes will influence the implementation of E4S, the Naval Education Strategy must incorporate plans that address these critical complementary elements.


Given the siren song of rapid developments in technology, there is a natural assumption that the Navy should emphasize STEM skills rather than soft skills. However, abundant evidence shows that it is the combination of soft and hard skills that is vital to giving us warfighting capabilities that create and maintain an edge over our adversaries. The job now at hand is to sharpen the Navy’s manpower bureaucracy into a tool that can deliver the right combinations of soft and hard skills that are needed across the service.31 In the spirit of the innovative and critical thinking the Naval Education Strategy hopes to foster, the strategy must not simply take certain constraints as a given, but rather challenge these constraints and all of the assumptions, systems, and processes on which the Department operates. Failure to do so will result in continuing to operate within the same industrial-era box and making only very marginal improvements, rather than fundamentally changing the manner in which the Department operates to prepare it for the challenges of today and of the future.

Dr. Mie Augier is a professor at the Graduate School of Defense Management at the Naval Postgraduate School. She is interested in strategy, organizations, innovation, leadership, and how to educate strategic and innovative thinkers.

Major Sean F. X. Barrett is an active duty Marine Corps intelligence officer. He is currently the operations officer for the Headquarters Marine Corps Directorate of Analytics & Performance Optimization.

Dr. Nick Dew is a professor at the Graduate School of Defense Management at the Naval Postgraduate School. His research is focused on entrepreneurial thinking and innovation in defense organizations.


[1] We are grateful to William Gates and Chris Nelson for comments on earlier drafts. Any remaining errors were produced without help.

[2] Bill Gates, “Bill Gates: The Skills You Need to Succeed,” BBC News, December 14, 2007,

[3] Department of the Navy, Education for Seapower (Washington, DC: 2019), 12.

[4] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, The Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Higher Education: Branches from the Same Tree (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2018).

[5] We focus on skills in the context of education and not concerning the related and equally important aspect of the need for interdisciplinary research in our institutions.

[6] National Academies, Integration. Epstein documents how even in highly technical fields, curious outsiders can merge seemingly disparate but widely available information to make cutting edge contributions. Narrow technical specialists can be blinded by their own expertise. David Epstein, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (New York: Riverhead Books, 2019), 171-213.

[7] Commandant’s Planning Guidance: 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps, (Washington, DC: Headquarters Marine Corps, 2019), 7-8,

[8] Patricia Nilsson, “What Top Employers Want from MBA Graduates: The FT’s 2018 Skills Gap Survey Reveals What Lies Ahead in the Jobs Market,” Financial Times, September 3, 2018,

[9] Nilsson, “What Top Employers Want.” Nilsson quotes Susan Sandler Brennan, assistant dean at the career development office of MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

[10] Kevin Gray and Andrea Koncz, “The Key Attributes Employers Seek on Students’ Resumes,” National Association of Colleges and Employers, November 30, 2017, Gray and Koncz summarize the results of NACE’s Job Outlook 2018 survey.

[11] James J. Heckman and Tim Kautz, “Hard Evidence on Soft Skills,” Labour Economics 19, no. 4 (Aug. 2012): 451-464.

[12] David J. Deming, “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 132, no. 4 (2017): 1593-1640. Quote from the Abstract.

[13] Deming, 1627 (see Figure IV).

[14] Tiziana Casciaro, Amy C. Edmondson, and Sujin Jang, “Cross-Silo Leadership: How to Create More Value by Connecting Experts from Inside and Outside the Organization,” Harvard Business Review (May-June 2019): 132.

[15] Casciaro, Edmondson, and Jang, 132. Emphasis in original.

[16] “Cultural brokers” can serve as both bridges and adhesives. Bridges serve as a go-between for one-off projects, facilitating collaboration with minimal disruption to normal operations, whereas adhesives help build mutual understanding and more long-lasting relationships. Casciaro, Edmondson, and Jang, 133.

[17] Deming, “Growing Importance,” 1595.

[18] U.S. Marine Corps, FMFM1 Warfighting (Washington, DC: Department of the Navy, 1989), 70.

[19] Warfighting, 62-63.

[20] CPG, 2

[21] John Kroger, “Chief Learning Officer: Reporting Aboard,” Marine Corps Gazette (Oct. 2019), WE1-WE2,

[22] We specifically refrain from using the now almost trite term “talent management” since this term is oftentimes confused with a need for more bureaucratic mechanisms to centrally plan and manage officers’ careers rather than the removal of obstacles preventing a more optimal matching of officer skillsets to billets requiring them.

[23] Don Vandergriff, Personnel Reform and Military Effectiveness (Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2015), 7.

[24] Deming, “Growing Importance,” 1598.

[25] Kat Bailey, “Talent Marketplace Assignment System Expands to All Officer Specialty Codes,” Air Force’s Personnel Center, January 31, 2019,

[26] Scott Maucione, “Army Begins Study to Change Its Talent Management System to Fit the Future,” Federal News Network, February 19, 2019,

[27] Nicholas Stoner and Alex Campbell, “Promising Talent Management Initiatives,” U.S. Naval Institute Blog, August 20, 2019, In his CPG, Gen Berger introduces the possibility of developing one. See CPG, 7-8.

[28] See, for example, Tim Kane, Bleeding Talent: How the US Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It’s Time for a Revolution (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

[29] Some significant work has already been done in this regard. See, for example, Peter J. Coughlan and William R. Gates, “Auction Mechanisms for Force Management,” in Attitudes Aren’t Free: Thinking Deeply About Diversity in the US Armed Forces, ed. James E. Parco and David A. Levy (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press), 505-540,

[30] Casciaro, Edmondson, and Jang, “Cross-Silo Leadership,” 134-139.

[31] A parallel argument supporting the cultivation of such skills in our students relates to the importance interdisciplinary research and institutions that facilitate it (e.g., RAND in the 1950s). We hope to elaborate on this, and how one could capture synergies between interdisciplinary research and education, in another paper.

Featured Image: NAVAL STATION EVERETT, Wash. (Sept. 13, 2012) Aviation Administrationman 3rd Class Travis Clay, assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), takes the Navy-wide advancement exam at the Commons at Naval Station Everett, Wash. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Robert Winn/Released)