Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The NATSEC Marketplace of Ideas Ain't Beanbag

So, you think you want to engage in the push and pull in the NATSEC marketplace of ideas?

As a reader here, I think you do.

Now and then I get emails from people who want to help change the way we do things. They want to write, debate ideas, and generally move the ball forward for reform. As we've discussed here often, that is a difficult place to go for a whole host of reasons.

There isn't enough discussion out there on the topic, and as such it was great to see two of the premier members of the GenX Esoteric and Exalted Order of the Retired O5's, John Nagl and Paul Yingling, put out an exceptional primer on the subject, Considering Defense Reform? Read This First, over at AUSA.

You should read it all, but here's what stood out for me as just plain good advice.
...we’d like to offer some advice to young leaders who are considering fighting the battle for defense reform.

1. Don’t do it.

... you will fail and you will suffer. ... Your career, your family and your friendships will suffer to no good end. If you want to advance, go along and get along: Attend the unit barbecue, laugh at the boss’s jokes and for God’s sake never write for publication.
They are serious. Also consider that even if you try to be anon, ahem, all it takes is one or two people to connect the dots and you'll be discovered. If you are lucky, they will direct their "issues" to your face. If you are not so lucky, you'll only notice the effects later.

As "insurgents" themselves, John and Paul know not all will take #1 to heart, so for those they offer some more advice;
2. Aspire to do, not to be.

You’re still here, so it’s likely you’ve decided, in the words of John Boyd, to do something rather than be something. Boyd did something: transformed our understanding of aerial combat and decision-making. He retired as a colonel. Billy Mitchell did something: demonstrated the critical role air power would play in 20th-century warfare. He was court-martialed for insubordination and reduced in rank from brigadier general to colonel. Defense reformers too often pin their hopes on the example of George C. Marshall, who spoke truth to power as a colonel and yet rose to five stars. We mean no offense, but chances are you’re not George C. Marshall
People forget that track record. There are others.
4. Be kind.

Master the art of disagreeing without becoming disagreeable. Your new idea will offend and anger people whose identity and livelihood are wrapped up in the status quo. ... Defuse angry reactions to your ideas with courtesy, patience and perhaps most importantly of all, self-effacing humor.
I can't emphasize this enough (yes, it is hard to do sometimes. Guilty). I just watched, again, a smart and passionate person blow up their career because they could not help being nasty. I mean, twitter troll nasty. Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate. Also remember that when you try to stab someone in the back, even if you miss, a lot of people will see that you tried and take note. This vibe on tone and attitude is along the same lines as Claude Berube's FEB 2009 Proceedings article, The Navy Can Handle the Truth: Creative Friction without Conflict.

That goes along nicely with;
5. Seek allies. 
... You will find allies for your ideas among those who disagree with you, but only if you look for areas of agreement. ... Disagreement is necessary for dialogue. Every opponent is a potential ally.
Exactly. I've never understood the demand for perfection and full alignment of some by others. Like I try to promote here; I don't have the perfect answer, but neither do you. Only through our discussions can we both work our way towards the truth somewhere between the two of us.

You need to build a network not just on the personal level in detail, but that is broad in scale;
7. Build an outside game and an inside game.

... To change a large bureaucracy, you’ll need to generate energy from the outside. In other words, you’ll have to help journalists, scholars, policy analysts and other independent voices explain how and why the bureaucracy is failing. However, that outside energy will merely disturb the bureaucracy. To change it, you’ll need to work inside the bureaucracy to channel that energy into productive reform.
There is a final note that hits home. Time moves way too fast.
10. Your time too shall pass.

One day, your name will be stricken from the active roles. You may get killed, you may get wounded, you may retire, you may resign. If you are fortunate enough to walk off the parade field, make sure you have someone and something waiting for you. Maybe that someone is your spouse, children or longtime friends. Maybe that something is a second vocation or an avocation. No matter how honorable your service, you are more than your service record.

Take joy in having served, and find a way to keep serving.

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