If you’re in the neighborhood, join us for drinks and conversation 21 February, 1800 at Factor’s Row in Annapolis.
The groups listed share many characteristics, and have hosted their own local events before. Seeing the significant overlap between the organizations, it made sense to do an event which included them all.
I2 – “Innovators Initiative” is a group of USNA Midshipmen who began meeting to share their mutual interest in emerging technology and ideas. They are the ones behind the upcoming DEF(x) conference in Annapolis.
CRIC(x) – the wider community of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.
CIMSEC – Center for International Maritime Security. If you’re like me, and find it difficult to make it to the CIMSEC DC meet-ups on a week night – this Friday Annapolis based meet-up is for you.
First, let’s not pretend that an ENS, JG, LT, or even RADM isn’t better or worse because of the degree they have. Secondly, let’s not pretend that the degree one earns determines who they are as a person–let’s not be education deterministic. Thirdly, there’s a nascent form of literacy emerging that combines both hard and soft sciences, and the Navy is largely ignoring it.
You walk through my door as a newly minted non-prior service ensign and I’m not going to care what school or what degree you earned from that school–you know nothing just like every other ensign in the Fleet. This isn’t a slight, this is a reality. All that is going to matter to me, to the LCPO, and to the rest of the guys in the division, is whether or not you’re a pleasure to serve with. There isn’t much more to belabor in this regard. As an officer with a STEM degree, you’re not going to be the one doing any of the labor that your education informed you how to do. You’re supervising at best, or drowning in administrative duties for the division that you know nothing about, because no one gets a college education in “Naval Administration.” What’s more, is that despite anything you learned from a college, you’re still going to have to get through your career field’s warfare pin qualifications before your superiors trust you to do the job. Your education only got you to OCS, or to your commissioning date, and the distinctions between where you chose to go to school are negligible to me, and non-existent to your most junior sailors.
Reading the words of officers in this ongoing degree debate strikes me as parochial and based in little more than confirmation bias. We all want to be emulated, we all want to champion the bits of wisdom we’ve picked up along the way. The path we’ve taken we know best, and so we can recommend it, as being so familiar to us. Neither side, neither the STEM-guys nor the liberal arts guys have much going for them to detract from the efficacy of the other guy’s degree. ‘With a liberal arts degree, one should be able to reason through the challenges inherent in emerging technologies.’ Or, ‘with a STEM degree, one understands the nuance, direction, and technical details of technologies, and the likelihood of its success.’ Those are both true statements. But, the reality is, that neither type of degree confers the wisdom required to actually make such a call unless years have been spent in the naval service learning exactly what the Navy is, how it works, and all it’s quirks–a degree confers no wisdom, just the greater ability to obtain wisdom, eventually. ‘Degree determinism’ is a red herring, a 23 year old is not yet complete as an individual nor as a sailor. Who they eventually grow to become is arguably more influenced by their naval experience than their undergrad experience (unless you’re an aviator, then you never grow up… heh.).
This isn’t an either-or debate. Quite frankly, it’s a false dichotomy, as indicated by the emergence of numerous multidisciplinary fields of study. A prime examples of which is Computational Social Science and Artificial Intelligence. Where the parameters of society and the mind, as defined by the soft sciences, are incorporated into programming and hardware design, that are rooted in hardware and software engineering. Advances in this field are indicative of the STEM-Liberal Arts dichotomy being false in an academic sense, but also demonstrate how the same dichotomy is false in terms of the Navy; where a junior officer has to manage people, and master their career field, and understand the nature of the technology which they will be responsible for.
Like the title of this blog states. No one asked me what I think, and as an enlisted guy, what I think doesn’t matter much. But, the multitude of voices jumping into the fray regarding this topic has kept it on my mind.
It is interesting to note that the debate concerning any intervention into Syria is a binary one, where we debate either using hard power to ‘punish’ the Assad Government for use of chemical weapons, or we do nothing. This is interesting because somehow we are unable to publicly consider using soft power in this instance–we are unable to conceive alternate courses of action that circumstance demands from us.
Look at where the world is right now. First, at the UN Security Council Russia and China will block any punitive measures against the Syrian Government. Their reasons for this are varied, but we would be remiss to not acknowledge that Libya and Operation Unified Protector are not ancient history. Their begrudging acquiescence to western intervention was, from their perspective, too much. We shouldn’t now nor should we into the future count on any approval from the UNSC for military interventions in the old Soviet sphere. Syria is not a big enough issue to eschew the auspices of the UNSC, especially in light of the importance placed on UNSC authorization by NATO and the western powers in Libya.
While this may cause some teeth grinding among many, it should not. After all, the US was the cornerstone in designing the UNSC, and Russia and China are well within their rights on the UNSC to do as they do. So, what’s next? Something short of direct application of hard power.
The argument could be made that the transfer of small arms and ammunition to rebel forces in Syria is the ethical thing to do in light of our own forces not being permitted to take any action. However, taking such action does not lead directly enough to a desirable end-state for the current civil war in Syria. It leaves open too many outcomes and flies in the face of lessons learned from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
So, what is a best case for resolution to the Syrian civil war–what should we work towards?
In short, we should work towards: A much more friendly neighbor for Israel in any new Syrian government, Iran losing their proxy, Russia has loosing the lease on their naval base, the Russian strategic communication strategy they’ve employed being turned around and used against them, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s ability to handle situations like Syria being strengthened, and lastly that the United State’s position in global leadership reestablished.
Israel has spent the last two years in the eye of a hurricane. Most of Israel’s neighbors have experienced some degree of revolution and civil war. However, at least in the public’s eye, Israel has remained passive and not gotten involved in the Arab Spring. But, in regards to Syria, Israel has a real opportunity to change the dynamic on their Northern border. In fact, Israel has already begun to do this. Israel has spent much of the last 15 years on the wrong side of the news cycle in the Arab world and in the West. The pictures and videos of Palestinian teenagers throwing rocks at Israeli tanks can’t come across in favor of Israel. The narrative this has fomented has not been to the benefit of Israel, and yet it is not an accurate portrayal either.
Israel must do all it can to connect with the Syrian people by helping their refugees and victims of the civil war. This is vital because it enables another narrative to emerge that can in turn become the foundation upon the next Syrian government being friendly to Israel. In the best case, it would also allow for a new dialog to emerge with the Palestinians and others that to date have not had enough evidence for Israel to be an acceptable neighbor to them.
If Israel can build enough confidence with the Syrian people the likelihood of Iran maintaining their proxy in Syria becomes much more unlikely, and makes serious headway towards containing Iran’s influence to the Gulf. It is at this juncture that the interests of Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council converge, and it behooves both to work together towards their shared strategic goals. What’s more, the relationships established here between Israel and the GCC can be built upon in the future as needs arise.
Russia is attempting to rebuild their naval influence, and it is in the interest of the US and west to counter Russia’s waxing influence on the world stage. The Borei class SSBN, Bulava class SS-N, Neustrashimyy FFG, and missiles like the SS-N-26 and the jointly developed Brahmos missile all put into action the words of the Kremlin. This growing naval clout will depend on a Mediterranean port to extend Russia’s influence outside of the Black Sea. With a very real chance that Russia’s Navy could outnumber all other nation’s navies in the Mediterranean. If Russia seems assertive with their oil and gas reserves towards Europe, what will they do with the strongest Navy and a port in the Eastern Mediterranean?
Russia’s newly waxing influence on the world stage is in the interest of the US and West to counter. Over the Syrian civil war we find a moment to counter Russian moves. Russia has positioned itself through rhetoric as being against Western and US imperialist inclinations. The narrative they draw with their words is backed by the numerous interventions the US and West have been involved in since 2001. They are able to play against the sensitivities many citizens in the West feel for their Governments seemingly constant need to use hard power in dealing with the threat of terrorism.
In addition, Russia has been able to set out a predicted course of action that the governments of the West will take in dealing with Syria. However, in Russia’s most recent remarks they unintentionally highlight their own hypocrisy regarding Syria. The rhetoric from the Kremlin speaks only towards maintaining the status quo in Syria – a civil war that has caused upwards of 100,000 deaths; while also positioning itself to be the mediator (with the US following their lead) in any final peace settlement. The words they speak to the public are backed by their actions in supplying the Syrian Government with weapons.
The United States must take a global leadership role in resolving the Syrian civil war. However, as outlined above this leadership will not encompass hard power being directly applied against the Assad government. In assuming a global leadership position the US needs to build a coalition of nations to deploy humanitarian aid around the Syrian borders and augment the humanitarian efforts already underway there. In seeking to do as such, the US is assured to build a very broad coalition of Nations.
Any deployment of medical and humanitarian teams to include hospital ships would naturally need to have security provided for them. With having refugee camps and a robust security presence in Turkey, Jordan, and Israel the pressure on the Assad government would be great and the ability for any outside sources of support to smuggle in weapons to government forces would be greatly reduced. The presence of coalition forces along the Syrian border would approximate the desired outcome of hard power being directly applied.
In taking real action to support the victims of Assad’s government we are doing more than what the Syrian government’s supporters are willing to do. We highlight the hypocrisy of their words and place them on the defensive, having them to defend why they are willing to allow the disintegration of the ‘Paris of the East’. We bring the World towards examining the motives behind why China and Russia are willing to allow a country that holds chemical weapons to disintegrate into a failed state on Europe’s doorstep. And most importantly we place doubt in the world regarding the future of a world that has Russia with a fascist like Putin at helm.
Russia is content to allow Syria to destroy itself before they go ahead and try to broker peace. They are content with having a failed state far from their borders, but figuratively in the lap of the West. It is time to get ahead of their decision making cycle and help the Syrian people and thereby ensure that Russia does not enjoy undue influence over the Levant at the expense of the US, Europe, Israel, and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Between Europe, the US, Israel, the GCC there are many points where strategic interest converge. In years past, capitalizing on these shared strategic interests was the hallmark of American global leadership. The strategy I’ve laid out here can bring the US back to the role that so many other Nation’s admired in the US. This strategy does not rely on any direct application of hard power against the Syrian government. But, it also does not have the US and the West standing idly by as weapons of mass destruction are employed in a near-failed state.
Through our actions we must move our position on Syria from the very nebulous gray area that other nations exploit to weaken US position. We must, through our actions, demonstrate our willingness to limit suffering and for regional stability. Such actions are good for the US, for Europe, for Israel, and for the GCC, and certainly for the Syrian people. It increases our cooperation with allies and partners, it diplomatically isolates our competitors, and it takes the initiative from those who are willing to watch that part of the World burn.
The good CDR’s post helped to solidify in my mind some notions I’ve had for some time now. These notions concern why there is such fear and hesitation when it comes to writing as a Naval professional.
My hope here is to put forward a different perspective on writing professionally. I will start with the obvious, and work towards what may be less obvious. It is my hope that my thoughts here might make some headway towards changing the minds of readers, and in turn (and in some small part) the Navy’s culture. Additionally, all I have to say assumes that we’re all well versed in and practice good OPSEC.
There are issues, and what are to me warped perceptions regarding writing in both the institutional aspect Navy and on the part of individual Sailors. In my talks with others more well versed with the state of writing in other branches, it would seem the Navy has a better culture than most, but still it remains that there is much room for improvement.
Foremost is the impression of what it is to write. Many, who step up the first time confuse their trepidation with how their audience will perceive their writing. In this, it is assumed that their words will reverberate with great force, and be a bellwether for change.
In reality, no. It won’t be. Even articles published in Proceedings are rarely of exceptional paradigm changing quality. This isn’t the fault of anyone, or any single organization. It’s the fault of everyone. The ~2 megabytes worth of data (including pictures. If none, then ~150kB) you just introduced into the World is the equivalent of the faintest star you can see in the night sky. Even if what you wrote is considered on par with the greats, your impact will fall well short of making you a household name.
Remember this: you’re just part of the system. Your words will be absorbed, digested, and then repeated in a novel way that you may or may not agree with. What writing does is give others ideas that little belong to you once learned by them.
For COs, and senior personnel of all flavors, it’s important to remember that as well. That junior person whose 1k – 5k words you might fear is far weaker than it might seem. Take a breath and put their words in a perspective larger than your immediate concerns.
It may seem obvious, but the nature of writing online demands this be mentioned often – don’t call people names. This is worth mentioning since much of blogging and the resulting comments (especially the comments) turn into a bull session where finger pointing, name calling, and condemning of whomever the content of the blog involves. That’s not writing, just as you’re not a poet when you’re drunk and blowing off steam at McGuires or Seville Quarter.
Don’t mention names, mention ideas. I personally don’t care whom thought of what. Everyone has good ideas, everyone has a unique perspective. More often than not, those who are listened to the most are only the ones who can write the best, with their ideas hovering around 3rd rate. A given idea is not better just because it came from someone with senior rank. Neither should an idea be valued more from someone with name recognition more so than it is from someone without. The person doesn’t matter, the idea matters when it comes to discussing ideas. Of course if you’re rebutting someone else’s writing I get that a name must be mentioned. But, aside of ensuring continuity or getting a reader up to speed, don’t talk about people, just talk about the idea. The whole point of this is to remove ego from ideas as much as possible.
A second order effect of this notion is that there is significant benefit to someone writing anonymously. Based on my own personal experience, I would even encourage many to start off that way. Reflect on why you are motivated to write, is it to build name recognition, or to better your Navy? Exactly, in talking about ideas and not calling anyone names the need to have a face and name to the words quickly begins to evaporate.
Don’t value your life less than you do your career. A military full of people willing to give their life in the line of duty, but just as many who do not write for the sake of their career. This is so counter intuitive I don’t think I need to elaborate.
Unless your staff refers to you as the ‘old man/woman’ or ‘the boss’ you’re not making policy, and your words won’t either. What’s more is that your words do not reflect the official opinion of the Navy, you’re some rank just like a bunch of other people. Actions speak louder than words, if you comport yourself in a professional manner with good military bearing, then your words are just that – words – feeble, devoid of action words that are only an attempt to contribute to the discourse and bettering your Navy. The Navy and your boss do not have much to fear from you.
But, there is a logical limit to such a claim. I wouldn’t publicly write anything critical of a decision made by my direct chain of command, or a decision made by those I have to work for/with. Doing as such, and being publicly critical of colleagues, seniors, and shipmates is just bad form, rude, and yes probably insubordinate. But, giving a public opinion regarding a decision made echelons above can be (and should be written towards being) productive. Blogging: real time 360 degree evaluation of ideas.
We’re nearly 10 years into military personnel saying things they shouldn’t on social media and online. The first year I was in the Navy, my CO warned us at an all hand’s to ‘stop saying bad things about the command on Facebook.’ Such a scenario isn’t new, that happened nearly seven years ago. We know how to handle it, and we should all be used to this by now.
Never write to be thanked or praised. I’d rather have my Navy not care that you write than to have it formally recognize you for writing. Why? Because writing is not about the promotion of self. It is about selflessly working to improve your Navy and Country. Non sibi sed patriae, or don’t pick up the pen.
The Navy needs your ideas to compete with all the other ideas. The Navy needs you to be well read, and versed on how ideas compete with each other (how it happens online is not too dissimilar in how it happens anywhere else).
CAPT Hinkley and LTJG Hipple’s recent posts have served as something as a kick in the pants for me… It’s been a really long time since I wrote anything.
But, yeah, I’ve been busy…
I’m not in Belgium any more. I left at the end of February, at the last date that Millington said was possible without losing my billet and thus being removed from the Navy: 28FEB13.
In the present, I am at Corry Station, in Pensacola. Learning about the stuff that the aforementioned gentlemen wrote about. The thing about it though, I can’t write about what I’ve learned and am learning–its a different world I’ve walked into. From the completely open source world of social media into the Crypto-Tech world. I am at A-school. I am surrounded by boots. Every 45 seconds I am greeted in the P-ways with “good evening Petty Officer.” I am a class leader, I have a number of boots I am charged with keeping on task… And it is fascinating.
It’s like seeing myself seven years ago when I was new to the Navy. The questions they have differ little from my own back when…. They’re so young though, my god. When you’re a boot, you don’t think you stand out that much. But, you do. The mistakes you’re going to make are predictable and understandable. My experience over the last two weeks of school reminds of a quote from Hobbes,
Prudence is but experience, which equal time, equally bestows on all men, in those things they equally apply themselves unto.
Experience, and in turn prudence, starts with bootcamp. It builds to some expertise in A-school, you reach the Fleet and it is there that you learn to be a Sailor. This fact seems to have been abused back when I came into the Navy. A-schools back then were afflicted with the vogue notion of CBT, or Computer Based Training. Where the Navy assumed boots to be cleaver enough to essentially teach themselves. I’ve been told that even some of the more technical rates were afflicted by this methodology as well. Even more so, instructors favored the term ‘you’ll learn it in the Fleet’ when a somewhat vexing question would be asked of them. Again, all this to me, strikes me as a perversion of how a senior Sailor understands how they became who they are.
A more accurate portrayal of the development of a Sailor (‘Sailor-ization’ is a term that should not be used. One does not simply make a person into a Sailor, a person must grow into being a Sailor–the onus is on the one growing.) is that no amount of schooling nor any quantity of sea stories can completely ready a Sailor for life at sea or in the Fleet. But, that does not mean there is not great efficacy for either. Rather, the senior Sailor needs to fully appreciate what they are able to impart to their junior classmate. Everything they have lived can impart a small measure of prudence into that junior Sailor. Indeed, I consider this a sacred duty for the senior Sailor.
Having that first or second class in the classroom is invaluable. Having a 2nd or 1st that can truly spin a yarn is worth every cent of their pay. A 1st or 2nd that boots are in awe of is your surest bet to creating a Sailor worthy of the Fleet. I sincerely doubt that becoming a Master Training Specialist ensures any of this. In fact, I am nearly certain it doesn’t. But, I am open to being corrected regarding this perception.
A-school is the last great chance for the military to hold onto their boots, and impart in them the words that need to resonate in their heads for the next 20+ years. Once they leave here, for many of them, they start their adult lives and it will be too late. The core of their professional-selves are set.
For the senior Sailor, what is important is that they learn about who they have grown to become in each conversation they have with their juniors. As you explain to them what you experienced in the Fleet you discover aspects of your experience that you possibly had not considered before. From their reactions you are allowed to, in some small part, relive that experience and see from a 3rd person perspective how that experience affected you. In spinning that yarn, you learn just as much as they are. There seems to be much emphasis on the underscoring of technical prowess in being an instructor at A-school, I hope the Navy appreciates this more ephemeral aspect of instruction as well.
You’d probably be floored to know that about 10% of my class has a 4 year degree. There are more than five others in school with me that have their masters. What’s amazing is that it’s fairly evenly split between guys as such either not knowing they could be an officer, and others who do not want to be officers. The lines between what an officer is and an enlisted guy is blurring. In many respects what it is coming down to is how a person was trained and treated. If I were given the power, I’d like to do an experiment and see if someone from high school, and only high school, could become as good of an officer as someone from college.
There are still some months I have left here at Corry Station. I am very eager to get to know more people well established in the community I am entering. But, even more so, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to lead in some small way the boots (to be sure, I use that term in an endearing way) in class with me. They are teaching me more than they realize.
The following post is by a friend of mine, Nate Hunt. Nate takes care of the family farm by day, and by night does CG renderings of North Korean missile launch sites. He often shares his work on facebook, where I’ve watched him hone his skills over the last few years.
A number of people have asked me to do short write-up describing a little about the current Tongchang-ri launch pad reconstruction work that I am working and why I am doing such a project along with the methods and tools I use for the reconstruction process.
To answer the first question, the launch pad reconstruction is actually a small part of a much larger project which scope is to accurately reconstruct not just the launch pad but the entirety of the North Korean West-Coast launch site that I am currently working on reconstructing in small stages with the launch pad being just a part.
The reconstruction is to provide a comprehensive reconstruction tool of said site for research and to help gauge changes to the site overtime which is useful if one has an accurate model to compare top down images with to better understand how things may be have been changed or removed over time.
SECDEF Panetta was just in London speaking at King’s College. He touched on many significant points for the trans-Atlantic relationship going forward into the rest of the 21st Century. However, in relation to my last blog post, he closed with a significant statement,
As I retire from my own career in public service, I recognize that there is a generational shift underway. There will probably not be another U.S. secretary of defense with direct memories of World War II. Many of those entering military service today — and many of the young students here in this audience — were born years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yet across the generations, the transatlantic alliance remains the rock upon which we will build our future security and our future prosperity.
Generations are changing, and the rock upon which Churchill and the next generation built is not the same one that will be recognized tomorrow. It’s there as a foundation, but one that is a few stories below where we are today. It’s becoming abstract, a page in history, not something that was lived. And that is a significant cultural change.
Our decision making cannot take for granted something as significant as the Second World War, or even the Cold War, as living memory. Obviously, at the SECDEF level such a notion is not being taken for granted. But, still, the cultural shifts currently underway amount to a buried lede. A clear-eyed recognition of what is underway is important for decision makers at all levels, in my opinion, as this shift is something we must manage if we are to maintain a leadership role in the World.
History is dead; long live history.
Discussing Congressional politics over at Facebook I made the following comment.
The past is dead, and only exists on the pages of books. Chart a new course and new future.
I was questioned pointedly as to what I exactly mean in that statement; and rightfully so. Am I saying that that history gives us no lessons to learn from? Am I saying that we live in such unique times that all that’s come before is irrelevant? Not quite. I will use this blog to expand on my sentiment, and hopefully give some insight into what I consider the defining theme of the current Era.
We don’t live in the 20th Century any more. The themes we based our American Perspective on are geopolitically (and more) dead. There is no iron curtain, there is no soviet menace, there are no dominos to keep from falling. In the last decade or so we have not witnessed the end of history, what we have witnessed was the end of the 20th Century American paradigm.
America’s waffling in international affairs, our inability to articulate a strategy–especially grand strategy–comes not from lack of strategic ability, but from a lack of grand narrative. While it seems as if it were easy for us creating such a narrative in looking back, it was not an easy thing to clearly accept and define who we were (and who we should become) as a Nation from the start of the Cold War. Though we made the decisions, and we thus defined who we were going to be politically, socially, and on the world stage. Such decisions are made generationally and change with each subsequent generation.
My perspective differs greatly from those older than myself. I turned 18 in 2000, I will be 31 in a few weeks. Think about that for a minute. Much is said regarding the personality of Millennials, Generation Y, older Generation X, or whatever the nomenclature is for people around my age. But what is said is largely centered around the personality quirks of Americans 30 and younger. But, those quirks are based upon experience.
I’ve been in Europe for two years and three days. I’ve worked in NATO for this whole time. The impetus for NATO’s creation largely no longer exists, NATO has for the last few years been reinventing itself because of the loss of its impetus. But, beyond NATO all of the geopolitical realities of Europe are in flux. Additionally, the United States and our relationship to Europe is also undergoing change. While we were liberators in the 20th Century, the deeds done by the US are not a vibrant living memory any more. The monuments are here, the appreciation for what was done is still here. But, the men and women who did the liberation for the most part are not. As well, those who were liberated are not. The decisions made by US and European leaders are not being made in the Cold War paradigm either; decisions are not being made between people who were making decisions during the 20th Century.
Now, take this one step further–the average person. The average person not being either academically or personally steeped in the history of the Second World War or the Cold War, what do they think of the World in which we all live today? How do they self identify as a citizen of a nation? How do they understand the actions taken by other nations? Inherently, it will have to differ significantly from how those that lived through the Second World War and Cold war did (or do).
While I live in a World that results from theirs I cannot make decisions based upon what they did. I must inherently stand on my own and make decisions based on my own merit. This is the nucleus from which my generation of leaders will make decisions.
In all this, I am saying that for all intents and purposes, for those currently in power and for those who are coming to power: That history, which is arguably the greatest in all of America’s history, is not relevant in the sense that I cannot claim credit for it, nor should anyone give me that credit. My self and my nation are only as good as it’s current generation.
Perspective matters, as does how a people identify themselves and their nation. In the American experience I’ve noticed a predilection to point to our recent history as an exemplar of who we are. There is inherently nothing wrong with this, but there is some peril in doing so. The peril is in making decisions based on what once was. On living under the auspices of those no longer alive. A habitual form of ancestor worship in the worst sense.
America needs to come to terms that the 20th Century is over. The ways we did things then do not translate over very well into this 21st Century. Mark Twain talked about how history rhymes. And what we’re doing now is looking for that syllable that fits perfectly in relation to the previous stanza, and the whole World is too. Culturally, geopolitically, philosophically, and damn near everything is being defined for a new age. That, is the defining theme for today.
We can either be annoyed or frightened by this reality, or we can embrace it. But, by embracing it we have to let go of the past and not conflate what we do today with what was done in the past. What we do today defines what America is, not what our ancestors did. We’re only as good as we allow ourselves to be. The goodwill we earned as liberators and defenders of freedom has nearly run its course. It’s now up to the living to make new decisions predicated upon today’s realities that can either be as good or worse than our ancestors decisions.
Disclaimer: This theory of mine is only mine, and is not the thinking or policy of the US Navy or NATO. Further more, this is only the second time I’ve even mentioned my thoughts below to anyone. I am not Public Affairs trained, and so I am probably very, very wrong in all that I say…
Part four: The People (or, attention is demanded, content is king, and it’s hard to smell roses).
Three people, at the very least, is required to manage a robust and content diverse social media profile. This requirement is temporality based, with one person focusing on new content, one for posting content and being the person behind the profile(s), and another for gathering and monitoring metrics derived from the effort.
The biggest driver behind this requirement is the amount of attention demanded in participating in social media. Many simply stop at posting content on social media. Where as doing so only counts (at most) for ~30% of what can/should be done on social media. For instance, the last two years have seen a major push by news organizations (namely newspapers) to make their content more social. Dependent upon the sentiment of the news stories or other variables (e.g., is there anything in the story that was incorrect, is there supplemental information that could be provided to audiences that didn’t otherwise fit into the news story, is there any sentiment worth underscoring) there can be a major benefit to engaging audiences discussing news of your organization. Such an effort can consume significant amounts of time, which in turn precludes the ability of a single person to additionally create content unique to the organization, or to run metrics which accurately capture and demonstrate what resulted from the effort.
An additional thing worth mentioning is regarding participation in social media. I only wish to touch on it briefly (Though, itself deserves a thousand words). The person actually participating in social media is a spokesperson on par with, and every bit important as a media spokesperson. The skill sets for each differ significantly, each demanding in their own ways. Increasingly a social media spokesperson is becoming as important as the traditional media spokesperson.
If roughly 30% of one’s time is consumed by sharing ‘new’ or original content (more on original content later), and roughly 30% is consumed by participating in commenting on news; the remaning 30-ish percent is spent engaging with audiences at the organization’s social media profiles. The effort spread across these three areas, is beyond any notion of ‘branding’. Instead this time is spent establishing the organization’s culture for the audience (I will expand upon this notion in greater detail in a later post).
Lastly, the social media spokesperson is not be a nine-to-five job. It really should be treated 24/7, especially if your organization spans across time zones and cultures. With a worldwide audience, part of your audience is awake and talking about things while you sleep. This is not to say that the spokesperson can’t sleep, or can’t take a break. Rather, this is to say that a shift in mindset as to what it means to be ‘at work’ is necessary. Just as those who use social media for personal reason post casually through-out the day and night, regardless if it is the weekend or not; so too must the spokesperson, only with more earnest goals and objectives for their effort. An additional remedy is to look at who the audience is, and with enough time and though, understanding the rhythm at which the conversation flows.
In consideration of the demands outlined above, another person must be dedicated to original content creation. It is very easy to be a content aggregator online (also known as sharing on facebook, or retweeting on twitter). To a certain extent it is necessary to share content relevant to, but not created by, your organization (George Takei has earned himself over 3 million followers by aggregating content created by others). However, sharing and retweeting of content not created by an organization cannot fully define what the organization is. Thus, original content is necessary, and should be produced in quantities that adequately compliments the shares and retweets.
Doing this is a fulltime job that can quickly demand a number of disparate skills. Graphics, videos, stories, and memes (of all varieties) are labor intensive and time sensitive. But, it is original content that anchors any message on social media to a desired course. Without original content an organization’s message is dependent on the whims of others that cannot be fully controlled, leaving an organization’s narrative ill defined.
Having a blend of shared and original content, and having participated in the discourse, an organization still needs to know what resulted from the effort. To adequately measure the effort a third person, not apart of creation or engagement, is necessary. The amount of data generated on social media is massive and available in near real-time. Pure numbers are easy–if you want to measure how many ‘likes’ you got in a given amount of time, it’s no problem to look at the graphs provided by facebook, or any third party service. But, as I said in my previous post, the true power of social media is ‘in between the lines’.
Of all the types of analysis there is for social media one continually defies any attempts to automate: sentiment analysis, especially when the discourse spans multiple languages. Sentiment analysis is vital since a profile can increase in popularity for bad reasons as easily as it can for good. If your organization wishes to be a strong advocate for something, the number of likes, shares, or retweets will not inform you if you have been successful in its advocation. Think of it this way: When do you personally talk about something with your friends, or with strangers? When you really like something, or when you really don’t? Across society it probably cuts close to 50/50 between those who tend to talk about a topic in a negatively and those who tend towards positive context. Thus any volume metric (numbers of things) does not give the full picture–deeper analysis is demanded. ’Semantic based analysis’ (Not sure if that is a real term or not. But, it makes sense to term it as such, in my mind at least) is the only way to get a true sense of an organization’s accomplishments on social media.
Such semantic based analysis must include content outside pure social media (i.e. other mediums), and delve into news sources (including newspapers, televised news, magazines), blogs, and conceivably anywhere the organization might be discussed. Observing the effects in other mediums is vital, because such semantic analysis does not meet the criteria for Godel’s Completeness theorem, but does for his second Incompleteness Theorem–multiple cultures, multiple languages, spread across multiple (if not all) time zones add so many semantic variables that logical deduction, derived from number of likes, shares and the rest, is not possible. To verify the consistency, validness, and soundness of an organization’s use of social media the effects in mediums other than social media is demanded.
To be honest, even in my professional use of social media, I have not been able to follow the above guidelines exactly. But, from what I have been able to do as a part of a social media team, I have come to understand the necessity of all I said above. With social media being as new as it is, with new capabilities to measure an organization’s effects nearly every day, there is always more to be done. What constantly amazes me is how we as a species are able to do things of our own device and yet hardly understand what we’re doing at all–fascinating and troubling all at the same time.
Again, we’re well past a thousand words. So, I will leave this post where it is. More to come later next week. I think some of the comments got lost in the migration to Discus. Apologies for that, I promise I am reading the comments and will participate in them.
Disclaimer: This theory of mine is only mine, and is not the thinking or policy of the US Navy or NATO. Further more, this is only the second time I’ve even mentioned my thoughts below to anyone. I am not Public Affairs trained, and so I am probably very, very wrong in all that I say…
Part One: The Grand Narrative Renaissance.
The writings of those in the business realm dominate what public affairs and social media professionals read in the military. What fortune 500 companies do in social media is looked to as a guide post, with metrics like number of followers becoming the sine qua non of success. Granted, number of likes or followers is a very easy metric to grasp when talking about how successfully a message has been promulgated, and in measuring a return on investment more broadly. But, such base metrics belie the deeper significance of what much of the World is doing by utilizing social media, and the feedback effects from the use of social media.
Any metric gleaned has second and third order effects which cannot be readily verified that are much more significant than what we are able to measure–one has to read between the lines to see the true power of social media. My theory for this importance is that we are moving beyond the post-modern paradigm. This is to say that I agree with the notion that grand narratives cannot be articulated which equally applies to every perception or perspective. However, the sum of all perspectives can add up to an ad-hoc grand-narrative that falls along the lines of demographics, even up to the level of the human condition.
The metrics we have available to us have already been able to hint at this being true. Take a look at what Facebook Stories has put together based on the location and friend data available from Facebook. The infographic they’ve put together has some interesting implications for the divide between geopolitical and societal interactions . The ability for us to freeze a moment in time, per say, and look at the sentiment of over one billion people and obverse the sentiment based on whatever analytical criteria one wishes matters and will have a feedback effect on future opinions, perceptions and, more generally, societies’ self understanding.
We have already seen the first instances of the change brought about by the ‘mass self awareness’ we have of our combined opinions. News aggregation services like the Huffington Post, which reports its news based on what other more precise news sources report is one clear example of us as a society paying attention to the whims, opinions, and beliefs espoused across social media. Such services represent the first steps towards the measuring of the meta-narrative, or societies self-made, ad-hoc grand-narrative.
I use the model of wave-particle duality as a metaphor for how organizations use social media. In my job I have had to give considerable thought to how an organization should use social media. The person sitting behind an organization’s profile is only a single person, but the content they add is on the behalf of an organization much larger than their-self. Perceptually, on observer of an organization’s profile views the content as representing all that the organization is. Though, it is really only one person, typing away, making sure the content is in adherence to policy and the like.
Additionally, organizations are constantly adding content both internally and externally. I view such content creation (as well as a single person maintaining a profile representing a large organization) as a wave function in a larger system. For instance, SHAPE is a part of NATO, in turn NATO is a part of a system of 28 Nations (which is also a part of geopolitics writ large). The job of the person posting content onto a social media page is to take the wave function (NATO–28 Nations–geopolitics) and collapse it down into a particle.
In other words, a single post onto a social media profile does not convey very much, but 100 posts can convey a lot of information. 100 posts stretched over time, takes on a form much like a wave does. Posts over time can convey not just what is explicitly stated, but also something much more broad.
Using social media to convey information from an organization to the public provides a bandwidth of information well beyond what a media spokesperson can provide in the amount of time that can be spent during a press conference. Press conferences rarely consume more than an hour, and the various topics discussed have to compete for that limited time. However, in social media, the only limit to the amount of time spent conveying a message is limited only by attention span, enabling a much greater amount of content to be provided by an organization. The information provided at this time can be viewed as a particle. Any subsequent information provided at a later time is an additional particle, with the sum of these particles being able to be analyzed as a whole–the whole is the wave of information, the narrative created through the use of social media.
Part Three: Reporters are only subject matter experts.
Additionally, social media allows an organization to speak directly with individuals en mass. Previous to social media, the only way to promulgate a message efficiently was to speak to a small group who would then speak to a larger group–this small group being the press. Now that social media exists the media is not as necessary to speak with large groups. The words ‘to’ and ‘with’ are italicized because not only has social media given individuals access to organizations like SHAPE, it has also allowed them to have conversations with SHAPE. The difference between someone being spoken ‘to’ and being a part of a conversation is signficiant. News was one way, with only very motivated individuals doing all that would be required to personally visit an organization in order to speak with it, or by lengthly correspondence.
So, what role does a reporter occupy now that organizations and individuals can easily interact with each other? The role of a subject matter expert. Back during the Joint Warfighter Conference last Spring, I had something of an epiphany. There was a reporter there who was Tweeting statements from a Keynote address. I disagreed with the characterization being given through the reporters Tweets. I came to find out that the reason the characterization seemed off, is that the reporter was new to defense issues. Learning this, I started to view each reporter and news source I valued differently. I came to understand that I liked the reporter because not of the access they might have had, or the way they wrote a story. But, because of the depth of understanding they were able to convey to me through their reporting.
In essence, I have come to view a reporter as a person who has a depth of knowledge concerning the subject they cover that enables them to breakdown a complex topic into a narrative that I am able to understand. To return to my wave-particle metaphor: They are able to make a wave into a particle.
When individuals have access to information and organizations that are of interest to them, what role can a reporter occupy other than being talented enough to explain complex subjects that an individual does not have the time to delve into themselves? Reporters are subject matter experts who have a tallent for cogently explaining complex things–in the a best case, that is.
**This blog is already over 1k words. I will follow up with parts Four, Five and the Conclusion later this week.
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