Author Archive

What’s happening on Tubbatha Reef is covered in detail by Galrahn at Information Dissemination. The facts will, likely, come out in the ensuing investigation. On the off chance that pundits and investigators alike are unfamiliar with the Navy’s history with groundings or ship losses, here are a few things to consider…

October 8th, 1957 – USNS Mission San Miguel (AO-129) runs aground on Maro Reef in the Hawaiian Islands while running at full speed and in ballast. She sinks but her crew is rescued by LST 664.

August 22nd, 1958 – USS Prestige (MSO-465) sinks after running aground off Shikoku, Japan.

July 17th, 1965 – USS Frank Knox (DDR-742) runs aground on Pratas Reef in the South China Sea while underway to Taiwan. The ship is pulled free on 22 August.

November 3rd, 1966 – USS Tiru (SS-416) runs aground on Frederick Reef in the Coral Sea and is freed on 6 November.

February 6th, 1968 – The USS Bache (DD-470) drags anchor off Rhodes harbor, Greece, in hurricane force winds and runs aground on rocks, splitting the ship from stem to stern, but there are no serious injuries. On 17 February the ship suffers further damage in a two-day storm. The ship is so badly damaged, rather than refloated it is decommissioned on 26 February.

September 23rd, 1973 – USNS Sgt. Jack J. Pendleton (T-AKV-5) runs aground near Triton Island in the Paracels and is abandoned.

April 23rd, 1973 – USS Force (MSO-445) catches fire and sinks about 820 miles west of Guam in the Philippine Sea. Seventy crewmen who abandon the Force are picked up the next day by the British merchant ship Spratnes.

May 8th, 1982 – USS Chauvenet (T-AGS-29) runs hard aground on Dauisan Reef in the Cagayan Islands in the Sulu Sea while underway from Subic Bay, Philippines, to survey grounds in Indonesian waters. After two-and-one-half weeks of salvage efforts, the ship is refloated by U.S. Navy salvage teams and towed to the Ship Repair Facility in Subic Bay.

Not all of those COs were summarily relieved. One was court martialed, one was promoted. The others, well, I’m still researching those.

Either way, the CO, XO, and crew deserve some things from us, and from the institution. They deserve that we talk to them forthrightly. That we ask them questions and not act as if this is a dark incident, never to be spoken of. They deserve to be afforded some level of grief counseling, without question, chagrin, or judgement.

The US Navy has not lost a ship in forty years. Let us hope this is a time for learning, educating, and grieving…not one for affixing blame.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This is what the First Amendment states. At the root of things the only way for the First Amendment to be “violated” is for the Congress to pass a law that abridges one of these rights.

So where does the recent discussion trend of General Dempsey’s commentary (or lack thereof) on political organizations and activities by veterans fit? Is he seeking to restrict free speech? Or is he exercising his own freedom?

How does the current problems with “The Innocence of Muslims” tie in? Mentor and friend David Kaiser writes that “[An]other American trend is now forty years old, and relates to our changing attitude towards free speech. I remain totally opposed to any restrictions on free speech, include laws against hate speech, but the time has come to face a necessary truth: free speech has to be exercised responsibly to work. Beginning in the 1960s the idea has grown that the purpose of speech is to be outrageous, and that the more outrageous speech might be, the more protection–if not celebration–it deserves. Free speech that, for instance, points out abuses by our own government or calls attention to real dangers overseas has enormous value, but free speech that simply insults millions of Muslims does not.”

I’d been thinking this idea but as usual Dr. Kaiser is better able to explain it than I.

So, as I see it, when General Dempsey said “it’s not helpful to me” he expressed that speech should have some constraints. Others disagree. Which they are able to do because of the First Amendment. However, commanders have another problem that transcends the complaints of the chattering masses.

Let’s start with a clear statement – sexual assault is bad. It’s illegal, it’s immoral, its counter to every value our government of the people, our culture, and our modernity stand for. It’s also prevalent in the world and has been and will remain so.

What happens when a well-meaning or intended comment comes from leadership? Take for example Marine Commandant General Amos’ statements on sexual assault. In a world tour of Marin bases the general has had some tough talk.

Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newpapers writes:

“Amos used his tour to stress his own strong feelings about the 348 reported sexual assaults in the Marine Corps last year. In a roughly 75-minute talk intended for every Marine non-commissioned officer and officer, the career aviator demanded tougher punishment for those accused of sexual misconduct.

“Why have we become so soft?” Amos asked in a speech April 19 at Parris Island.

He further described himself as “very, very disappointed” in court-martial boards that don’t expel those who misbehave sexually, and he denounced as “bullshit” claims that many sexual assault allegations amount to second thoughts from individuals who initially consented.

“I know fact from fiction,” Amos declared, a transcript of his April 19 speech shows. “The fact of the matter is 80 percent of those are legitimate sexual assaults.”

“My lawyers don’t want me to talk about this, but I’m going to anyway,” he said May 23 at California’s Camp Pendleton, according to a defense legal filing. “The defense lawyers love when I talk about this, because then they can throw me under the bus later on and complain about unlawful command influence.”

These and other comments have led to 20 charges of unlawful command influence by the Commandant in Marine sexual assault cases. All because the Commandant thought he was talking tough to Marines.

This is where I believe URR and others were concerned about the intent and import of the statement made by General Dempsey regarding veteran politics. By merely weighing in he inserted command influence, whether he liked it or not. Once he weighed in he had an opportunity to show how his own ideas of restrained free speech would work when Admiral Nathman and 40 some other former servicemembers stood on the stage at the Democratic National Convention. The Chairman’s silence has provided other potential lenses to view his original comments.

Some see his actions as toadying to the President and taking a clear partisan stance. Veterans for Democrats = good. Veterans against Democrats = bad. One commenter even went so far as to press the idea that the Chairman is a Hitlerian lackey who would take an oath to serve and defend the President.

Now, I don’t subscribe to that idea. I firmly believe that if given an illegal order, the Chairman would sooner resign than take an oath to an individual, or choose to violate the Constitution. However, I think there may be a greater problem here and it falls to the concept of careerism.

Rather than political I believe that the Chairman may have fallen for the old “that which interests my boss, fascinates me” canard. Same thing happened to the Commandant.

It’s a great rubric for simple minds – and I do not think that General Dempsey or General Amos are simpleminded men.

But I do think the Chairman saw his boss getting pummeled and bothered by criticism. And the Chairman should have a personal relationship with his boss. The problem is that when the Chairman made his comments he was speaking from a personal level and forgot that he was commanding and that by making the comment it could be seen as undue command influence. Just like the Commandant. Or Admiral Mullen with his comments at the end of DADT. It is one thing to lead. It is another to lead in such a way that you illegally, or incorrectly, abrogate someone’s rights under the very Constitution we have sworn to protect and defend.

Finally, there’s a second point to the piece that Dr. Kaiser writes. Provocative speech, while free or allowable, should not be the only way in which the discourse occurs. And all too often blogs and commentators fall victim to provocation over prose. We can, and should, hold leaders, ourselves, and our subordinates accountable for their words and deeds. But we should also strive to do so in as reasoned and rational a manner as possible. It’s something I have struggled with for years and will continue to do so. Sure, our tempers can get away from us. But when we speak on someone else’s podium we also have an obligation to maintain a standard that fits the professionalism of the organization.


Because of the broohaha over invective and language a few weeks back I was asked my opinion of the Chairman’s conversation with Pastor Jones.

Simply put, I am confused and disappointed.

I firmly believe that any conversation – direct conversation – mano a mano – from a military officer in the execution of his military duties to a citizen that directly asks for a curtailment of free speech is outside any swim lane. There is no private citizen or “I’m only a reservist” clause for this.

In the same week I find that I am as bothered that the Chairman hasn’t spoken against Admiral Nathman and the others who stood on the stage at the DNC. He may be parsing a subtlety as “I have issue with those who are “against” something, but am OK with those who a are “for” something” as some sort of positive pressure indicator. But since there has been no clarifying language I am forced to recognize that words, and the lack thereof, have meaning.

I still want to believe that the Chairman is not a partisan man…but it is increasingly difficult to do so. He speaks all around the world to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. Surely someone will ask him about this at some point. I hope so. I’d like to hear his answer.

I’ve sat through hundreds of navigation briefs as various control stations explain to the Captain and crew their role in safely taking a ship sea. Likewise I’ve sat through almost as many replenishment at sea briefs. Both have a significant component of risk management, so much so that operational risk management “ORM” is so embedded in our culture that its become commonplace and we have become complacent.

In those navigation or replenishment briefs there is an approved and lauded solution, typically provided by the local Afloat Training Group. And it’s fine. It just doesn’t do anything more than meet the criteria that ORM has been addressed.

But if all that’s being done is a “check in the block” is ORM really being addressed?

A new paper from SRA brings forward 5 areas that lead to complacency. 5 “Neglects” in risk management.

1. Probability neglect – people sometimes don’t consider the probability of the occurrence of an outcome, but focus on the consequences only.
2. Consequence neglect – just like probability neglect, sometimes individuals neglect the magnitude of outcomes.
3. Statistical neglect – instead of subjectively assessing small probabilities and continuously updating them, people choose to use rules-of-thumb (if any heuristics), which can introduce systematic biases in their decisions.
4. Solution neglect – choosing an optimal solution is not possible when one fails to consider all of the solutions.
5. External risk neglect – in making decisions, individuals or groups often consider the cost/benefits of decisions only for themselves, without including externalities, sometimes leading to significant negative outcomes for others.

Where do these fit within the subject of navigation or replenishment briefs?

Probability neglect: Every brief speaks of grounding or collision and they do so because of the consequence, not the probability. That means that precious time is spent talking about things that are very unlikely to occur. There is an opportunity cost there.

Consequence neglect: Honestly, this is something Navy writ large does well. To the point that we overemphasize the consequence and oversimplify the solution path.

Statistical neglect: The Surface’s Navy’s slavish devotion to Cold War stand off ranges is probably the single best ORM example for statistical neglect, even if it is outside the normal navigation or replenishment detail. Ships can, and do, pass safely within 500 yards of each other. Why then do so many Commanding Officers insist on being contacted about every ship that will pass within 10,000 or in some cases 20,000 yards?

Solution neglect: This one is simple. All to often we take solutions off the table before we even get a chance to start framing the problem. This is most often found on ships that are mono-decisional – those that only say “yes” or only say “no”. Not every person needs to be onboard for every underway period. Not every person needs to be on the lines for every replenishment. But sometimes someone does need to get underway and miss something at home. Simple examples, but what other ways do we rig the ORM game by ignoring a potential solution? Or, does Ops, who had CDO and had to deal with some messy issue, really need to stand Officer of the Deck? Changing the watchbill might be the right thing to do – even if it is at the last minute. Routinely changing the watchbill at the last minute? That’s something else.

External risk neglect: Again, not an easy fit to the “check in the block” navigational or replenishment detail but a Navy issue all the same. Moving a person or part from one ship to another for an underway period or an inspection. Forgetting to notify local officials that you are getting underway from a liberty port – or forgetting to ask the pilot what ships are coming in or out that day.

By sticking with the canned ORM we are hurting future generations or surface warfare officers by subjugating their original and creative thinking to a “just get it done” mentality. Navigators, when you plan your next brief think about these things for ORM:

When was the last time the ship got underway? What did we do right? What did we do wrong? Have we done that wrong thing before? Why?

What’s the weather predicted and how will that change the ORM slides? Low visibility increases the risk of grounding or collision – if a ship has difficulty with electronic navigation. Bad weather can certainly slow the transit speed down. How does that impact your knowledge of traffic in the channel?

Who’s new to the ship? What distractions are there that can get in the way of a safe and focused detail? These things are mentioned in the brief…but never seem to make it into the ORM section.

What other realistic and likley problems are there that ships will encounter every day that can and all to often do lead to accidents? And why aren’t those being addressed during ORM discussions?

If ORM remains a check in the block for an inspection, we will see more, not less, mishaps in coming years.

I picked these up a decade ago when I went through the Executive Officer Course at the Command Leadership School, enjoyed reading them, thinking about them and summarily posted them outside my stateroom. Oddly enough they had a more significant impact than I expected and were the second most requested item from people after I transferred.

The most popular were the Battle ‘E’ certificates.

Rule 1: Timing is everything in life.
Rule 2: Bad news doesn’t get better with time.
Rule 3: 50/50/90 – Given a 50/50 chance, 90% of the time you make the wrong choice.
Rule 4: Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good—as long as you know the difference.
Rule 5: Hope is not a military course of action.
Rule 6: The first report is always wrong.
Rule 7: The second report is usually wrong.
Rule 8: Everyone is capable of error free work (you drive home thousands of times—how often do you end up at the wrong house).
Rule 9: The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of meeting the schedule has been forgotten.
Rule 10: Unhappy people vote with their feet.

Cheating has a uniquely negative connotation…record marring, grade failing, and career ending on one side, it can also be seen as positive, creative, or victorious on the other.

Two professors teaching a cyberwarfare course sought to teach creative thinking. Their method? An impossible test with the idea that students must cheat – and that not getting caught cheating was what the test was actually about.

In other words, they stole the concept of Kobayashi Maru.

Why? The introduction to their paper sums it up:

“Adversaries cheat. We don’t. In academic institutions around the world, students understand that they will be expelled if they violate their college’s honor code or otherwise fail to play by the institutional rules. The dissonance between how our adversaries operate and how we teach our students puts our students at a distinct disadvantage when faced with real world adversaries who inevitably do not play by the rules. Breaking through the paradigm where students self- censor their ways of thinking to a new paradigm that cultivates an effective adversary mindset is both necessary and possible.”

The paper itself details the methods and manner each student used. And in each case the student exploited a loophole in the teacher’s rule set.
Sometimes the phrase “Red Team” or “Red Cell” is used to describe those who are designated to exploit our potential weaknesses. I prefer the term “Devil’s Advocate” – the Catholic concept of bringing evidence against canonization of a Saint. Why? Because the Devil’s Advocate can’t just say “well, what if?”. The Devil’s Advocate must make his case. He must be able to actualize his contention.Too many Red Teams just say “what if” and walk away. Their concept or challenge must not be realistic, achievable, or anything other than a wrench in the machine, and that is not creative thinking – it’s is disruptive, destructive, and dangerous because it does nothing but cause trouble. It does not seek to exploit or identify a loophole.

The paper’s conclusion…

“Teach yourself and your students to cheat. We’ve always been taught to color inside the lines, stick to the rules, and never, ever, cheat. In seeking cyber security, we must drop that mindset. It is difficult to defeat a creative and determined adversary who must find only a single flaw among myriad defensive measures to be successful. We must not tie our hands, and our intellects, at the same time. If we truly wish to create the best possible information security professionals, being able to think like an adversary is an essential skill. Cheating exercises provide long term remembrance, teach students how to effectively evaluate a system, and motivate them to think imaginatively. Cheating will challenge students’ assumptions about security and the trust models they envision. Some will find the process uncomfortable. That is OK and by design. For it is only by learning the thought processes of our adversaries that we can hope to unleash the creative thinking needed to build the best secure systems, become effective at red teaming and penetration testing, defend against attacks, and conduct ethical hacking activities.”

The final kicker? This was done at the US Military Academy…

As a military we prize conformity. And that conformity in the main is a good thing. But we also need people who are capable of thinking – and actualizing – “what if”. What if we loaded up our carriers with airplanes and launched from maximum range on a Sunday morning? What if we hijacked and piloted fuel laden commercial jets into office buildings? What if we designed a computer virus geared to do one thing and one thing only? What if we use runners for messages and small speedboats to attack the carriers?

Not “What if someone took over a LNG tanker and blew it up” without describing the how, what, why, and physics behind it.

The paper is a quick read. Take a look. Then think about how you can teach your people to think creatively for the betterment of the next operation, next mission, next maintenance, next training. But make them do so in a manner that is achievable. Make them “cheat” – and not get caught.

(h/t Bruce Schneier)

This summer there were two posts here at USNI that grew out of Professor Joan Johnson-Freese’s article “Teach Tough, Think Tough: Three Ways to Fix War Colleges”. At the time I paid little attention as the subject was tangential to my own interests. Days later the subject became directly relevant to me and I have been able to spend the last five months thinking about the article, posts, and comments and propose that it is neither the faculty (alone) or the administration (alone) who bears review…it is the assignment policies in regards to military faculty AND students that need review. My commentary is geared directly at the Naval War College and should be considered items of discussion and items for improvement. Should none of what I address be accomplished, the school will not suffer. It just won’t be as good as I think it could be.

To begin with, Professor Johnson-Freese’s criticism of the Navy faculty “retire-in-place” concept is dead on. While some of those retired Navy officers provide interesting viewpoint, many of them are inhibiting the hiring of professors with different viewpoints than the ones provided by 20 to 30 years of naval service. Her comments on hiring practices should be closely reviewed by the War Colleges, and those practices kept in mind when contracts are renewed by the school.

But, aren’t those RIP Navy officers qualified? Well, yes. On paper. They have PhDs. They are published. But by and large those PhDs are earned after retirement at local Rhode Island Schools. Publications are done internal to the War College in either faculty papers for student consumption or in the War College Review.

To my knowledge none were published, had doctoral degrees, or any advanced education outside of the Navy prior to attendance, assignment, and retirement at the War College. In and of itself that is not unusual for Naval Officers. But should we be placing “usual” Naval Officers as faculty at the home of Naval thought?

What about active duty faculty? Well, the same problem resides there. Of the Navy officers, most have not published. The one officer who had published prior to assignment at the War College is not a member of the teaching faculty. Wait? Not a member of the teaching faculty? The Naval War College website lists 375 faculty members. 104 are identified as “Military Professor”. Of those, 70 teach one of the three core courses. The other 35 are either in the International Law department, Assist and Assess Team Members, or part of the War Gaming Department (there are some other cats and dogs, but these three have the bulk of those 30 officers. Those 30 are also almost all Navy officers and make up almost half of the 67 Navy officers on faculty as “professors”.

What kind of officers are those who are assigned to the faculty? The Army sends rockstars who have had both command and possess doctoral degrees. The Navy? Frankly? They are mostly broken careers. At least three are 2xFOSd Commanders coming up on high year tenure. There are more reserve officers on Active Duty for Special Work (ADSW) than there are post-command line officers. Rumor is that the Selective Early Retirement Board hit the College “hard”. Unpublished. Non-due course. No longer upwardly mobile.

There is not a single serving Flag Officer who served as faculty on the Naval War College.

Now, none of this makes these individual faculty members bad people, or bad Naval Officers. It just limits their ability to work as peers with the civilian faculty – both while on active duty and RIP.

Wait, the critic argues, those officers are there to provide their operational expertise. Their savvy, their saltiness. Not their academic credentials.

OK. Again. 2xFOSd for Captain. Not upwardly mobile. No command experience. But, discounting those data points there are these.

Almost no DC staff experience. Almost no combatant command or major staff experience outside of DC. When there are officers who have DC experience, they end up teaching in the Joint Military Operations Department (and teach the planning course). Operational planner experienced officers are assigned to the National Security Affairs Department (and teach the national strategy and policy course). The Strategy and Policy Department (think Military History Department) is a mishmash of officers who are hopelessly outclassed academically by their civilian peers and in some cases are ignored in the classroom by those same peers.

But, why does it matter that there be a greater breadth of experience among the faculty? Because, unlike civilian graduate programs, the Naval War College student body had no choice in course work or faculty. You can’t wait until next semester to get the “good” professor. The school determines who will teach you. That makes the mix and breadth of experience critical. Or it destroys the credibilty of the faculty in that classroom.

How to fix it? The President of the War College needs to recruit faculty rather than let them just come to him. He needs to partner with the local commands in Newport to find upwardly mobile officers to teach for a year or two and then return to the Fleet. He needs to personally scrutinize every single faculty hire of a retired officer as if that person were to become HIS moderator, instructor, mentor, commander.

If not this, then at the very least end the assignment of billets to the line communities. When an officer applies for a faculty position the President, Provost, or Dean of Academics should review that officer’s record, a writing sample, and curriculum vitae and from there make a decision on which department the officer would be best suited to teach in. This alone would go a long way in matching talent to task at the war colleges.

But, the above only addresses the faculty. The assignment of the student body also needs to be addressed. While the Junior (officially “Intermediate”) course contains significant numbers of upwardly mobile Navy officers, the Senior course does not. Resplendent with derailed careers, Reserve recalls and staff corps officers, the due-course officers from the line communities are underrepresented. Which, of course, they are in the services as a whole. However this is senior level PME. Why can’t Navy get better-qualified officers to the Naval War College?

Well, it does; in the form of Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps officers. Again, it’s the assignment processes for Navy officers that is problemmatic. And here geography and biology tend to win out. For Navy officers completing a command tour it is easier to send them to Norfolk to the Joint Forces Staff College for an eight week tour and get them back to staff or operational duty than it is to sacrifice a year of academic study. Failing that, it is easier to send them to National War College in DC for follow on assignment there (or vice versa) and provide stability for the family. Absent Surface Warfare Officer School, there are no large commands in Newport to draw due-course officers from to fill the Senior Course, or likewise to send them to afterwards and given a choice, many choose one of the alternate ways to complete JPME II.

There’s no easy fix – and this post is intend to foment discussion, not serve as a blueprint to nirvanah. The Navy only has so many due course officers and can only send them so many places. But, what Navy does with its top performing officers tells everyone where Navy’s priorities are. But when less than a third of Flag Officers are Naval War College graduates, and the last Naval War College graduate CNO was Admiral Mike Boorda, there’s a definite signal being sent of where the priorty isn’t.



Chinfo Fail

November 2011


Navy’s Daily “ChInfo Clips” provides a synopsis of major articles of Navy interest.

Navy Times has a cover story on CO firings. Here is how the article led on in ChInfo Clips:

27. 7 Skippers’ Downfall
As alcohol ends still more COs’ careers, the Navy digs for answers
(NAVY TIMES 14 NOV 11) … William H. McMichael

The numbers don’t always tell the story. Navy statistics show the number of alcohol-related incidents in the fleet fell steadily over the past six fiscal years. But since the Navy also shrank during that time, the per-capita rate of alcohol-related incidents has remained relatively steady.
So the Navy’s alcohol problem is not going away. In fact, it might be getting worse. And nowhere is the problem more apparent than in the conduct of the Navy’s Amphib commanding officers.

Read that last line again…”Navy’s Amphib Commanding Officers”.

“Huh?” I say. Really? Something’s not right here.

So I emailed Bill McMichael, the author of the article.

Here’s his response.

That would be a gigantic mistake, but we didn’t do it. Chinfo Clips re-types rather than scans the clips, so someone mistakenly typed this. It did not appear in print this way. Here are the digits from our online version of the paper, which is identical to the paper.

Thanks for pointing this out. Hurts, tho. That makes me and us look stupid and it’s probably already taken on a life of its own. I’m asking Clips to do a correction but it won’t be out until tomorrow AM if they do.

Your Navy

As alcohol ends still
7more COs’ careers, the Navy digs for answers

skippers’ downfall

By William H. McMichael

[email protected]
The numbers don’t always tell the story. Navy statistics show the number of alcohol­-related incidents in the fleet fell steadily over the past six fiscal years. But since the Navy also shrank during that time, the per-capita rate of alcohol-related incidents has remained relatively steady.

So the Navy’s alcohol problem is not going away. In fact, it might be getting worse. And nowhere is the problem more apparent than in the conduct of the Navy’s commanding officers.

So, Navy put out an article that incorrectly casts aspersions because someone manually retypes things. And it will take 24 hours to get a correction?


But sadly not surprising.

Posted by M. Ittleschmerz in Navy | 7 Comments

It’s interesting to watch the difference between users of “Reply” and “Reply All”. Quite often it’s obvious that most users of email give almost zero thought to which of the two they are going to use when they respond to an email. They are on autopilot.

So, when should one use “Reply All”?

– When the response is of interest or need to a majority of the recipients.

Simple. So, if you are a “Reply All” by default, then this means that pithy comments about a your favorite sports team, or a personal thanks to a mass goodbye email, or scathing comments about a spelling error are best either sent with a “Reply” and just to the original sender…or just not sent at all.

Now, there’s a flip side. Those who default to the “Reply” button when it’s clearly a group conversation in progress. How do you know when to “Reply All” ?

– When the response is of interest or need to a majority of the recipients.

Now, in the “Replay” defaultist world there is a different set of thoughts that need to come to play. If the email were instead a conversation in a group setting, would you whisper your response to one person only? Wait until the group broke up and ask your question? If yes, then by all means, just “Reply”….but if others need the information you are asking for…then use “Reply All”.

Mundane things that we do every day…but there is no default answer and 1 second of thought can save a hundred individuals a second of “delete”.


Talker’s Block

September 2011


While Admiral Stavridis routinely says the below in an elegant fashion…Seth Godin comes at it from another direction.

No one ever gets talker’s block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down.

Why then, is writer’s block endemic?

The reason we don’t get talker’s block is that we’re in the habit of talking without a lot of concern for whether or not our inane blather will come back to haunt us. Talk is cheap. Talk is ephemeral. Talk can be easily denied.

We talk poorly and then, eventually (or sometimes), we talk smart. We get better at talking precisely because we talk. We see what works and what doesn’t, and if we’re insightful, do more of what works. How can one get talker’s block after all this practice?

Writer’s block isn’t hard to cure.

Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.

I believe that everyone should write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squidoo or Tumblr or a microblogging site. Use an alias if you like. Turn off comments, certainly–you don’t need more criticism, you need more writing.

Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). Tell us how to do something.

If you know you have to write something every single day, even a paragraph, you will improve your writing. If you’re concerned with quality, of course, then not writing is not a problem, because zero is perfect and without defects. Shipping nothing is safe.

The second best thing to zero is something better than bad. So if you know you have write tomorrow, your brain will start working on something better than bad. And then you’ll inevitably redefine bad and tomorrow will be better than that. And on and on.

Write like you talk. Often.

So, start by doing something. You don’t have to follow Seth’s ideas. Go small. Comment on a blog or a news story. Join an online forum AND comment. Write notes for the Plan of the Day. Dare the slings and arrows of the others who are also working at bettering their own writing (or just blathering along full of sound and fury).

But practice, practice, practice. Over and over and over again. I hear lots of great conversations with great viewpoints that never make it to the written, and retained, word. Share them. Practice.

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