This last week I was reading an article in Foreign Affairs called Defense in Depth; it was coauthored by former Secretary of Defense, James Mattis.  It called for a fundamental rebuke of the Trump foreign policy agenda, specifically outlining how military operations need to be multinational affairs and taking advantage of “in-theater” country assistance both as coalition partners, as well as strategic military allies.

In many ways this makes complete sense… we have been doing exactly that for years.  During the Trump administration we just got tired of paying for it.  This has resulted in two things:  1) governments restricting the intelligence and operational assistance needed for successful operations and  2) regional players forming new alliances without inviting the U.S. in as a strategic partner. 

From a “global order” concept this has been an unmitigated disaster.  Old alliances have been tested and established pathways for military and intelligence cooperation have been fractured. 

From a results standpoint, though, it has brought a slew of foreign policy victories that could not have been achieved under the original calcified paradigm.  From a weird sort of detente with North Korea, to the decimation of Isis, to the isolation of Iran, and the breakout of peace in the Middle East, the Ivy League luminaries clearly could not have been more wrong on “what is necessary in foreign affairs”

…And now it looks like we are going back to the old ways.  We will see how that works out.

But it did get me thinking. 

This, coupled with a throwaway line in the television show, Yellowstone with Kevin Costner, that Sandy and I have been binge watching over the last few weeks:

“Different is just that… different… and different never works.”

Ah… cowboy philosophy.  I am usually a big fan, but in this case I completely disagree.

Different is the key to growth.

Different shakes things up.

Different is how we improve.

Different is not forever.

In fact… by definition… different is only different for a maximum of 90 days.  Then “different” becomes SOP and is suddenly susceptible to a challenger.

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There is a famous story about General Norman Schwarzkopf.   When he was a young captain he was given the job as a charge de affairs to another general, basically his executive secretary.  (This is a job that is given to young officers that have been pegged as potential general officers in the future.) 

His general was in charge of appropriations on a weapons system.  In the story, defense contractors were brought into a Pentagon meeting room to present their program.  Ultimately, a contract would be awarded to one of them.  During the meeting, as the presenters touted their company’s product, the general fell asleep.  Schwarzkopf was embarrassed but urged the presenters to continue.  After the last of them had left, the general woke up and asked Schwarzkopf how it had gone.  Schwarzkopf started briefing the general on each of the systems.  The general cut him off and asked if any of the weapons systems were abject failures.  Schwarzkopf said no… they all met the baseline minimum criteria.  Then the general got up and told him to just pick the second presenter.

Schwarzkopf asked if he could speak freely.

The general granted the permission.

Schwarzkopf was indignant.  The general had no idea which one was, in fact, better.  How could he have so flippantly made that decision?

The general smiled and told him each of the presenters had achieved the minimum competency to get in the door.  They could spend the next two years debating which one was better, or they could randomly pick one right now.  Within a couple of months they will know if they made the correct decision.  At that time they could 1) cancel the contract and go with another presenter, 2) help the company with resources to improve their product, or 3) reevaluate their needs. 

What they really had before them was a choice… move forward with something… or waste two years with endless debates and then be in the same exact position two years from now, as they will be in the next couple of months. 

Schwarzkopf had learned a valuable lesson.  Motion is always preferable to stagnation. 

Everything we do is subject to change.  We try something, be it a program, a weapons skill, a way of living, and we give it our all over a period of usually 90 days.  (This, of course, does not apply to flippant or random decisions… this is for ideas and concepts that have been reviewed, and a decision has been made to move forward.)  At the end of 90 days we reevaluate.  Did it work?  Is it working?  Does it require some form of modification to move forward?  Then we move on again.

In many ways our training, our politics, our businesses are like a constantly revolving Hegelian Dialectic.  Our existing paradigm, or SOP, is our thesis… we come up with a contrarian idea which is our antithesis… and from the merging of the two, we achieve a synthesis.  That is until the synthesis becomes thesis again, and the wheel continues…

Sorry, cowboy… different actually always works.  Even if it only proves that the original program was the best.

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Comments (2)

  • Win Reply

    Great post!

    12/02/2020 at 08:32
  • Frank McDermott Reply

    Thanks again Steven. Excellent and very enlightening.

    12/02/2020 at 08:39

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