Monday, 29 March 2010

The Pace of Innovation Leadership

At last a Knowledge and Innovation Management Book in the military context.

I must recommend Mark Urban’s recent book “Task Force Black” (‘The Explosive True Story of The SAS and the Secret War in Iraq’: Little, Brown; 2010). What appears to be another book about the war in Iraq, is actually a book about Strategic Knowledge Management and a leading practitioner.

What is fascinating about Urban’s account of the Special Air Service contribution to the “hidden” war against Al-Qaeda and related insurgent groups are the innovations around knowledge management that Stan McChrystal wove together, which have potential for establishing and maintaining innovation leadership within a volatile global market.

It is the integration of surveillance technologies, elite teams, and information management to change the pace of decision-making that is noteworthy. Major-General Stan McChrystal realised that it would take a military social network to defeat a cultural insurgent network, and consciously accelerated the pace of data-gathering and interpretation, cutting out the traditional siloed, and layered, “Chinese Whispers” migration of intelligence aggregation, analysis and synthesis through creating his own intelligence network, with its own media in the form of intranet spaces to display it in, that could be accessed and interpreted by participants in real time.

Fundamentally, McChrysal consciously took Boyd’s OODA loop philosophy out of its traditional air combat context (Boyd’s fighter-pilot proposition being that in order to win in air combat, the first combatant with a superior pace to their Observe-Orient- Decide- Act cycle, is the winner), connected it with energy and applied it hunting down insurgent cells, to roll up structured networks faster than they could respond, and thus “win” or at least destroy the opposition’s ability to dictate the pace of the war.


If we simplify innovation thinking to at least 3 basic thinking rules: move, test, and break; then McChrystal and his disciples have added a fourth element to demonstrate that so-called “asymmetric” networked warfare can be defeated, as long as military leadership has the courage and energy to
1.Move: consciously changing perspective –to empathise, to think like an insurgent, understand where and how they are being manufactured, as well as their victims;
2.Test: explore current assumptions around purpose, context and rationale for yourself and the insurgent, remodelling these to work with better assumptions, deliberately discarding obsolete thinking and structures; and finally:
3.Break: consciously game-breaking or changing the rules to create new opportunities, recognising when to flex your rules of engagement, when and at what pace to change the rules of the current game, in order to win.
4.Up the Pace: use 1-3 to change the quality of thinking and decision making whilst accelerating the pace of decision-making, so that the opposition cannot compete with you.