Adam Drake

Notes on Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife

What is a “Learning Organization?”

  • Does it promote suggestions from lower ranks and from operational areas (i.e. people “on the ground”)?

  • Are subordinates encouraged to question superiors and policies?

  • Does the organization regularly question its basic assumptions?

  • Are executives and other management routinely in close contact with operational people and open to their suggestions?

The three key elements to The Learning Challenge of Sullivan and Harper from the book Hope is Not a Method:

  • The right culture

  • The knowledge itself

  • Access to the knowledge

Insurgents start with nothing but a cause and grow to strength, while counter-insurgents start with everything but a cause and gradually decline in strength and grow to weakness. – Frank Kitson, Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Intensity, and Peacekeeping, pg. 29

The printing press is the greatest weapon in the armory of the modern commander. – T.E. Lawrence

(page 90) The methodology of General Sir Gerald Templar as described by John Cloake:

  • Get the priorities right.

  • Get the instructions right.

  • Get the organization right.

  • Get the right people into the organization.

  • Get the right spirit into the people.

  • Leave them to get on with it.

The old guard in the Army didn’t care at all about the successes of the CIA and the US Army Special Forces with arming and training villages (see example of Buon Enao). Instead, they were very dismissive of the capabilities of these kinds of soldiers. The quote from General Harold K. Johnson in his Senior Officer Oral History Project debriefing is particularly telling, and sounds like every successful Data Science or Engineering team I’ve ever led (page 128).

Well, the Special Forces that were available at the time President Kennedy latched on to them as a new gimmick, were what I would describe as consisting primarily of fugitives from responsibility. These were people that somehow or other tended to be nonconformist, couldn’t quite get along in a straight military system, and found a haven where their actions were not scrutinized too carefully, and where they came under only sporadic or intermittent observation from the regular chain of command. . . . Perhaps there is a desirability for this highly specialized effort, but I continue to really question it as such.

(page 158) Regarding the ability of the Regional Forces/Popular Forces to become capable and take over operations:

The Vietnamese like being part of an organization which cares, and they respond well and bravely . . . There are sufficient men who will fight if they know the system is competent and cares – Lewy, American in Vietnam, 117

In other words, local groups who may seem incapable will be motivated to do their best and work against all odds if they believe and trust that the organization of which they are a part knows what it’s doing and cares about their well-being. As soon as an organization loses this trust from its people, there is little hope.

(page 162) From a memo from Robert McNamara to President Johnson on 14 October 1966, indicating his growing doubts about any military solution in Vietnam:

The large-unit operations war, which we know best how to fight and where we have had our successes, is largely irrelevant to pacification as long as we do not lose it . . . Success in pacification depends on the interrelated functions of providing physical security, destroying the VC apparatus, motivating the people to cooperate, and establishing responsive local government. An obviously necessary but not sufficient requirement for success of the RD (ed. Rural Development) cadre and police is vigorously conducted and adequately prolonged clearing operations by military troops who will stay in the area, who behave themselves decently, and who show respect for the people.

If you don’t have a group of middle-management on the ground, willing to fight for the people on the ground, and willing to continue to do so, all hope is lost. However, it is stated in the book that the Joint Chiefs of Staff profoundly disagreed and instead favored an increase in the bombing of North Vietnam and further commitment of US troops. This again demonstrates the lack of capability and micro-management inherent in organizations where the high-level directors believe they have more or superior knowledge to those who are actually doing the work.

Richard Downie’s six recommendations for facilitating doctrinal change:

  • Institutionalize doctrinal development as a continually evolving set of theoretical guidelines.

  • Establish a systemic assessment process to ensure the validity of current doctrinral operation assumptions.

  • Develop an efficient process to gain organizational consensus on emerging doctrines.

  • Establish a systemic process through which to rapidly transmit and disseminate doctrine to units in the field.

  • Welcome the civilian leadership’s inquiries concerning military capability and appropriateness of doctrine as useful challenges for the military institution.

  • Doctrine as a focus of inquiry concerning military effectiveness for potential threats and challenges.

– Richard Downie, Learning from Conflict, 261-265