Thursday, 28 June 2012


I'm at best an enthusiast when it comes to wargaming. I'd say enthusiastic amatuer, but having only been involved in a couple of wargames (business context only) in my career I can't reasonably claim that. However, I did discover an article on the topic which I thought well worth sharing, as it provides an excellent overview of the topic and prompts for further thought. The Art of Wargaming by Benjamin Wintersteen provides the reader with superb insight into a complex and valuable topic. From the article:
All games have three things in common.

First, they are interactive. The player does something and then something changes based on those choices.

Second, they are social. You may think Solitaire isn’t, but ask yourself how much you must learn from others just to play it.

Third, they seek to be immersive. Immersion into virtual worlds is a lot easier when accompanied by high-tech neuro-interface equipment and reactive controls. Unfortunately, we don’t always have the fast-twitch vehicle available, so we refer to more imaginative, and less declarative, means of creating alternate realities within which people function. 
 and further (my emphasis):
Historically, war gaming has had two meanings.  First, it means any game that involves combat, the threat of combat, or the concept of combat.  Examples of each include Gears of War, Diplomacy, and Epidemic, respectively.  Most war games follow this definition, especially those marketed to the general public. These games are meant to take the aspects of war and bring them home in a digestible, exciting, and ultimately disposable way.

The second definition, however, is the one applicable to real world scenarios.  This applies to scenario-based situational decision-making in a structured environment without using live troops.   The intent is to train, educate, or perform research using human beings as key elements of within decision-making and strategic thinking. To put it in another way, it’s presenting players with situations to either show them what to do, or see what they do and analyze it. 

Understanding this second definition is where the military derives the greatest benefit. A player fully immersed in a simulation begins to think differently than one being asked questions about their job or sitting in a classroom. They perceive other players differently as well, and will take actions based on a personal, individual investment in the outcome.
 I actually think that Benjamin limits himself artificially here, since these are exactly the types of things which business could learn from proper scenario planning and wargaming.

I'll write some more thoughts on this topic soon, as it's something I want to spend a bit more time on. However, for now, go and read the article and see what you think.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Tempo: The art of getting ahead

I'm currently reading Tempo by Venkatesh Guru Rao and thoroughly enjoying it. I'm going to review it at some point, but I wanted to muse briefly on one of the themes of the book, that of being aware of this key factor and it's dual role. As I've not finished the book please forgive me if I'm about to read this, but here we go.

Rao's book tries to make the reader more aware of one critical aspect of tempo, the context of the environment in terms of it's tempo, how are things progressing, how fast, why? What are the implications of this?

Secondly of course, tempo is critical to operating within an OODA loop, Rao's thesis puts it alongside factors such as cultural heritage, previous experience, and the other factors which those who have seen the loop will be aware of. But controlling tempo is critical for the OODA loop.

So, tempo has a dual role. It is something which the operator must seek to control, because without control of tempo you have no control of the situation. But it is also important to understand the natural tempo of the situation, and the tempo which your opponent(s) are trying to impose on it. If they are trying to go slow, why is that? If they're speeding up, does it indicate confidence? Recklessness? Do you go with it, or impose your will on the situation?

Ultimately, controlling the tempo is what's important, because you are better able to orient yourselves if you know and can lock in the tempo at a pace you decide is right. Your opponent's will to control the pace should be seen as a random factor which requires elimination or at least suppression at the earliest point possible. Allowing your opponent to have any significant impact on the tempo of events is pretty much the same as admitting they are inside your loop.

And that is enough uses of the word "tempo" for the day.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Book Review: The Operators

I've been meaning to read The Operators by Michael Hastings for a while now but only recently got the chance. If you read (and I imagine most readers of this blog did) The Runaway General, the book adds a good deal of value to the article.

The Operators is a highly entertaining insight into the American command, with an emphasis on the role of Gen Stan McChrystal. It paints a vivid picture of a man who was grappling with the challenge of implementing a 4th Gen Warfare strategy where nothing similar had existed before.

It's a highly personal account, since Hastings travelled extensively with McChrystal and his team throughout Europe and later Afghanistan. He was, seemingly, accepted into the "bubble" that surrounds senior figures in these types of environments. Something to consider for another blog is the existence of these bubbles, since they are almost always allowed to form and are extremely harmful to decision making.

Although its an excellent story the book is also able to place events within the wider context of the Afghan campaign, and the political context (particularly in the US). Of course, the context at the time was overwhelmingly negative, and I would say that Hastings does choose to paint the in an even more negative light than was perhaps necessary. That said, that remains a popular preoccupation of journalists writing about Afghanistan, so it's not unexpected. It is not strong on the military context

The book falls down on two points. First, it is shallow. It's more concerned about the bars the team visit in Paris and Germany rather than what McChrystal was doing or attempting to do in Afghanistan. Second, after McCrystal loses his job (due to Hastings' Rolling Stone article) the structure falls apart entirely, so the final 1/3 of the book is a bit meaningless.

Still, it's an entertaining book. Just don't expect too much of it. Hastings account is amusing, but misses a great deal of the military context, which is a shame, since McChrystal has shown from his TED talk and at Stanford he's got a lot to say, much of it very valuable.

This is a fun book, but it's not a game changer in the way I'd hoped it might be. Worth a look, but not worth going out of your way for.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Recommended reading

This piece by General Petraeus, who lists out the 6 reasons he believes it is important that more military officers attend university (grad school). Article comes with a hat tip to the David Betz over at Kings of War. In summary, the reasons are:
  1. It takes officers out of their intellectual comfort zones
  2. Exposes the officer to different and diverse viewpoints
  3. Provides general intellectual capital, which may be of use in "outside the box" thinking
  4. Helps develop communication skills
  5. Helps develop critical thinking
  6. Encourages a sense of intellectual humility
My personal belief is that these are key skills to anyone anywhere, and should be cultivated from whatever intellectual pursuit you are engaged in.

Anyway, read both the Petraeus piece and the linked article from Betz, who explores some similar ideas. As always, discussion welcome via the blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and so forth. Help me develop my critical thinking and intellectual humility.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Being Alan Turing

Slightly late, but it was recently the 100th Birthday of Alan Turing, a personal hero, and a man who's contributions to the computer age are often under estimated. Ars Technica have a great writeup of his life which include his 7 "productive habits".

  1. Try to see things as they are
  2. Don't get sidetracked by ideologies
  3. Be practical
  4. Break big problems down into smaller tasks
  5. Just keep going
  6. Be playful
  7. Remember that it is people who matter 
It's interesting how many of these deal with trying to see the world as it actually is, rather than as our preconceptions might suggest that it is. Turing was a true futurist, able to see how the "Universal Computing Engine" would change the world long before the first computer was built at Bletchley Park.

Almost all of us struggle with at least some of the above concepts, and it impacts deeply on our ability to make accurate decisions. In order to be effective in life we all need to be able to discover better ways to deconstruct our own thinking, to understand the subtle biases which occur at the most basic level, whatever the source of those biases is.

I highly recommend reading the whole article, as it contains some wonderful insights into the life of a man who history is only starting to give his due.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Politics as warfare

One of Boyd's core beliefs is that his theories could be applied to any field of conflict, and as OODA is increasingly recognised in the business community it's clear that he was not wrong in this. However, there has been little organised effort to bring Boydian thought into the political sphere, at least within the "Westminster Bubble".

Political campaigning (particularly in the UK) sits, somewhat uncomfortably, between what would be second and third generation warfare. The emphasis is very much on the second generation too. That is to say, somewhere between the marching slowly at the enemy with musket in hand and blitzkrieg. I don't mean this in the solely in the sense of pure political campaigns, i.e. elections and referendums, but more widely in the sphere of lobbying to achieve a set political end.

That's not to say that things are static, indeed there has been a movement towards a more developed political campaign structure for some time. In 1992 James Carville was often heard to say "Speed Kills (Bush)". He was absolutely right of course, and the Clinton campaign's ability to respond to their opponent's actions mean that despite damaging accusations of affairs and other issues they were able to handily defeat Bush and secure the presidency.

This is not to say that speed was the only contributing factor to Clinton's victory. He was up against an unpopular president who had made some fairly damning (No new taxes) mistakes himself. That said, his victory was never assured.

In recent times one of the most successful political campaigns was that against SOPA and PIPA, two bills in the US which would have,if passed, fundamentally altered the way the internet worked. the reaction was swift and way beyond what was expected, with tens of thousands of primarily young people voicing their discontent. In the end, the bills failed, and although they will return there is a greater recognition that altering the internet is a vote losing proposition.

Politics is, to many, a dance, an organised and stylized activity. Which means that disruptive thought is devastating in its effectiveness.

I will be writing more in the coming weeks on this topic, this post is a brief summary of my thinking in this area.

Boyd and Beyond

Delighted to say that I will be attending the 2012 Boyd conference, entitled "Boyd and Beyond". I've not been able to attend in previous years and that's been a real disappointment. But this time, holiday is booked and flights will follow shortly.

You can sign up on the Facebook group, available here.

Return of the blog

Well, what was supposed to be a short break turned into a long break, which wasn't my intention at all. Due to a variety of factors I simply wasn't able to keep up with blogging, but that's changing and I hope that I'll now be able to get back to this as a regular event.

With that in mind it's my intention to try and get the blog back to it's roots, talking about campaigning primarily. Part of the reason I wasn't motivated to resurrect it recently was due to the lack of focus I had, leaving me feeling that the blog was flapping in the wind to some extent.

So with that in mind, let's begin...