Category Archives: Seamanship and Leadership

Abolish the Officer-Enlisted Divide? Negative

The following is an enlisted response to It’s Time to Abolish the Enlisted-Officer Divide at Task and Purpose.

Task and Purpose published an article by former active duty Marine William Treseder titled, It’s Time to Abolish the Enlisted-Officer Divide”. As an active duty enlisted member that would like to see some changes to the current regulations, I was disappointed by both the arguments and the lack of a solution presented.

Early in the article, we see this: “Despite significant changes in almost every aspect of the defense department, however, a lot of outdated practices remain. The worst offender is the distinction between enlisted and commissioned personnel.”

The worst offender is the distinction between enlisted and commissioned personnel? Why? What makes it the worst offender? I can think of any number of gripes and complaints I’ve heard from my shipmates (both officers and enlisted), and the enlisted officer divide is at the bottom of that list, if on the list at all.

The fundamental divide between an officer and an enlisted member deals with Responsibility, Authority, and Accountability. Simply, an officer is given more, and more is expected from him/her.

Many junior enlisted (myself included when I was but an ET3) look at an Ensign and don’t have an understanding of what accountability is. When junior enlisted make mistakes, the consequences are generally small. Treseder mentions his job as a corporal in charge of a fire team of six Marines. Yes, that is an enormous responsibility, but fundamentally different from the level of responsibility an Ensign standing Officer of the Deck underway has. While both have control over life and death, the impact is different. National security is impacted when a ship runs aground, if a fire team loses two Marines it is a tragedy for their families and teammates, but the mission will still continue, and national security is very likely to be maintained.

Furthermore, an Ensign’s mistake is likely to be the end of their career, while a junior enlisted’s mistake will generally result in reduction in rank and restriction…but a career-even a very successful one-is still possible.

Interestingly, Treseder points out a great explanation of what the difference between officers and enlisted is that came from Quora. I recommend following that link, because former active duty Marine Jon Davis explains the differences very well. This is waived aside by Treseder, however, by saying the difference between the two groups is “imaginary…convenient system we keep using because it is easier than trying to reorganize”.

As an Electronics Technician with 11+ years in the Navy, let me be the first to say that while I have no problem regularly scoring in the top 10% of my shipmates on the advancement exam, and a qualified Junior Officer of the Deck underway, I have very little knowledge on how to be a Department Head on a US Navy warship. Could I learn? Absolutely. But I would first have to learn how to be a Division Officer, spend at least one deployment as Officer of the Deck, learn how to think and act like an officer instead of an enlisted person, etc. Troubleshooting radios and ensuring communications work is vastly different from running a department.

To say there is a difference between the two groups is not to say that one is superior to the other. Only you can make yourself feel inferior to another human being. Anyone with military experience knows the difference between a leader who can make things happen, and one who can’t. I’ve met boot Ensigns that were better leaders than some Chiefs, although the opposite is generally the case. No leader relies on rank to make things happen: leaders get it done; rank follows. Both officers and enlisted use the same basic tenets of leadership, but each lead in different capacities. It is a disservice to each to pretend there is not separation of responsibility, accountability, and authority.

This reminds me on another thing I hear on occasion from junior sailors: “we should salute Chiefs”. The mistake made there is that a person requires a salute to be respected, or that a salute somehow solidifies their leadership role. But as a service member moves up the ranks, it becomes more obvious that Chiefs don’t need a salute to be effective. Their ability to get things done, which was rewarded with anchors (not created by them), commands respect.

Here’s the money quote, which directly contradicts the first paragraph of the article: “The military currently organizes, trains, and equips its personnel based on the assumption that everyone — save a select few — is a conscripted idiot who needs constant supervision.”

In case you forgot the first paragraph: “Our services are better manned, trained, and equipped than ever before.”

Which is it? Are we better trained now, or not? Why did the author put that line in the first paragraph, if he doesn’t believe it to be true?

jopa-patchI’m going to go out on a limb and say if you’re treated like a conscripted idiot, you’re probably creating that reality for yourself. And that is a reality that is neither confined to the enlisted nor the officer ranks. And if you don’t think that new officers are frustrated by their superiors, I’d suggest you find out what JOPA stands for.

Let’s stop fiddling with our military for five minutes and appreciate some of things it actually does correctly.

ET1(SW) Jeff Anderson is the San Diego CIMSEC chapter president and currently is assigned to LCS 2 (USS Independence).

The Thinking Professional v. The Practical Officer

On Thursday evening CIMSEC held the first annual Forum for Authors and Readers (#CFAR15). The opening keynote talk was delivered by BJ Armstrong, a member of the Center as well as a PhD Candidate in War Studies with King’s College, London and a member of the Editorial Board of the U.S. Naval Institute. The talk is based on his new book “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era” and kicked off an evening of great thinking and discussion on maritime affairs.  We will have videos of the presentations on the website shortly. The following are his prepared remarks…

The Thinking Professional v. The Practical Officer:
Sims on Sailors, Scholars & Scribes

simsIn November of 1900 Lieutenant William Sims joined the wardroom of USS Kentucky, the U.S. Navy’s newest battleship. He had just come from a tour in the Paris embassy, studying and collecting intelligence on European battleship design and gunnery practices. As Kentucky sailed for China Station Sims got his sea legs back and began getting to know his new ship. He started comparing what he had observed in Europe with what he found back at sea with his shipmates, and he began to think that despite new ships and a new found place on the world stage following the victory in the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Navy still had a lot of room for improvement.

Many of you know the history that follows, how Sims found and frankly stole the concept of continuous-aim fire from Captain Percy Scott of the Royal Navy, and then went on to revolutionize naval gunnery. His course was treacherous, and unclear, but eventually throughout the fleet William Sims became known as “the man who taught us how to shoot.”

Sims continued pushing boundaries in the years leading up to World War I: advocating for the all-big-gun battleship, developing torpedo boat and destroyer tactics, and eventually commanding all American naval forces in Europe when the U.S. entered the war. During the war he was central to the adoption of the convoy system that beat the U-boats in the First Battle of the Atlantic. When he returned home he had a second term as President of the Naval War College. There he helped establish the system of study and war-gaming used in the inter-war years to develop naval aviation and American submarines.

William Sims was, beyond a doubt, an innovator. Naval innovation is often seen through the lens of technology, defined by the weapons and hardware which we label as “game-changers” or “transformations.” However, some of the most important developments in history have come from the “software”: or innovations in tactics, techniques, and procedures. Like the development of continuous-aim fire. Ideas, it must be remembered, can be even more powerful than the steel and explosives that dominate our naval heritage.

It was on the prompting of President Teddy Roosevelt that Sims wrote his first article for publication. The success of that piece led him to realize the power of sharing ideas and innovations through professional writing. Throughout the remainder of his life he wrote about dozen articles for the Naval Institute’s journal Proceedings, and more for other magazines. After returning from World War I, he collaborated with Burton Hendrick to write a book. The Victory at Sea was part history and part memoir of the war, and was published to great acclaim. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921.

As the President of the Naval War College at the beginning of the inter-war years, Sims’ thinking on naval warfare and military professionalism had an impact on an entire generation of officers. These were men returning from war and trying to put their experience in perspective and learn lessons for the future. They had names like Nimitz, Spruance, and Halsey.

Today, the ranks of the United States military are again filled with a generation of men and women who are looking back on wartime experience. Many of our junior officers and enlisted have had a level of responsibility during their service which now causes them to bristle at perceived micromanagement and bureaucracy. The military will likely struggle over the next several years to learn how to return to non-combat roles.

What can we do to improve that struggle? What can we do today to ensure that lessons we have learned over the past decade and a half of conflict are not forgotten, and are not ignored?

Over the course of his career, Sims learned a great deal about fighting the military bureaucracy, about successful innovation, and about service before and after war. He wrote about all of these subjects in the latter part of his career, and this knowledge and advice has sat quietly in the archives for today’s innovators and service members, if they want to learn from it.

Here, with CIMSEC’s members and readers, the most relevant parts of this advice may be the importance of professional writing and personal, professional learning. Sims wrote about his experience with both. They were also central to what he saw as lacking in many officers in the Navy of his day.

Taking on The Mahan…

Alfred-Thayer-MahanIn 1906 William Sims was a Lieutenant Commander and still serving in his role as Inspector of Target Practice. The Russo-Japanese War had just come to an end, and navalists all over the world were combing through news reports and the stories of the Battle of Tsushima to analyze lessons for modern naval warfare. One of these navalists was the historian and strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan.

In his day, Mahan was the great thinker on the subject of war and peace, something like how men like Brzezinski or Scrowcroft are seen today combined with a Stavridis or McMaster. He wrote an article for Proceedings that analyzed the events in the Sea of Japan. It drew the lesson that a properly designed fleet required battleships of moderate size, with a varied battery of different sized guns, that could be built in large numbers and were multi-mission. It was a conclusion well in line with the thinking of most of the Admirals in the Navy, and it encouraged the status quo.

Sims’ own experience, gathering intelligence on battleships and in developing continuous-aim fire, suggested something entirely different. He also had a friend with a report on the actual events in the Tsushima Strait to base his analysis on. Sims wrote an article that directly contradicted the great navalist. He demonstrated that the lesson of the Russo-Japanese War was that large battleships, with a battery full of all big guns of the same caliber, were the best way to construct a fleet, even if the expense meant you could only build a smaller number of them. As he wrote in the conclusion of his article:

“I have attempted to show that Captain Mahan’s conclusions are probably in error.”

As the development of the British Dreadnaught would demonstrate, Sims was far closer to how the navies of the world would develop than Mahan was.

Sims’ essay offers readers in the twenty-first century something more than an interesting story of two great naval minds and an abandoned ship class. First, it demonstrates how important a healthy professional debate is for our national security. Without discussion generated by forward-thinking officers and junior civilian analysts in military and security journals, both in print and today online, the military bureaucracy will stagnate and become reactionary. Without the engagement of innovative junior members of the team any organization, whether military or civilian, risks becoming followers instead of leaders in their field.

Sims’ article also demonstrates the importance of expertise. Readers will understand his deep knowledge and obvious study of battleship employment and design. Today’s military innovators and thinkers must learn from this example. They must be willing to jump into the arena of ideas, but they also must be willing to do the hard work of researching and studying their subject in order to get it right.

Today, whether the debate is about the future of the big-deck nuclear aircraft carriers as we recently saw in Annapolis, or about questions of the military effectiveness of swarming small combatants versus today’s modern dreadnaughts, the arguments must be logical, informed by a mastery of the facts, and well presented.

Sims knew that in order to engage the world’s leading navalist in a debate, in order to challenge the great Alfred Thayer Mahan, he had to have his details right and his logic had to be sound. This kind of rigorous and researched engagement on the defense questions of the day offers us an example for the twenty-first century, one that we must aspire to no matter where we are writing, whether in the pages of print journals like Proceedings or online at leading blogs like CIMSEC’s Next War or our other friends at The Strategy Bridge.

“The opportunity that can never return”

But how do we get that level of expertise? Some of it will come from our personal experience on the deckplates or in cockpits deployed across the seven seas. Or service in the desert, or working on staffs in the halls of power, or the buildings of DC. Some of it will come from studying for our tactics quizzes or our NATOPS exams in the ready rooms, or working on getting the right font on the briefing slides at a think tank. But those sources are only going to provide us with a small scale of knowledge, a vital foundation that we must master but something in desperate need of context and broadening. According to Sims we must add to that knowledge through a dedicated pursuit of personal professional study.

In 1921 Sims published his Newport lecture “The Practical Naval Officer” in Proceedings. The lecture is something like a Jazz cover, since he took the title and some of the inspiration from a lecture that Mahan had given in Newport nearly thirty years before. Sims, who had locked horns with the great navalist on Tsushima, now came to embrace his view of strategic education and how to prepare officers for the highest responsibilities of command and policy. There is much to talk about in his lecture, but I will focus on this last of his three pillars of strategic education.

Sims lamented the fact that when he was a junior officer, he spent his time reading subjects that had no real bearing on the military profession. He read some philosophy and political economy, but he appears to have avoided reading military history or learning about governments and international relations or current events. As he became more senior, he slowly realized that he was missing a lot of knowledge. In fact his own perception of his time as a student at the Naval War College wasn’t that it taught him the things he needed to know, instead it highlighted all of the things he didn’t know and still needed to learn.

He wrote:

Specifically addressing the younger officers of the navy, let me say that you now have the opportunity that can never return. It lies with you to determine whether, when you become old, you will have to regret the wasted years of your youth; whether at that period of life you will find yourselves simply “practical men”—“beefeaters’’—or really educated military naval officers.

It will depend largely upon self-instruction and self-discipline. But you must keep clearly in view the fact that, under modern naval conditions, an officer may be highly successful, and even brilliant, in all grades up to the responsible positions of high command, and then find his mind almost wholly unprepared to perform its vitally important functions in time of war.

Where to start? Well, Sims leaves us with a short reading list in his lecture, which you can find in my book “21st Century Sims.” It is impressive how well this list still stands up today. But as he points out, that is just a start. Even after completing their studies at the War College he emphasized to the graduating officers that they should consider themselves to be at the beginning of their education. They must continue on their own if they hope to achieve the level of professionalism that the American people deserve from their armed forces.

There is a common bit of advice that many of us have heard from senior officers looking to mentor us: Take care of your job today, do it well, and you will be prepared for your next job. Focus on today’s tasks and everything else will take care of itself. Sims comes out in direct opposition to this advice. Sure, from a purely careerist point of view it is the best way to ensure you have the right grades and catch phrases on your fitness report for promotion. But from a professional point of view the unspoken part of this advice is that you don’t need to look to the future, to think about the questions “above your pay grade.” Instead, once you’ve completed your daily tasks and your administrative minutia, you can just return to managing your fantasy football team or play some more video games. Even in his day Sims was incensed that senior officers continued to give this advice. He believed that professionalism was more than the shine on your shoes, or the grade on your rules of the road quiz, it meant reading and studying your profession, even in your personal time.

Summation

In his recent book “Saltwater Leadership,” which you will hear some more about later this evening, Admiral Robert Wray conducted a survey of active duty naval officers. They were asked to rank seventy six leadership traits. The last two traits on the list, the least important things to teach young naval officers about leadership, were sensitivity and scholarship. Now, a bit higher on that list was writing ability, at number 33. This begs the question, if we haven’t studied our profession or looked at it in a comprehensive and scholarly way, what exactly do we have to write about? Admiral Sims would probably take exception to this list of what today’s officers believe. He would emphasize that professional writing must be about something, it must demonstrate mastery not only of the technical aspects of a problem but also understanding of the context and history of the issues involved. It must be the result of research, personal study, and yes, scholarship.

In conclusion today, I leave you with the knowledge that the pursuit of professional writing and personal professional study has a long history in the maritime service. It is true, there appear to be very few members of the Flag Ranks who published in the pages of Proceedings before they became important enough to have a staff to help them write. But across time the sailors that really made a difference like Samuel Du Pont, William Sims, Ernest King, Chester Nimitz, Bull Halsey, Bud Zumwalt, Tom Hayward, Jim Stavridis, and a few in uniform today, studied their profession and wrote articles to forward its development. They engaged in the professional debate and discussion well before they assumed the highest responsibilities of command, and our navy and our nation are better for it.

William Sims’ writings offers us an opportunity to be mentored by an accomplished leader who lived more than a century ago. His essays and lectures, with their examples of innovation, education, and leadership, can help us look at the challenges militaries and organizations face in the twenty-first century, ask the right questions, and find solutions. These certainly apply to those in uniform, but at their heart they apply to all leaders, whether from the military, industry, or government. Everyone who is interested in thinking about defense issues.

Like Alfred Thayer Mahan before him, the foundation of much of Sims’ writing and thinking is the idea that asking questions, and doing the work of research and reflection necessary to find the right questions, is at the heart of being a professional. I hope that with new organizations like CIMSEC, and older ones like the Naval Institute, with engaged junior officers and members of the defense community, we can carry on that vital part of our naval heritage.

Thank You.

MoneyJet: DEF Innovation Competition 3rd Prize

On Sunday, 26 October, the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum hosted an innovation competition sponsored by the United States Naval Institute. $5,000 in prizes were awarded after the eight contestants made their pitches. This is the third prize winner posted originally at the DEF Whiteboard.

THIRD PRIZE WINNER

Contestant: Dave Blair, US Air Force Officer

MoneyJet: Harnessing Big Data to Build Better Pilots

BLUF: ‘Moneyball’ for flying. Track flight recorder and simulator ‘Big Data’ throughout an aviator’s flying career. Structure and store these data so that aviators can continually improve their performance and maximize training efficiency for their students.

Problem:

High-fidelity data exists for flights and simulators in an aviator’s career. However, these data are not structured as ‘big data’ for training and proficiency – we track these statistics by airframe, and not aircrew, unless there is an incident. Therefore, we rely on flawed heuristics and self-fulfilling prophecies about ‘fit’ when we could be using rich data. Solution. Simple changes in data retrieval and storage make a ‘big data’ solution feasible. By making these datasets available to aircrew, individuals can observe their own trends and how they compare to their own and other flying populations. Instructors can tailor flights to student-specific needs. Commanders can identify ‘diamonds in the rough’ (good flyers with one or two key problems) who might otherwise be dismissed, and ‘hidden treasure’ (quiet flyers with excellent skills) who might otherwise be overlooked. Like in ‘Moneyball,’ the ability to build a winning team at minimum cost using stats is needed in this time of fiscal austerity.

Benefits:

Rich Data environment for objective assessments.

o Self-Improvement, Squadron Competitions, Counterbalance Halo/Horns effect

o Whole-force shaping, Global trend assessments, Optimize training syllabi

o Maximize by giving aircrew autonomy in configuring metrics.

Costs: Contingent on aircrew seeing program as a benefit or a burden.

o Logistics: Low implementation cost, data already exist, just need to re-structure.

o Culture: Potential high resistance if seen as ‘big brother’ rather than a tool.

o Minimize by treating as non-punitive ‘safety data’ not ‘checkride data’

Opportunities:

Partial foundation for training/ops/tactics rich data ecosystem.

o Build culture of ‘Tactical Sabermetrics’ – stats-smart organizational learning

o Amplify thru Weapons School use of force stats, large-n sim experiments

Risks

Over-reliance on statistics to the expense of traditional aircrew judgment

o If used for promotion, rankings, could lead to gaming & stats obsession

o Mitigate by ensuring good stats only replace bad stats, not judgment Implementation. First, we build a secure repository for all flight-performance-relevant data.

All data is structured by aviators, not airframes. This data is stored at the FOUO level for accessibility (w/secure annex for wartime data.) Second, we incorporate data retrieval and downloading into post-flight/sim maintenance checklists. Finally, we present data in an intuitive form, with metrics optimized to mission set. For individuals, we provide stats and percentiles for events such as touchdown point/speed, fuel burn, and WEZ positioning. For groups, we provide trend data and cross-unit comparison with anonymized names.

Semper Fidelis: Brief Thoughts on America’s Enduring Need for Marines

The fundamental justification for the Marine Corps is not tied to any Operations Plan—it is much more basic than that. While the combat effectiveness of the Marines is without parallel in modern expeditionary warfare, the Corps’ lethality is not in my opinion its greatest contribution. As the Marines mark the 239th anniversary of their founding and carry out the guidance of legendary Commandant General John A. LeJeune to “commemorate the birthday of the Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history,” it is beholden on the American citizenry writ large to reflect on why we need the Marine Corps. Simply stated, we will always need the Marine Corps because it produces Marines.

The metamorphosis from Marine Recruit or Officer Candidate to Marine is the single greatest transformational experience a person can ever undertake in the US Military. The inculcation of basic Marine Corps training yields a bounty of new Marines at the conclusion of every Officers Candidate School and Recruit District class who represent the timeless American ideal—the most physically fit, polished, tough young men and women in uniform, guided by core values—“Courage, Honor, Commitment”—and possessing an uncommon tenacity to “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.” Marines carry this American Ideal to the four corners of the Earth while engaged in combat operations, humanitarian assistance / disaster relief operations, theater security cooperation missions and as Marine Security Guards at our embassies.

You’ve probably heard it said before that “once a Marine, Always a Marine.” Former Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos codified this in 2011:

“A Marine is a Marine. I set that policy two weeks ago – there’s no such thing as a former Marine. You’re a Marine, just in a different uniform and you’re in a different phase of your life. But you’ll always be a Marine because you went to Parris Island, San Diego or the hills of Quantico. There’s no such thing as a former Marine.”

And thank God. The ethos that Marines carry with them—Semper Fidelis–has not only served them on active duty and in their follow-on civilian lives, but has also served as a pillar to many of our great civilian institutions that they have brought this ethos to such as the New York City Fire Department and the National Aeronautical Space Administration. Marines are Always Faithful—to the nation, to the Corps, to each other.

Today the Marine Corps is shrinking as part of a post Operation Iraqi Freedom / Operation Enduring Freedom peace dividend. The Corps is shifting from its previous land based war footing to a more expeditionary / responsive, sea based force. While the doctrine is being adjudicated, the ultimate asset in the continued existence of the Corps is not a mission set, but the production of such fine men and women who are capable of accomplishing any task handed to them. So long as Quantico, San Diego and Parris Island produce Marines, America shall always require a Marine Corps.

Happy Birthday, Marines. Thanks for being Always Faithful.

Nicolas di Leonardo is a member of the Expeditionary Warfare Division on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations and a student at the US Naval War College. The views represented here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Expeditionary Warfare Division or the Naval War Colleg

Specialize or Not? Former RAN CO’s Reflections on Surface Warfare Officer Development

Rear Admiral (ret) James Vincent Purcell Goldrick AO, CSC, RANR, served three times as a the Commanding Officer of a ship at sea. He is a fellow at the Seapower Centre and a Naval Historian.
(editor’s note) He is also served with the Patrol Boat navy, which means he is one of the best.

The recent discussion about the different approaches to surface warfare officer training in the British and American navies has been of great interest to me, if only because the Royal Australian Navy, my own service, has largely combined British training methods and career paths with the use of American designed ships and equipment.

I have had first-hand experience with both British and American methods, as well as the Australian approach, having served at sea on two exchange postings with the Royal Navy, been both XO and CO of RAN ships, small and big (by Australian standards) and sea ridden USN units, including in command time in tactical control of MIO operations in the northern Arabian Gulf. If I could sum up my view with a one liner it is that the British system is better for individual ships, the American for a navy as a whole.

Here I need to make an important distinction – the USN’s operational requirements are not those of the British, still less are they the same as those of Canada or Australia, so its personnel solutions should not necessarily be identical. Another, associated aspect of the comparison is that the USN system works better in major units because these can have enough experts onboard – with their associated rank and seniority – to provide the necessary leadership to all the specialisations involved. This is very difficult to achieve in smaller ships. Actually, it’s practically impossible.

The unit of power in the surface forces of the smaller navies, particularly in recent years, has been the frigate or destroyer. Within the USN, although times are changing – as recent deployment patterns not only in the Caribbean but even the South China Sea suggest – it has remained that of the carrier battle or expeditionary strike group. This requires a very different approach. A USN destroyer or frigate has been judged largely by how it fits into the whole, while a Canadian or Australian and even a British ship has in the past to manage both task group operations and independent activity to a much greater degree. In other words, the smaller navies have had to wring much more out of their limited capabilities and doing so successfully requires a higher level of expertise at more junior ranks than has generally been the case for the USN.

The reality is that deep expertise is found in the O5s and O6s of the American Navy that the other naval services can only envy. But, contrary to some of the declarations in earlier contributions to this discussion, I’d take a British or Australian O3 or O4 in their specialisation over the average (but not the best) USN surface warfare officer with the equivalent qualified sea service any day. This may seem a hard judgement, but it is not one based on intellect, morals or individual quality, it is simply a matter of experience – a USN officer has to cover so many more bases that there is an inevitable element – somewhere in it all – of ‘once over lightly’. My belief is that the USN maintains the standards it does by sheer hard work and a great deal of sea time.

But there is more to it than that. It seems to me that the argument has been confused by the inclusion of platform and propulsion engineering into the wider question of the requirement of warfare officers for technological understanding and technical mastery in addition to what could be described as operator skills. Because of the ‘once over lightly’ problem, my judgement is that, in general terms, propulsion engineers provide a more effective service and ship commanders are more expert in their essential skills if there is no attempt for platform engineers to proceed down the path of combatant command. I believe very firmly, in so far as frigates and destroyers which may have to operate as autonomous units are concerned, that it is practically impossible to accumulate the expertise necessary to cover all the bases associated if the officer complement are to have an ‘unrestricted line’ background. All that time in the machinery spaces has to come at the expense of the combat system and tactical knowledge as well as the associated ship driving skills which are vital to the effective direction of a warship’s operations. One sees certain resonances of this argument in the American submarine community and it is notable, although they have had their challenges in their nuclear force, that the British have never chosen to risk their tactical expertise in meeting their nuclear power demands. Royal Navy submarine captains get some nuclear power training, but they do not serve as engineers. I think that the British are right. My own experience is that I was very hard pressed to ensure that I was sufficiently expert as a surface warfare officer with the minimum mastery of combat systems and tactics necessary to fight the ship. I was also always acutely aware that my captains – and the ships’ companies with whom I served – demanded nothing less.

I do not have an engineering degree and I have also always had to work hard to ensure that I have had what I think is sufficient mastery of all aspects of ship design and propulsion to be an effective sea officer and, later, sea commander. Yet this was always in support of my primary functions, not such a function itself and this is the real point. Could I have known more about engineering? Yes, but at what cost to my warfare expertise? Did I end up knowing enough? I once had an exchange with my – extremely efficient and truly expert- platform (or what we call ‘marine’) engineer officer ashore over a beer one night. ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘I know that both your undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are in history. How is it that you always know the question to ask me that I don’t want you to ask me?’ ‘Simon,’ I replied, ‘I’m the captain, it’s my job.’ I still treasure that as one of the greatest professional compliments I have ever been paid – but I think it is one that, at least in part, I had earned. I will say here that the training system through which I passed allocated more time to engineering theory and practical engineering training for surface warfare officers than does the ‘objective focused’ system of the present day. There is a minimum required and I am not convinced that it is being met in either the RAN or the Royal Navy.

The point, however, is that my job as a captain was not to be the engineering officer, nor attempt to do his or her job. Mine was to be as expert as possible in driving and fighting my ship to achieve its military purposes. I am deliberate in suggesting that the platform engineering specialisation is not the ideal preparation for combatant command – although I have no objection to such officers commanding auxiliaries and non-combatant units, provided that they have had sufficient time on the bridge. Let me emphasise that I am not suggesting that officers with a platform engineering background are necessarily ineffective as combatant captains. What I am saying is that the individuals concerned would be much better off – and much better war fighters if they were differently prepared. There just isn’t enough time to do otherwise.

Let me return to explain one point – my view that the USN system can be better for a navy. If one is to accept that platform engineers as a group must be ‘Engineering Duty Only’, this must not result in their exclusion from the highest levels of decision making and influence. The USN has achieved as much as it has in the last seventy and more years because it got its platform engineering right so many times. And where it did not, it soon knew what to do to fix the problem. This must continue.

However, I do believe that the USN has evolved a generally more effective approach to combat systems management than the RN or the RAN both at sea and ashore. This is another area in which there could be more theory and practical training for warfare officers within our organisations. While I assess that there is a vital space for the specialists that the British describe as ‘Weapon Engineers’, I do not think that the British (and Australian) system has allowed surface warfare officers to develop sufficient understanding of their technology and the operation of their weapon and sensor systems since the old warfare sub-specialisations such as gunnery and ASW were replaced by the Principal Warfare Officer concept in the 1970s. The PWO possessed a much improved ability to make a correct, no-notice response to an immediate threat, no matter whether it was from over, on or under the sea, but it was partly at the expense of the much deeper system knowledge of his predecessors and to the detriment of a much more equal relationship with the Weapon Engineers who were and are responsible for the preparation, maintenance and readiness of the weapons, sensors, computers and communications concerned. Our navies have a lot to do in this area.

I don’t have any simple solutions for all this, but I will finish with one point. Whatever career system is adopted, it will only work if a truly professional attitude is adopted by all concerned. This includes, above all, a welcoming and inclusive approach to the new joiners that makes it clear that high standards are essential, but provides every opportunity to them to achieve their professional goals. Command at sea remains one of the most worthwhile experiences it is possible to have, but central to its value is encouraging and developing the young. None of our navies have always been as consistently focused on this as we should have been, but it is vital. As a very distinguished admiral once said, “You spend your first command proving yourself to yourself. You should spend your second and subsequent commands proving other people to themselves.”

He was – and is – right, but it also applies to every step in the surface warfare officer ladder. We all need to remember that we are there, amongst other things, to train our relief

DEF 2014 and the Guardians of the Machine

This piece by Mikhail Grinberg is featured as part of our Innovation week in honor of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. It is also featured at The Bridge.

In December 1918, a few weeks after The Great War ended, the government of the United Kingdom released a report on the “Machinery of Government,” which it spent the last year of the war preparing. The purpose of the report was to first understand how various departments were organized and second to propose a series of recommendations for improvement. A prolonged period of conflict had left most departments with much “overlapping and consequent obscurity and confusion.” In fact, the very “purposes for which they were thus called into being” were wildly altered by four years of fighting on the Continent.

All departments were affected. But even those that were least tied to the wartime effort – Health or Education – fell short of basic organizational “foundation for efficient action.” Such were the report’s conclusions at a time when London was seeing a radically changed – and still changing – world through the fog of victory.

“Machinery of Government” gave birth to a simple concept that decisions about “what” to do in any particular department or “how” to do it – whether it is about acquiring weapons systems or setting academic curricula – should be done by experts and not policymakers. The answers to these questions need to meet policy objectives and strategic priorities set by politicians, but they should be unencumbered by Politics.

The report did not express this logic explicitly, but its recommendations led to this logical conclusion. The research community was the most fervent adopter of this approach, giving birth to today’s UK Research Councils, which are bodies of experts – scientists and artists alike – that distribute public funds to projects that have the most promise.

In April 2008, John Denham — the then Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities, and Skills — remarked how the spirit of a report written 90 years prior was still relevant to the science community. He outlined three key points:

  • Scientists are “best placed to determine research priorities”
  • Government’s role is to set “over-arching strategy”
  • And that research councils are the “guardians of the independence of science”

The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) just concluded its second annual conference(#DEF2014), where dozens of bright young leaders from the military, government, academia, and industry gathered to discuss ideas. We gathered at a time when war has gone on too long, where new and existing machines of government have overlapping obscurity and confusion, and where Politics certainly seems to dog every aspect of governing more than it did in the past.

Last year’s conference (#DEF2013) concluded on a major high note, but what DEF is remained undefined. This year, we’re getting clarity. #DEF2014 participants have outlined a vision: to potentially become the guardians of independent and clear thinking about how to make the military better. A community that identifies problems, determines priority areas, works to meet overarching strategic objectives more efficiently and at a lesser cost, and guards these initiatives by having a place – DEF – to host and nurture ideas.

Richard Burdon Haldane, who chaired the committee that authored the “Machinery of Government,” knew that any initiative cannot be effective if it’s scripted and formulaic. In fact, he suggested that “practical efficacy will depend upon the zeal and discretion… the living forces whose spirit is essential to any form of government that is more than a machine.” For the second year in a row, DEF has proven that it has limitless zeal and discretion, or in this year’s lingua DEF, conviction.

To those of us that make up DEF, this is more than a word…it is a charter. We have taken the first steps by supporting the implementation of great projects such as this year’s Innovation Challenge winner, the Syrian Airlift Project by Mark Jacobsen.

What’s next? It’s up to you…

Editors Note: What’s up next? Well, DEF 2015, of course! Also, contact the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum about putting on your own DEFx or a DEF “Agora“… but without the Athenian invasion of Sicily or the executing of victorious Admirals.

The Foundations of Innovation (Part 2 of 5): Ideas

Written by Dave Lyle for our Innovation Week.

Innovation starts with ideas – the realization that something new is possible once old things are seen in new ways. Thus, it’s very important to understand how knowledge and insight are created both individually and in groups if one wishes to posture themselves to encourage successful innovations.

In the American Civil War, veterans used to describe their initial baptism of fire as “seeing the elephant”. But if you’re interested in the nature of innovation, there’s another elephant that you need to see before you do anything else.
Picture 1

 

An ancient Sufi parable, the story of the blind studying an elephant reveals three tremendously important insights about how we know what we think we know:

  • Our ability to observe and sense the greater environment that affects our lives is inherently limited by our own ability to perceive it, and by the limited perspectives of those we communicate with
  • We get a better sense of reality by seeking multiple frames of reference to study the same problem, even if that process of “sensemaking” is still inevitably incomplete, and
  • We all have a basic human tendency to assume that our limited knowledge of the world is more descriptive of the whole than it really is, and that our limited knowledge is adequate for the problem we’re trying to solve, whether it is indeed sufficient or not.

These insights hold true at both the individual level and in the sense of groups. Individually, what we perceive to be our conscious thought is really a churn of multiple, mostly unconscious mental submodels, each coming from different frames of sensory reference, and each competing for dominance of the really small portion of our total cognitive bandwith that we call conscious thought. What we perceive to be conscious choices are often driven by intuitive, gut feel actions unexplainable in specific cause and effect terms even by the people making the decision, a point Thomas Schelling made in his classic book Micromotives and Macrobehavior. From a group perspective, we have established bodies of knowledge from different perspectives, and seek to combine and reconcile these perspectives in patterns of social interaction that tend to solidify some ideas as commonly accepted frameworks of accumulated knowledge – what we commonly describe as paradigms, taking a cue from Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

But it’s far more complicated than that. In fact, most of the time, the elephant is constantly changing, in part due to responses to our own efforts to sense and describe it. And much of the time – like in the case of inherently unquantifiable social phenomenon like popularity, confidence, and a feeling of security – the elephant only exists as an abstract concept in our heads.

Picture 2

Ideas are networks

As Steven Johnson points out in his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Ideas are literally networks of accumulated information encoded and continually modified in the physical and chemical structures of our brains, with collections of ideas working together as the schema we use to make sense of what our senses are detecting. In a group sense, ideas are embedded in our social conventions like our stories, norms, rules, procedures, etc .. Innovation happens when old ideas are combined in new and interesting ways, either through deliberate effort, unconscious deliberation, or through serendipitous revelation and discovery.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NugRZGDbPFU

The “slow hunch” unconscious deliberative processes that Johnson describes is reflective of the “collision of smaller hunches” that take place in the individual mind as people take collections of existing ideas, and use their intuitive, creative processes to recombine them in new , interesting, and useful ways. This mostly unconscious and intuitive creative process was described in part by Isaac Asimov as “the Eureka Phenomenon”:

http://newviewoptions.com/The-Eureka-Phenomenon-by-Isaac-Asimov.pdf

…and also by Joseph Campbell when he answered the following to Bill Moyers during the interviews that led to a modern humanities classic, The Power of Myth:

BILL MOYERS: Do you ever have the sense of… being helped by hidden hands?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time – namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.

http://www.jcf.org/new/index.php?categoryid=31

Combining Asimov and Campbell’s observations with a growing body of evidence from cognitive neuroscience, it seems that there really is something to “finding your calling”. Each of us have natural tendencies to be interested in specific things, and when we find the ability to concentrate on them, our drive and enthusiasm – our bliss – pushes mostly unconscious creative processes to seek creative recombinations of ideas that we’re interested in, even when we’re not consciously thinking about them.

But it’s not just about brilliant individuals bringing innovative ideas to the rest of us. The history of innovation also shows that in-person social interactions – and most importantly, serendipitous chance meetings between people who think differently – are crucial to innovation. It’s usually not the people in your own peer group who have the missing piece of a puzzle that you’re working on, because they tend to see the world much like you do. More often, it’s the people who see your problem from a completely different frame of reference that serve as the catalysts for innovative collaborations. A notable example of this was the genesis of the Doolittle Raid during World War II, when a submariner initially thought of the idea of putting US Army bombers on US Navy aircraft carriers to strike back at the Empire of Japan after the attack at Pearl Harbor, an idea that might never have occurred to Army pilots or Naval aviators who were comfortable with their own paradigms regarding what bombers and aircraft carriers could do.

http://www.uss-hornet.org/history/wwii/doolittle_bio-Francis_S_Low.shtml

Sometimes, interdisciplinary collaborations help you create new innovations even before you’ve imagined the problem. See Steven Johnson’s story of the invention of GPS at the end of this clip for a great illustration of this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0af00UcTO-c

Thus, it’s likely no accident that many Nobel Prize winners were not specialists in the fields that they won their awards in. Being outsiders, they were free of the cognitive blinders that “dyed in the wool” specialists often accumulate. More significantly, they were free of the cognitive attachments that are created when specific ideas become associated with individual and group identities, ones that convince us that challenges to those ideas equate to being personal attacks upon ourselves. Everytime we make an idea part of our resume, our job title, or a badge on our uniform, we risk creating cognitive biases that can inhibit innovation.

Designing for Innovation

Although it took some time – and whether it was through conscious understanding of the dynamics of creativity or not – the US Department of Defense eventually created an organizational structure well suited to foster innovation though its “joint but separate” service construct. Having separate services allows creative innovation in niche areas by people who are passionate about them, and promotes resilience by preventing groupthink and “common contagions” that would be more prevalent in a single “purple” service. But by also requiring mandatory collaboration across the services as per the Goldwater Nichols act, common interoperability of both ideas and tools is promoted across the services, preventing recidivism into the dysfunctions that would result from individual services thinking only within their own specialized domains, irrespective of their contribution to the dynamic whole.

Supporting creative cross domain integration – in either the macro or micro sense – requires supervisors who can look outside of their own areas of expertise and local imperatives, and who are willing to allow their creative subordinates to do the same, in order to create greater systemic resilience across the entire force. When one is looking for innovative solutions to thorny problems, the process of coming up with those ideas is neither highly linear nor highly visible, and may require interdisciplinary, person-to-person creative explorations outside of the local norms that those who are not innovation minded will not intuitively grasp, especially when they do not match up with the normal office schedule and practices. As Gordon MacKenzie describes it in his book Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving With Grace, a visual depiction of creative processes might look like this:

Picture 3

This speaks to the importance of protecting creative individuals, and the creative processes that sustain innovation, within an organization that may not understand creative people and processes very well, and may seek to minimize or expel those who it doesn’t understand that their creative process is still being “part of the team”, even if it doesn’t look at all like their daily repetitive ones. As General Mattis recently expressed it:

“Take the mavericks in your service,” he tells new officers, “the ones that wear rumpled uniforms and look like a bag of mud but whose ideas are so offsetting that they actually upset the people in the bureaucracy. One of your primary jobs is to take the risk and protect these people, because if they are not nurtured in your service, the enemy will bring their contrary ideas to you.”

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/top_right/2011/08/gen_james_mattis_usmc.html

Conclusion

As Johnson concludes, “Chance favors the connected mind”, and this applies in both in the individual and group senses. The keys to innovation are creative exploration driven by passion, having sufficient room to play with ideas in both the conscious and unconscious sense, and in finding new way to use different parts of the individual and collective brain to look at old problems, which can be assisted by the use of visual metaphor, abstract thought experiments, and the utilization of “boundary objects” and “bridging metaphors” to create interdisciplinary dialogue that will breed innovative recombinations of previously existing ideas. By nature of its design, DEF is embracing and furthering these concepts. When it comes to sustaining innovation, it’s not just about spreading individual ideas – it’s about forming enduring networks of idea creators and enablers if you want to create vibrant and adaptive military forces who embrace change, and can rapidly respond to challenges faster than the enemy can present new ones.

Finally, Williamson Murray hammers home the need to deliberately design the ideas behind the innovation into the way we educate and develop our military leaders, and the culture that they will promote in the active force on the other side of military education.

One needs to rethink professional military education in fundamental ways. A significant portion of successful innovation in the interwar period depended on close relationships between schools of professional military education and the world of operations…[A]ny approach to military education that encourages changes in cultural values and fosters intellectual curiosity would demand more than a better school system: it demands that professional military education remain a central concern throughout the entire career of an officer. One may not create another Dowding and manage his career to the top ranks, but one can foster a military culture where those promoted to the highest ranks possess the imagination and intellectual framework to support innovation [and adaptation].

Next in the series: We’ll continue exploring the model of innovation, continuing with Groups.