I do strategy for a living. Nothing can be made more esoteric and fraught with bullshit than strategy. Especially if consultants get a hold of it. One of the things I do is try to get the MBA-speak and Military-esque strategy jargon off the dashboard when I’m with clients. Then and only then can I assist them in making sound and tough decisions. My experience has shown me that we all too often hide behind strategy dogma and jargon in an attempt to avoid courageous decisions and individual accountability. And if you really want to make a confusing discipline even richer in bullshit, try reading one the hundreds of bastardized versions of The Art of War that exist in the public domain. You’ll be after fifty pages, amidst a Goat Rodeo of epic proportion. Teetotalers have been known to take to drink after such an effort.
But if you must venture into the world of the SunTzu, I suggest only one version. The Denma Translation Group has done in my humble opinion, the best job of sorting out some of the truest intent manifest in the tome. You are on your own if you insist on the flagellations known as things like “The Art of War for Golf/Gardening/Marriage/Homeschooling” or any of the other drivel out there.
And if you really want to take a deep dive into the mind of a strategic savant, Boyd is a must read. He lived around the corner from me when I first moved to Alexandria Virginia and I never knew him.
After you finish Boyd, I’d then suggest you take up Certain to Win by Chet Richards.
So what about bow ties? I found an old photo the other day from my National Security Forum week in 2003. Bet you can’t find me in the lineup. Strategy guys somehow end up involved in these types of things and all from my shop have attended at one time or another. The Air Force War College…Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base is a fascinating place. We’ve been there quite a few times as guests of the NSF as well as participants and speakers at other Air University classes and programs. I’m humbled every time I go.
And if there’s ever a time that I know NOT to roll in with dice fuzzy, it’s here. Navy blazer and bow ties all week. Alden Whiskey Shell Cordovan Tassels. Shut up.
But one thing troubled me when I left the NSF in 2003. SunTzu said that a “prophet is rarely valued in his own land.” The depth of intellectual and academic thoroughness with which the Middle East and Iran-Iraq-Afghanistan, specifically, is dissected astounds me. But it seems that our politicians don’t listen carefully to our own War College academics. Men and women who’ve studied the Region their entire professional lives; who posses insights that seem to have never been considered when strategy was set for our role in the Region. I’m just gonna leave it right there folks. Do yourself a favor and wrangle an invitation to the NSF. Then we’ll talk about all of this again…live…over drinks.
The intellectual energy found at the War College is thrilling. Full time academics work and teach amidst Air Force officers who are there to hone their skills and advance their careers. The first time I visited Air University I heard speak a retired Colonel who was in the first graduating class of the Tuskegee Airmen. One of my business partners spoke after him and I was just glad that I didn’t have to follow Colonel Carter at the podium. We later had lunch with him and the experience remains today, one of my most treasured.
The Red Tails were disenfranchised airmen who with substandard equipment and limited resources became revered bomber escorts. The Tuskegee Airmen never lost a bomber.
Onward. Strategically. In a bow tie. And a Red Tail.