Monday, September 20, 2010

Bow Ties and National Security

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.


The Lost One. said...

Funny: I just printed out an excellent article on Boyd's Cycle/OODA, though it had nothing to do with business.

The article, if you're interested, is called "Got a Minute?" by Ken J. Good.

If I had a nickel for every knucklehead quoting some Sun Tzu (always "the art of war is deception") or from The Book of Five Rings, I'd have a whole bunch of nickels. If you emptied every Hudson Bookseller of whatever versions of Art of War they had on their shelves, you'd have quite a lot of room for magazines and Oprah's bookclub.

As for, er, strategy in that region, well...we'll leave that for another time. I'm sure there are still plenty of Russian generals who thought they had a strategy for...

Oh, look at the time! ;)

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

National Security Forum?! Holy shit, does this mean you're reporting my ISP address?! I find so much here with which to disagree, I can only scroll back to your brilliant posts on clothing and art and family as an antidote.

Man, if history, politics, international relations, and war studies are the subjects here, then I'm definitely on the wrong side and in the wrong country.

Were you wearing tassel loafers at the forum event? If so, all is forgiven.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't Sun Tzu who said that about a prophet in his own country. It was Jesus.

James said...

Your insight into so many things is amazing, plus ya look so damn good in a bow tie.

Anonymous said...

You beat me to it, James! But, no carpet commentary? The tweed ground is echoing every darn tone in your ensemble, this may even be a carpet first. The best thing you're wearing, though, is that smile on your face. Rave on.

ADG said...

To PATRIOT...I appreciated your comment but chose not to publish it so as not to open a can of worms from various "experts" who would weigh in on your assertions. My point about suboptimal equipment was predicated on the unimpeachable fact that the Tuskegee Airmen were under-resourced.


James...I'm a bullshit artist.

Anonymous...Jesus? Let's leave the Puerto Ricans out of this ok?

LagunaFogey...I've long since had all of your addresses. And yes, those were Alden tassels.

LostOne...Boyd was fascinating. You really should read his bio. And thanks for the article suggestion.

Easy and Elegant Life said...

Now that sounds like my kind of fun. And you can't tell me they didn't find the bow tie a bit fuzzy?

yoga teacher said...

So, are you saying I can skip "The Art of War?" I've always been told that it's a 'must-read", so have had it on my bookshelf for about 25 years, intending to get to it one day. But, we yogis are a pacifist bunch. . .

NCJack said...

Found out the Red Tails did lose a few bombers, but I think they still had the best record for protection of any comparable unit in the ETO

I was around for the endless quoting of Vince Lombardi in the 60s and 70s. He finally had to publicly explain that all his "winning is the only thing" comments were meant to apply to pro football players, not Little Leaguers or sales managers

ADG said...

Yoga Teacher...yes, you can skip THAT version of The Art of War. Read the Denma Translation. And I'm sure you've probably read stuff by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche...if you haven't read The Joy of Living by him, I'd recommend it. I also respect Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron. And yoga...the best thing that I've ever discovered for a couple of my chronic running injuries.


RHW said...

NC Jack, bravo!

Kathie Truitt said...

Um...I hate to be rude Mr. Sun Tzu, but you actually plagairized (sic) that "prophet in his own land" bit. The original quote is from Jesus in Luke 4:24.

Now that I see what you read I'll take you off my mailing list for my booksignings- we'll just be blog buddies, rather than literary buddies. My current book and upcoming one is definitely not your type ;)


tintin said...

2nd from Left. KGB. Boris something or other. 1972 - 1980. I know who turned him.

ADG said...

That's Boris Ledbetter from Zebulon North Carolina.

Kathie...The Art of War is not about war.

Anonymous said...

You are, by far, the best dressed man in the group photo.

Officer & Southern Gent said...

That biography of Boyd is one of my favorite recommendations on leadership (the facet of leadership of "doing the right thing, career be damned"). Amazing how influential he was, yet not that well known outside of senior leadership circles - even in the service (at least until Coram's biography came out). I was stationed with a USAF major on loan to the Coast Guard a few years ago, and he had never heard of him, despite learning all about the OODA loop at the Air Force Academy many years before.

Keep up your wonderful blog...I love checking in for your great writing, and self-deprecating wit.

ADG said...

Anonymous Best Dressed Comment...thanks but that ain't sayin' much.

GentOfficer...I think Boyd's problems regarding acceptance of his ideas and the lack of his legacy are at least two-fold. Boyd, like many savants, lacked the requisite diplomatic and social skills necessary to navigate through the rather predictable maze of resistance to change as well as jealousy. Phenomena that I think, are magnified in a military environment. Had he not been the arithmetic genius that he was, they'd have Court Martialled his ass out of there twenty years before his retirement. Interesting to me is that fact that the Marines revere Boyd more than any service branch.

Officer & Southern Gent said...

Agree. Effecting change is difficult in any environment, but doubly so if you are a cast iron a-hole to your peers and superiors. If he had strong political skills, he could easily have had stars on his shoulders - but one could excuse all and say he was an iconoclast, I guess.