Archive for the 'Innovation' Tag
The inevitable fiscal crunch that is starting our Military down has the Pharisees of the defense industry, think tanks, and senior military leaders all rabble-rabbling about the need for change. Some of that change is strategic- Asia Pacific pivot anyone? Other bits of it reside in the acquisitions department, as we see with the pros and cons of developing “revolutionary” weapons systems to confront “new” threats. The most harrowing changes for military leaders are the all too well known cuts to manpower that will come in some fashion, no matter the logic, or lack thereof, which delineates how those cuts will happen. There is more change in the air than cordite after an end of fiscal year shooting range, but it is important to reflect on some history in order to avoid stepping on the same proverbial rakes that have smacked our national security establishment in the face during previous drawdowns.
Ideas like this one are an especially pervasive form of bad, and seem unable to die even when history proves them inadvisable. We saw the call for unification in President Eisenhower’s attempts to reevaluate our national security establishment in light of the massive technological, strategic, and social changes that occurred after World War Two. It was vital to acknowledge the necessity of change in that period, because much like Eisenhower’s dictum on planning, self-examination is vital even if most of the individual recommendations may turn out to be worthless. Reconsidering defense in light of nuclear weapons, ICBMS, and the bi-polar nature of security dilemmas when facing the Soviet Union was important. Trusting academic tea-leaf readers in their assessments and then proclaiming there would “never be another amphibious landing”, that ground forces would not be used in limited wars, and that tactical airpower was only needed to defend or shoot down strategic airpower looks downright foolhardy when viewed as historical record. What saved us from the march to a monolithic Star Fleet force that all wore the small uniforms and all died like red shirts landing on Klingon? The pluralistic competition of our service structure, which was inefficient and far from perfect, but possessed a flexibility that made it anti-fragile.
Separate services, even separate services that possess redundant capabilities, are a vital part of American national defense. The Army needs the Marine Corps to soak up public attention as a motivation for better performance as badly as the Marine Corps need the Army to keep its constant self worry about irrelevance and drive its performance. Those intangible reasons can be criticized as they are not measurable, but of direct consequence are the different service outlooks which spurn actual innovation.
The Marine Corps decided it would gladly incorporate vulnerable and unwieldy rotary aircraft that Army and Air Force leaders largely ignored during Korea, and in doing so enabled the much better resourced Army to perfect the techniques of vertical envelopment to a higher degree than it ever could in Vietnam. The Navy had to have an Air Force that threatened its budget in order to develop SSBNs, and not pursue the much less effective option of carrier borne strategic bombers. Our most recent wars have shown the truth that a market place of defense ideas is better than a command economy for strategy. While the Marine Corps stubbornly resisted SOCOM membership, the other services gladly perfected the techniques needed to combat global terrorism in the learning laboratories of Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Those were bloody lessons, but proved that some enemies cannot be defeated by large MEUs waiting off shores, although the synergy created between such a force and SOCOM has proven to be vital, and continues to pay national security dividends. Service diversity even ensures we do not forget lessons learned in blood that may seem inefficient during peacetime arguments on Capitol Hill. Even the best planners can shortchange things that are easily forgotten as peace breaks out. Something as boring as oil platform protection is a skill the world’s preeminent Navy forgot, and had to relearn from the worlds 12th largest navy (the U.S. Coast Guard). There is known historical value and definite future value in keeping a diverse and flexible force, but to do so one must resist the urge to unify in the name of declining dollars. Cost savings are easy to evaluate in peacetime dollars, but take on a morbid tone when seen in defeat and death at the opening stages of a conflict.
Cleary such an arrangement has inefficiencies, and wasting taxpayer dollars in the worst economy in years should be viewed as criminal no matter if the DOD is committing the waste or not. Grenada, Desert One, and Vietnam all demonstrated the tragic human cost of pursuing service parochialism over higher interests. Such costs have been mitigated in part by the Goldwater-Nichols act of 1986. Goldwater-Nichols is far from perfect and could use an upgrade to incorporate recent lessons from the Long War. Jointness in our operations, communications, and interoperability is a good thing. Understanding perspective, knowing how the whole of the military functions instead of just one’s own slice, and talk the language of service peers are also good things. Making claims that bureaucratic restructuring to “align” and “combine” are fools errands, they repeat the mistakes that we almost made in trying to tear down an organic system. Our current force has grown through invaluable combat experience, to replace it with a theoretical framework that has never worked is a bad idea of immense magnitude.
There have been examples of “unified” militaries, look at Saddam’s Republican Guard, it clearly combined the best equipment, personnel, and training available to fulfill “civilian” leadership’s strategic wishes. Such a system is horribly fragile, and succumbs to the groupthink that all bureaucracies do. In this age of belt tightening, we should correctly become more efficient, but there are better ways than throwing out everything and starting from scratch. Reexamining our bloated personnel policies, taking a hard look at our compensation and retirement systems that resemble ticking fiscal bombs, and revamping our professional military education are all better places to start than tired and historically bankrupt calls for the “merger of …[U.S.]…ground forces”. The diversity of thought which comes from each service is one of the strongest weapons our joint force possesses, it would wise to avoid dulling such fine tool so we can save dollars only to spend lives unnecessarily in a future conflict.
Deckplate innovation is receiving unprecedented attention these days, as well as its fair share of sniping from the skeptical sidelines. Innovation is indeed nothing new under the sun, and its traditional obstacles are no less prohibitive than they ever have been. What is new is the unprecedented speed at which ideas can promulgate through modern social media. The controlled brainstorming or “ideation” drive has been compared to panning for gold, but the internet has allowed us to increase the size of our pan.
In his recent post about the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum, BJ Armstrong urged us to publish and promote our ideas to those empowered to act on them; to “influence the influencers,” so to speak. Execution is, of course, the graveyard of good ideas; for our ideas to become results they must find the backing of some influential executive or “principal.” The “pitch” to a receptive principal is the most sensitive stage of an embryonic idea’s lifespan. Having made no small number of failed pitches (and a few that didn’t fail), I’ve identified a few common themes to rejection. For those potential innovators getting ready to make the pitch, please consider the following as you prepare:
Know Thyself: Hazards to Credibility
Old ideas. It’s often the case that your idea has been tried before and failed. It’s not necessary that an idea be new for it to be good—many failed innovations suffered from flawed executions, and are worth attacking again with a better plan. The important thing is that you do your homework to understand why the idea failed and what should be done differently before you try to revive it. If you don’t know until mid-pitch that your brilliant idea was tried and failed twenty years ago, then your innovation is dead on arrival.
Lacking solutions. If you’ve identified a problem but haven’t identified a potential solution, then you’ve really just filed a complaint. Unfortunately, the complete solution might be beyond your level of expertise, and it’s for this reason that many potential innovations die at this stage. Don’t let a lack of expertise paralyze you—great innovations rarely resemble their instigators’ original vision. This is a rare situation where effort can actually be more important than the immediate results—what you’re doing here is getting the process started.
Emotion. It’s rare that potential solutions are not accompanied with some degree of frustration at the original problem or the myopic organization that fails to perceive it. Frustration, skepticism, and resentment are all common sentiments among smart people in large bureaucracies—left unchecked, they can fester into bitterness, and nobody wants to listen to another bitter JO. It’s essential that you prevent emotions from bleeding into your pitch, and it can happen to either written or verbal communication. If you suspect that your passions may be too evident, it might be a good idea to run your presentation by a trusted mentor first.
What about enthusiasm? Keep it under control; remain stoical and professional if you want to be taken seriously. Principals are interested in facts. It’s good to communicate conviction, but too much enthusiasm may instead communicate naiveté, which hurts your case and calls your objectivity into question. Scott Adams beautifully dismissed the usefulness of enthusiasm in a recent editorial: “Success caused passion more than passion caused success.”
Know Thine Enemy: Obstacles to Acceptance
Admitting to the problem. Your principal is familiar with the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He or she has probably endured a career’s worth of ambitious Good Idea Fairies and gimmicks, and understands that failed executions are worse than leaving well enough alone. If a system is in place, then somebody thinks it is working, and sometimes that may be enough for your principal—effective or not, if we perform according to expectations we will be left alone to accomplish our real mission.
Finite resources. Funding is the obvious obstacle, but may not be the most difficult. Your principal has limited time and limited political capital, and must carefully budget both to do their job. You have to prove not only that your problem is indeed worth solving, but that it is more important than the other problems they’re going to have to divert resources away from. You have to prove that solving it is their job—they’re not in the business of taking on other people’s problems.
The pocket veto. This is how bureaucracies insidiously devour innovation. Rather than overtly rejecting your proposal at risk of appearing unconcerned with your problem, some principals may agree to “take it into consideration” or to “forward it along” with no real commitment to execution. Since you’re not really in a position to demand commitment, the only thing you can do is be persistent. No great idea ever caught on without a lot of hard work and follow-through.
You may have to seek the attention of other principals– be careful. It’s easy to stray into insubordination this way, but if you tailor your message carefully, your immediate chain of command may be relieved that you would seek resolution elsewhere (depending on the problem). The best way to avoid conflicts of interest is to communicate your intentions aggressively. Then there is always the option to write and publish, in fact it has never been easier.
You might be wrong.
In all of our fervor over innovation, we sometimes forget that not all new ideas are good. At any given moment there is an infinite quantity of bad ideas floating around, and yours just might be one of them. You might not realize it for years, in fact you may never become convinced, and this is why the bureaucracy isn’t always a bad thing. If the principal refuses to choose your battle, it’s not because they’re an unthinking cog in a stolid machine, it’s because they feel it’s their responsibility to “just say no.” Later on, you might even come around to their point of view.
While persistence is necessary if you ever hope for your idea to catch on, it is also necessary that you be willing to move on at some point if it really is a non-starter. As usual, brutal self-honesty is in order, with an eye to improving for the next attempt. Other battles need fighting, and we need your innovation.
Over the Columbus Day weekend I had the great opportunity to participate in the first national Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum conference. The event was hosted at The Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago and a number of other organizations, like USNI, sponsored events from breakfasts to happy hours. At its heart, however, the conference was independently organized by a group of mid-grade and junior officers to explore the nexus of innovation and entrepreneurship with military affairs and defense industry.
Off the top, the very existence of the event was something to behold. Over a hundred men and women from the junior ranks of the military, civilians from the defense world both inside and outside government, and innovation/silicon valley folks, got together for three days to talk about how to make the military better in the 21st century. They paid their own way. The government is shutdown. Even if it wasn’t, sequestration meant there was no travel money. They filled out a leave chit and pulled out their personal credit cards. These individuals have such a belief in the idea that the military needs new ways of looking at things and doing things, and such an overwhelming desire to be part of that, that they all dropped hundreds of dollars and their long weekend to go to Chicago to meet with one another.
I do have a personal note about attendance that I think should be made: while many junior personnel had the guts to vote with their wallets and their time, only one General officer showed up, and a couple of Colonels. I’m not sure what any of that means, but it is worth noting because ALL ranks, rates, and grades were invited. In fact, there was some pretty significant outreach to the Flag and General Officer community by the organizers.
So, the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum 2013 set out in part to inspire, in part to educate, and in part to execute. The events were livecast with the support of Google, and there is a DEF Youtube Channel. The Tweetwall went up and participants were encouraged to tweet as the event went on to highlight ideas and lessons. You can read back through the tweets from the weekend at #DEF2013 if you are interested.
Over the next week or two I’m hoping that there will be a number of blog posts across the web about what we all experienced at DEF. LT Hipple has already reported back at USNI Blog and there are a few others (here, here, here) to get us started.
I just wanted to share one observation that I took away from the weekend. On Sunday, Sean Maday, a former USAF Captain who now works at Google pointed out in his Keynote that a few short years ago, when he was wearing baby blue with railroad tracks on his collar, a three or four-star wouldn’t even acknowledge his existence, never mind listen to his ideas. Today, just because he put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt instead of a uniform, they travel to Palo Alto to meet him, desperate to know what he thinks. This illustrates one of the great truths that was only hinted at in the excitement of DEF: Innovative junior officers don’t have the power to execute their ideas.
One of the mantras of the weekend was that we must have results. Ben Kohlmann quoted fellow board member Micha Murphy that “execution is the new innovation.” This is a valid observation, but only after the innovator is given the nod, a green deck if you will. Someone in a position of power and influence has to buy into the idea that a) there is a problem and b) this is a good solution. In the world of Silicon Valley they don’t have Flag and General Officers who are part of a massive, centuries old bureaucracy. However, they do have the venture capitalists and money men, and if you can’t get a money man to buy into your grand IT innovation or start-up it’s going to be pretty tough to get anywhere.
It may be that the best way to look at this is to think about military strategy, maybe think a little bit about Sun Tzu and stir in some Liddell Hart with a touch of John Boyd, and look for an indirect approach. In the closing hours of the conference Colonel Michael-Bob Starr (USAF, one of the few senior officers at DEF) tweeted:
Implementation is not the goal. Goal is to INFLUENCE the implementers. #DEF2013
— Michael Bob Starr (@mbobstarr) October 14, 2013
So how do you influence the decision makers? While it was not formally talked about, it did come up again and again with comments about communicating your idea. As Howard Lieberman said on Sunday in a breakout: “Publish your idea and get credit for it.”
So, here’s my lesson observed from DEF 2013: It isn’t good enough to have a great idea or to figure out how you would implement it. Neither of those things matter unless you figure out how to influence the influencer, how to get your idea in front of someone who can make a decision and get the green-light. We heard repeatedly this weekend that one of the best ways to get your idea in front of someone is to publish it. The hyperlink, the pdf, or the hard copy of the magazine are a lot more likely to find their way in front of the person with that power than you are just wandering aimlessly around your base with a great innovation in your head.
I think we’ve heard this before: Dare to read, think, write…publish.
Twelve pages into Samuel Eliot Morison’s The Two-Ocean War and I’ve already found myself setting the work aside and getting lost in thought regarding the stark similarities between the interwar Navy of 1917-’41 and the Navy I serve in today. I feel compelled to quote from it at some length. The Author received a letter from VADM Deyo while he was still writing the work.
The surface Navy, despite lack of funds from Congress or interest by its civilian heads, produced a reasonable semblance of a balanced fleet and operated effectively as one in its training. The spur of officer selection and ship competition was most noticeable. But gradually the means became the end. Thus, while everyone worked hard, we began going in circles. The Fleet became more and more tied to bases, operating out of Long Beach–San Diego on a tight fuel budget, chained to the increasingly artificial, detailed mandates of the Office of Fleet Training whose word was law. The pencil became sharper than the sword, everyone tried to beat the target practice rules and too many forgot there was a war getting closer. There was a waiting line for top commands, and tenure of office was so short–often only a year or less–that high commanders came and went, leaving little impression. Paper work wrapped its deadly tentacles around cabin and wardroom. Smart ship handling, smart crews, eager initiative received little attention, as did the reverse. Glaring defects in guns, ammunition, torpedoes, battle tactics, went unnoticed for so long as the competition rules made due allowances and gave everyone similar conditions.
The Competition the Admiral is speaking of is the Battle Efficiency Competition instituted by President T. Roosevelt in 1902 as a solution for the Navy’s poor gunnery in the Spanish-American War. The competition worked Morison says, for the first seven years. After which time however, the competition became institutionalized and the effort became more about the process itself than it was about increasing our efficiency in battle.
Looking at where we are today, we find ourselves in a very similar situation. The Commands charged with the training of the Fleet have changed, the methods by which we choose to train have changed. But, the same basic problem with ‘process worship’ or ‘churn’ exists today.
One issue that seems to be a constant undercurrent is the amount of time, resources, focus and energy we spent on establishing, refining, and participating in various processes instead of on the actual output of the process. This worship of process over product (“churn”) results in people going through the motions, with little to no understanding of its original purpose, resulting in very little output.
Admiral Harvey said that at his place last April. The solution to churn in ’35 was that CNO Admiral Standley ended the battle efficiency competition and had his Fleet train in more realistic and less idealized conditions. What ADM Standley did was not exactly innovative, rather it was new for the time. I am sure that the salty old Chiefs at that time were telling their Sailors that ‘this is how we used to train’ or ‘we’re getting brilliant on the basics’. From what I have read, he didn’t institute a replacement program–as large and complex as the original–for the Battle Efficiency Competition program. Rather, he just removed what was not necessary and counterproductive, adding only small substantive changes.
Any process over time will accumulate churn, or become bloated. We should assume this to be unavoidable and accept that we must eliminate major portions of programs and start anew with the same basic goal we had with the initial program, so that that this cycle can start over again, as those who’ve gone before us have had to do.
(from the archives)
27 Feb 1940: Development of the “Flying Flapjack”, a fighter aircraft with an almost circular wing, was initiated with notice of a contract award to Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft for the design of the V-173–a full-scale flying model (as distinguished from a military prototype). This design, based upon the research of a former NACA engineer, Charles H. Zimmerman, was attractive because it promised to combine a high speed of near 500 m.p.h. with a very low takeoff speed.
Cutting edge design – Naval Aviation has been at the forefront of a number of innovative and successful aircraft designs for new or existing missions across the years. Fighters like the F-4 Phantom and F-14 Tomcat, attack aircraft like the bantam bomber, the A-4 Skyhawk, and the E-2 Hawkeye, benchmark for AEW/Battle Management. Along the way there were some, well, not so moments where what seemed like a grand and game changing idea on paper, didn’t quite make the grade for one reason or another. Perhaps the airframe was too far ahead of engine development (cf F3H Demon), weapons delivery encountered critical flaws that forced a change in the original mission (cf A-5A Vigilante) or the entire endeavor had so many problems — weight, aero, engines, weapons system, etc.,that it was best to just kill it altogether before it made its way to the fleet (cf F-111B and A-12).
There is an axiom in aviation that runs along the lines that if something looks good, it will fly good. Others you just look at and wonder what the designers, engineers and/or approving procurement officials were on…
June, 1947. Navy Day. Bathers along the beaches lining Long Island Sound look aloft to an incredulous sight – a silver and yellow disc that is speeding along, looking unlike any other flying object seen in the area. They didn’t know it at the time, but those folks were witnesses to the one and only public flight of the Vought V-137/XF5U, nicknamed the “Flying Flapjack.” At onetime a cutting edge aerodynamic design, it was now not much more than a curiosity as the age of the jet was ascendant. Soon, it would be sent to the breakers to be broken up along with the one and only prototype and assume its place in the annals of aeronautical fantastical or just plain weird designs.
During the war years, considerable energy was expended in making fighters go faster (“speed is life” didn’t originate with the movie ‘Top Gun’). Much thought was spent in streamlining and reducing drag. The effort took many paths – some more conventional than others. Flush riveting, new airfoils (like the Mustang’s laminar flow), reduced frontal area via in-line, liquid cooled engines represented most of the mainstream efforts. Some, like Jack Northrop and the engineers at Vought, thought that reduced drag could be accomplished by eliminating entire structural components, like the tail. Northrop’s work evolved through the N9MB into the familiar flying wing. Over at Vought, it was if anything, a little more unconventional.
Beginning in 1933, Charles Zimmerman, an aeronautical engineer with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at Langley Field, Virginia began to promote a tailless “pancake” design. He filed for a design patent on April 30, 1935 and was granted patent #2,108,093 on February 14, 1938. With the concurrence of NACA, Zimmerman approached United Aircraft Corporation with his novel design in 1937 and joined United’s Chance Vought Aircraft Division in that year as project engineer. By August 15, 1939, drafting, engineering design, and aerodynamic studies were far enough along for Vought to submit a proposal to the U.S. Navy for a full-scale prototype of the V-173. The U.S. Navy placed a contract for one V-173 on May 4, 1940. First flight of the airplane was on November 23, 1942.
To say the V-173 was unconventional would be an understatement. Powered by two Continental A-80 engines, rated at 80-horsepower each, turning two 16.5-foot three-bladed propellers, the V-173 used a semicircular planform (wide at front, narrow in back) with two vertical tails for stabilization and two “ailerators” for control. The aircraft had long fixed main landing gear and a 22-degree nose-high static ground angle. The cockpit had a windowed leading edge ahead of the pilot for downward visibility. Four segmented leading edge inlets (left and right) provided air to the engine. Built light, the V-173 structure was made of wood with fabric covering. The upside was with a wing loading of only 5 lbs/sq ft; the V-173 could lift off in 200 feet in no wind conditions, and with a zero run against a 25-knot headwind. The implications for a carrier-based fighter were readily apparent. However, with a mere 80-hp driving the prototype, max speed was only 138 mph. Clearly a proof of concept prototype should be built, designed from the keel up as a fighter.
The letter of intent for the Vought VS-315 (XF5U-1) was issued September 17, 1942. Designed for land- or carrier-based operations (the latter minus a tailhhook), the XF5U-1 was a twin-engine, single-seat, low aspect ratio flying wing type of airplane, manufactured by the Chance Vought Division, United Aircraft Corporation, Stratford, Connecticut. The basic wing area (~472 sq. ft) and planform of the XF5U-1 was the same as the V-173. Power
was substantially upped with the use of two embedded Pratt & Whitney R-2800-7 radial engines rated at 1350 hp each. These were in turn, connected via shafts to two hydraulically operated, fast-acting, electro-mechanically governed propellers. Each engine was cross-connected to the opposite prop such that if an engine was lost on take-off/recovery, both props would continue turning. (ed: And you thought an engine out on a Cessna 310 could be a handful…imagine what the possibilities might have been here.) Continuing the unconventional theme, the props themselves consisted of four Pregwood blades and load-relieving hubs which differed from the conventional four-way hub in that the blades were free to “flap” in pairs about the shaft axis. Low pitch stop was 15 degrees; high pitch stop was 70 degrees. The cockpit was a monocoque shell with a bubble canopy for better visibility and space set aside (but never utilized) for six 50-calibre guns and ammo boxes. Unlike the V-173’s fixed gear, the landing gear on the XF5U-1 would retract.
The first XF5U-1 airplane (Bureau Number 33958) was used for static tests; proof loads, extended to ultimate, largely confirmed structural design predictions. The second XF5U-1 airplane (Bureau Number 33959) was used for experimental flight test and concept validation. Early in the test series though, significant problems were encountered with vibrations from the props that translated to the shafts, gearboxes and airframe structure and considered excessive. By this point (1947) the war was over and the budgetary long-knives were out. With proven prop-driven fighters in its inventory already (notably the F4U) and intent on moving into jets (recall McDonnell’s Phantom and Banshee, Grumman’s Panther and Vought’s own Pirate were in various stages in the pipeline), the decision was made to axe the XFU5 on 17 March 1947. Both prototypes were subsequently destroyed, although the V-173 was saved and is now in the National Air and Space Museum’s extended storage facility awaiting restoration.
Wingspan: 32.50 ft
Overall Length: 28.62 ft
Height: 16.96 ft
Aspect ratio of basic wing: 1.275
Wing airfoil section (NACA): 0016
Wing area less ailavators (48) sq ft: 427
Weights and Capacities
Empty Weight: 13107 lb
Gross Weight: * 16758 lb
Fuel Capacity: 261 gal
Power plant Characteristics
Type: Two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-7
Rating: 1350 hp
Maximum Speed, Sea Level: ** 425 mph
Landing Speed, Sea Level: 490 mph
Initial Rate-of-Climb: *** 3000 ft/min
Range at Cruise Speed: **** 1152 miles
Absolute Ceiling: 30700 ft
Armament: Provisions for six 50-caliber Browning Machine Guns
* Empty weight plus 261-gallons internal fuel, pilot, ammo, two 150-gallon
drop tanks. Overload gross weight equals 18,931 pounds with two
** Max speed, 425 mph at sea level (501 mph with advanced engine)
*** Rate of Climb
fpm at mph EAS at alt, ft
3,000 175 Sea Level
2,500 175 10,000
1,000 165 20,000
**** Max range, 597 statute miles at 10,000 ft altitude with 261 gallons of internal fuel (less 50 gallons for warm-up, take-off and climb) with high blower, 1700 engine rpm, 31 inches Hg M.P., auto lean mixture, 280 mph TAS, prop gear ratio 0.1763:1. With two 150-gallon drop tanks, max range, 1,152 statute miles.
I am set to enroll in a course entitled “Readings in Grand Strategy” next semester. The course description features many of the “greats” of strategy: Bismarck, Clausewitz, Philip II, etc. I began to wonder: as America struggles to find the way forward, are we searching for a great man or many good men?
I am fascinated by the knowledge problem in strategy. It’s the same problem which faces societies as they struggle to create an economic order. In “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” Friedrich Hayek wrote brilliantly on this issue,
“The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess.”
Knowledge within an organization (or society) is decentralized. If America wants to make the “best” grand strategy, it has to somehow utilize all the dispersed bits of knowledge. Yet, we have an overwhelming amount of knowledge, which only serves to swamp decision-makers. For example, 50,000 intelligence products are created every year, to which Thomas Fingar, former DNI deputy director for analysis, concedes, “There can’t possibly be a market for.”
How do we aggregate the sum knowledge at our disposal? I would submit one brilliant mind cannot do this as well as many good minds. George Kennan’s “Long Telegraph” on the Soviet Union is an excellent example– one brilliant mind dominated policy discussion. Instead of asking one super-expert about the USSR’s intentions, we could have bet on it.
What if we were to have a large pool of experts and ask them to wager on a series of questions? One example, “In 5 years or less, will Russia have another armed conflict with Georgia?” The experts would then use virtual money to gamble on the outcome. It’s called a prediction market and they’re eerily accurate at forecasting. By tapping into the power of many minds, we can detect bits of information which would have previously gone unnoticed.
In many instances, the prediction market uses prices to represent probablilties. For example, if a Russian invasion of Georgia in the next five years were selling at $.20, then the market is forecasting a 20% likelihood of the invasion occuring.
Private companies already use them. Google found they gave “decisive, informative predictions” on ”product launch dates, new office openings, and many other things of strategic importance to Google.”