Tags: Books, CRIC, Disruptive Thinking, Essays, Innovation, Moffett
In trying to come to a better understanding of what the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell should be, I came across at old (from 1988! ) essay written by Stephen Rosen titled New Ways of War: Understanding Military Innovation (h/t Adam Elkus for the lead on it). Rosen’s essay details the full evolution of innovation, what innovation is as a process, and how ‘disruptive thinking’ is only the first step and is not innovation in and of itself. Innovation doesn’t truly take hold until the intellectual, technical, and political aspects of the new idea has matured. While the tempo of technological change can be breathtaking, institutional changes in the service still have a tempo that iterates at a generational pace. For Rosen, innovation is not complete until an innovation has been fully developed into doctrine and operational paradigm. In other words, only once the disruption from new ways of thinking has dissipated can the innovation process be considered complete.
The organizational struggle that leads to innovation often involves the creation of a new path to senior ranks so that a new officer learning and practicing the new way of war will not be hunted aside into a dead-end speciality that does not qualify him for flag rank.
Rosen frames military innovation in terms of there actually being three struggles: intellectual, political, and technological. He observes this in three case studies. However, in my remarks here, I shall only stick with one of the examples: development of carrier warfare by the USN.
Rosen pays special attention to how Rear Admiral Moffett performed his duties as the first Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. Rosen accounts how at first, aviators objected to the notion of a battleship sailor being chosen to lead the newly minted BuAer. However, they would come to find that it was Moffett’s ability to wage the political struggle, and his ability to articulate the role of the carrier in warfare – in a manner that met the evolving nature of the intellectual struggle – that warranted his selection. As Rosen states
The intellectual redefinition of naval warfare from combat among battleships to the development of mobile air bases at sea would have been futile if the political struggle for power within the officer corps in the Navy had not been fought and won by Moffett and his allies.
Technology alone doesn’t cause innovation, nor does it usher in a new way of war, neither does a good idea make it very far if the champion of that idea can’t help foster institutional change. Rosen cites the efforts of Moffet and so many others as having taken 24 years from the general board first considering naval aviation in 1919 to fruition with the publication of PAC-10 in 1943. A truly generational effort, that saw not just the technology of naval aviation develop, but the aviation career field take its initial shape, and the political structure of the officer corps evolve and the wider community adjust accordingly.
Rosen had to chose for his case studies large and significant shifts that do not often occur in militaries. Where the Navy finds itself today doesn’t nearly parallel the example of the development of naval aviation. However, this is not to say that there are no lessons to be gleaned from it, especially in regards to the intellectual and political struggles within the Navy.
People, ideas, hardware… In that order! — Col. John Boyd, USAF (ret)
Boyd was more right than he realized. Not only is that the order of importance for military leaders, it’s also the order what is the hardest to improve, and once improved that is the order which has the greatest impact. As well, it is the evolution of all three aspects that are required for innovation in the military.