This is one of the best posts on Strategic and Operational Planning that I have read since I taught the thing.
There is so much good there, I had trouble getting a pull quote – but here is a teaser that hits on a lot of the problem the Navy has had from DDG-1000 to LPD-17’s diesels.
In the past, priests created complex liturgies, lawyers created complex law codes, and scribes created complex writing systems. The complexity they introduced and strove to maintain created information asymmetries that allowed them to maintain their power and control over the masses. In our times, the same thirst for control led to the creation of intentional complexities like collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), credit default swaps (CDSs), mortgage-backed securities (MBSs), littoral combat ships (LCS), thousand page legislative bills, ever thickening law books, capstone concepts, and, yes, magic bullets. Complexity is power and credentialed complexity is more power. Given enough people creating enough information asymmetries, whatever feedback loops left standing become so calcified that the whole social system becomes fragile.Ideas of strategic paralysis, where victory is dependent upon an intentional complexity of knowledge so perfect that you can identify enemy centers of gravity exactly and target them exactly and hit them exactly, are equally prone to failure. The possibility, as Kiras points out, of friction destroying the best laid plans, turning the tables, and surprising a budding wielder of strategic paralysis is even greater than the chance to inflict strategic paralysis on the enemy. The user of strategic complexity is as likely to be caught in his own trap as he is to spring it on the enemy. He has a big target on his chest that is clearly labeled HIT ME WITH A BLACK SWAN. PLEASE.
A strategy of attrition is more robust: create a strategic margin of safety and poke the other guy till he gives in. Tactics used in a framework of strategic attrition are small, discrete, and compartmentalized. One mistake isnâ€™t fatal. Attrition supports an iterative approach where trial and error can be employed. The tactics that work best can be learned and shared. The tactics that fail can be abandoned and forgotten. If attrition had a slogan it would be REDUNDANCY, REDUNDANCY, REDUNDANCY. Diversify. Donâ€™t put all your eggs in one basket. Attrition is the strategy your grandmother would follow if your grandmother happened to lead a war effort.
Unfortunately, contemporary Americans are obsessed with the comparative advantages of efficiency. The coming of the spreadsheet and other information technology enabled a generation of MBAs and their fellow travelers to practice false prophecy and false economy on a scale beyond the imagination of previous generations. Redundancies make the MBA and the quartermaster blue; there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Gehenna of accounts payable. It is tactically logical to eliminate redundancies as inefficient: the human mind is inherently reductionist.
Something we once knew – but got too “smart” to remember. Read it all.
Hat tip AndrewB.
- On Midrats 19 April 2015 – Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”
- John Quincy Adams — The Grand Strategist: An Interview With Historian Charles N. Edel
- 4 Reasons Not to Resign Your Commission as a Naval Officer
- About Face: A Return to Marine Corps Innovation
- On Midrats 29 March 15 – Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC