The discovery of the highly entertaining “Doctrine Man” (hat tip to Starbuck of Wings Over Iraq fame) and my reading of First to Fight by Victor Krulak has put me in a contemplative frame of mind regarding the issue of doctrine. As I, an admittedly non military man, understand it, doctrine is an attempt to codify learning and create a method of dealing with a set of circumstances. Although in the modern age this mechanism may be overused, conceptually it is interesting.
My personal interest stems from my profound irritation with the idea that certain skills and abilities are rooted in some god given and indefinable talent. Ultimately it seems crazy to me to claim that any ability is utterly beyond another human being. We all have our specific aptitudes, and weaknesses, which have to be addressed and factored in, but these are only part of the overall picture of competence.
Consider checklists, checklists have been used to save thousands of lives the world over in medical procedures in particular. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande (eminently readable and highly recommended) is a great set of case studies in how this simple mechanism can be applied to any field to great effect. Is this so colossally different to doctrine? Perhaps those better versed in the topic of military doctrine will tell me otherwise, but it seems the answer is ‘probably not’.
Yet the business world seems almost profoundly uncomfortable with the idea that we should embrace and codify knowledge. At best, great ideas are passed on through training, and people half heartedly sit through a session, trying to muster enough interest and wondering how many pastries are reasonable to eat. All too often the ubiquitous ‘case study’ fills the void.
The case study is probably the tool which misses the point with greatest style. Rather than trying to assess at the strategic level how a set of circumstances can be dealt with in a competent way, people are exposed to the lowest operation level and told that’s where they should go for answers.
So what is the solution?
There is a real case to be made to bring the same scholarship which is seen in the military at its best, codifying and improving knowledge ready to be deployed and applying it to business. Part of the reason I write this blog is to try and keep my thoughts in a single place, although I do, on occasion, try to write longer, more developed ideas.
I wonder if the instant communication age is somewhat to blame. In a world of powerpoint slides (I’m sure military readers will feel my pain here), emails and IMs it is all too easy to forget that developed thought has its place too. Creating a direction for action to be broadly followed under a certain set of circumstances would be no bad thing.
To put it in context, one abiding frustration of mine is that most companies really struggle to get to grips with new business. A brief comes in, you’re expected to respond to it. Who should be writing that response? What tools should you offer the potential client? Are their vendors you need to speak to? If there was a doctrine, the process would become profoundly easier.
I realise this is a rant, and I’m still trying to figure out how this would actually work, but I feel like theres something there. How do we take the best of the concept of doctrine, without losing the freedom to act?