Tuesday, October 04, 2016

The Beginning of De-Buzzwordification of Pentagonese?

He is only one Service Chief, and we are only talking words, but words mean things. It’s a start. 

To work effectively, you need to communicate clearly, with confidence, and in a manner that is well understood by both the target audience and more importantly – to those who underwrite your project.

Words can also be misused. They can be used to obscure, confuse, inflate importance or de-emphasize importance. When you throw in the overuse of acronyms, the problem just compounds.

You can reach a point that some presentations, articles, and comments include so many of the buzzwords and acronyms popular at that moment – usually floating in a soup of obsequious signaling – that the impression isn’t so much that the speaker or author knows what he is talking about, but simply that he wants you to know he knows what the latest fad is. 

Everything is about the fad, all is impacted by the fad, and we love the fad so much – that we fail to realize that instead of providing insight and clarity, we are just selling Pet Rocks.

In light of that, I welcome CNO Richardson’s ditching of A2/AD;
On Monday, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said he and other Navy brass are going to stop using the acronym "A2/AD" -- short for anti-access area denial, to describe maritime threats and challenges.

The term has become too broad and too ambiguous, he said, an insider shorthand that describes a range of nuanced and very different problems. In place of A2/AD, Navy leaders will not get a different catch-all term to use, but rather will focus on describing the specifics of the challenge at hand.

"We have to resist the temptation to oversimplify this conversation," Richardson said. "I'm afraid I'm just not going to propose replacing one acronym with another. [Although] no matter what I say, we will eventually get to an acronym."
A few more remarks on the topic;
“To ensure clarity in our thinking and precision… We’ll no longer use the term A2/AD as a stand-alone acronym that can mean all things to all people or anything to anyone – we have to be better than that,” he said.
“Since different theaters present unique challenges, ‘one size fits all’ term to describe the mission and the challenge creates confusion, not clarity. Instead, we will talk in specifics about our strategies and capabilities relative to those of our potential adversaries, within the specific context of geography, concepts, and technologies.”
I understand where a lot of this starts. On the good side, people are looking for a simple shorthand to explain a challenge without going in to details. I don’t think it works out that way at the end of the day most of the time. 

For those who know the business, it just builds cynicism by those on the receiving end that those in power are historically ignorant at best, most likely just being patronizing, or at worst shilling for and repeating the spin coming from the defense industry’s latest marketing program.

It can at times turn in to a wonk version of a rap battle. Classic case, General Neller, USMC states,
…marines must wage a “four-block war (in) six domains…”
Those in the fraternity know what he means, mostly, but why iterate a previous buzzword “three-block war” and add more stuff to it? How did C2 become C3I become C4I become C4ISR? How many Marines are now going to force "four-block war in six domains" in their work?

Buzzwords and acronyms often become an end to themselves. Instead of talking about missions, roles and responsibilities, we feel the need to create an esoteric vocabulary that is often a barrier to discussing the unchanging fundamentals of this business; what are your critical vulnerabilities, critical capabilities, etc etc.

I’d like to hear more from the CNO on this topic. By his example, he could greatly elevate how we talk about our challenges and as a result bring about better solutions.

At the end of his article, the always subtly cheeky Sam put in a nice reminder of this rather systemic problem;
Early last year, the Office of the Secretary of Defense changed the name of the controversial Air Sea Battle Office – the group tasked with countering the A2/AD threat on a larger Pentagon level – to the Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC pronounced: Jam, Gee-Cee) and folded it into the Pentagon’s joint staff.

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