Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Developing strategy from a solid foundation 11: an emerging paradigm shift and a case study addendum on it

Posted in macroeconomics, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on June 9, 2015

This is my eleventh installment to a series on strategy as it is developed in practice, and on where it is developed from (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3, postings 490 and loosely following for Parts 1-10.) I began this series with a more general first step discussion of a select set of principles that would enter into any strategy planning and development exercise (see Part 1.) And I then offered an historical narrative-based case study that could be used to illustrate how basic principles of strategic planning work or fail to do so in the real world with its real complications and unexpected developments (see Parts 2-10.) I drew my case study working example for that from the public sector and more specifically from United States policy and practice in maintaining troop levels in their military. And I chose that as a working example because this aspect of US government policy has been ongoing for so long, that it offers both a wide and rich diversity of working example detail, and it illustrates how real world strategy and operation are messy in their ongoing details, where case studies as written up for didactic purposes are always much cleaner and simpler.

My goal for this case study was to illustrate how policy and practice evolve and how both strategy and strategic goals are shaped by and can be changed by ongoing experience – and if not always for overall long-term goals then for how operational processes and their performance are measured in reaching towards them, which in practice can constitute functional shift in what constitutes those overall goals themselves.

And at the end of Part 10, I stated that I would turn back in this installment to the issues that I initially raised and touched upon in Part 1. And I stated that I had concluded my case study discussion of the ongoing strategic and operational processes of determining and reaching necessary troop strength in the US military, and that I would turn here to examine more general principles.

I will turn back to consider the general issues of strategy development that I began addressing in Part 1 of this series. But recent events have prompted me to offer this posting as more of an update addendum to the historical narrative case study that I have been offering here. And after adding that into this case study narrative, I will in fact turn back to Part 1 and to offering more general principle-based commentary on the strategic process itself. But I begin this series installment and its primary line of discussion by noting two points of detail that I raised in Part 10. I stated as a bullet point, earlier on in that posting that:

• The United States government, like most governments has seen need to maintain a credible military force throughout its history, as a deterrent against aggression and as a resource that can be turned to in order to address threats actively faced.
• And this has always required maintaining a sufficient level of trained manpower in this military force so as to be able to carry out its mission and for any realistically anticipatable level and scope of mission that might arise.

And I repeat that here because recent developments have shown that what is probably the most basic and axiomatically presumed assumption for this entire strategic and operational system, has now come into question: the assumption that “a sufficient level of trained manpower” is automatically going to be required there and for essentially all “hands-on” operations and functions – with direct deployment of force as required, definitely included as a trained human hands-on component of that.

The United States government learned a lesson from the Vietnam War that rich format sight and sound reporting of war and of its direct and immediate consequences, when broadcasting from the point of conflict, creates resistance to war per se. War is bloody and messy and harmful to all who are in its direct and immediate path. Direct and immediate news coverage of war blocks any effort to sanitize what happens with long-term and politically inspired rhetoric, and it limits and even eliminates the perhaps comforting efficacy of any effort to focus attention more on long range goals than on immediate consequences.

A line from one of the Roman poet Horace’s odes comes to mind as I write that, which by current understanding can only be seen as so callous as to seem depraved: “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (sweet and decorous it is to die for one’s country.) When that country’s citizens can see first-hand and in graphic detail what that means for those at risk, such words as offered from the comforts of home offer no solace and do not come across as inspiring towards greater combat effort.

Our still emerging direct and immediate capability for sharing rich multimedia content from anywhere to anywhere and through increasingly ubiquitously owned and used personal communications channels, has only amplified and expanded the scope of this problem of “marketing” war for any government that would seek to manage the news and to sway influence in favor of its military action, and certainly where that government cannot effectively argue that their conflict and their side to it would qualify as a just war – which becomes more and more difficult when images flow out of innocents caught in the cross-fire, and of bystanders harmed or killed as collateral damage.

The problems that the War on Terror have created for volunteers and their families from strategic decisions such as the stop-loss policy that has been in effect in the US military, have simply added to that resistance, and politically based pushback coming from the countries that the War on Terror conflicts have taken place in, have added to resistance to “putting boots on the ground” and having human troops deployed into combat areas too.

At the end of my formal presentation of the main case study of this series, I added one final bullet point which I also repeat here:

• Looking forward in this context, I would ask what next-conflict changes might be considered in light of the rampant overuse of stop-loss to keep the same once-volunteers in active service, one tour of service after another until it has to be assumed that every returning US soldier from our current and recent War on Terror conflicts suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And perhaps more to the point, I would ask why those lessons are not being more fully learned from and acted upon now? But that is the subject of a separate discussion.

Actually, that last question is the subject of this addendum and this posting’s discussion. And at least one answer to it that appears to be under very active development and implementation right now, is “technology” and the removal of human combatants from at least key areas of the field of battle. A core lesson that appears to have been learned out of what I would call the War on Terror Part 1, or the human combatant phase of this still ongoing conflict, is that a more technology-only approach to combat might both meet “manpower” needs, and address political pushback and both from the American public and from other impacted-upon nations. And this fundamental paradigm shift brings me to the increasingly significant impact of drone deployment and both for surveillance and for taking on direct combat roles, in United States prosecution of their War on Terror.

There are still US troops on the ground in many places in at least small numbers in the War on Terror, primarily serving in what are officially called advisory roles. But mission-specific Special Forces and other advisory support roles aside, the most active direct military role taken by the United States and in many of the countries where this conflict is being waged, is now being carried out by drone attack.

• Any significant challenge to and resulting change of basic underlying strategic assumptions always brings unexpected consequences, even as that intentional change is undertaken to address already existing challenges – that yes, can and do arise as unexpected consequences from earlier strategic rethinking too.
• This shift towards automating the battlefield, as a means of limiting negative pushback from troop deployment is essentially certain to create a whole new range of such consequences, some of which are already quite predictable and certainly in general outline.

I have written fairly extensively of workplace automation in this blog and its implications for employability and for job search and career development, and in that regard I would specifically cite relevant postings and series from the addendum sections at the ends of my three pages to my directory: Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development (see its Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3.) I have also written about automation and particularly of semi-autonomous and autonomous automation and their impact in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and also see its Page 2 continuation. Strategic axioms and assumptions tend to be followed through upon until they break down for their realized consequences, and until they break down so thoroughly that this forces reexamination and change – and a paradigm shift level of change. Are we heading towards a progressively more and more automated and even autonomously functioning battlefield as a way to limit the politically challenging downside of putting human soldiers in harm’s way? It is one thing when an automated manufacturing station takes over spot welding in automotive manufacturing, eliminating the need for human welders for that type of work. But are we really going to consider replacing workers (here soldiers) with machinery that has as its one primary goal, killing people and with a level of autonomy in doing so?

I was going to hold off on that discussion for another series, and probably one that would go into my Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time directory, but chose to add at least a foretaste of that here, because of two recent news stories. I simply add as a final thought in that direction for here, that the more remotely these robotic devices would be managed by human oversight and control, and the more real-time they would have to respond and act in order to function, the more autonomously they would have to be, in order to act and react effectively. And this brings me directly to my immediate reason for adding this line of discussion to this series, here and now. A few days ago, it came out that a drone strike that was targeting four specific War on Terror combatants in a car also killed two hostages that a great deal of effort was being made to free (see for example: Amid Errors, Obama Publicly Wrestles With Drones’ Limits.) And then today, as of this writing, a news piece ran in the New York Times that directly addresses how the US government sees its new and still emerging drone-based military strategy: Deep Support in Washington for C.I.A.’s Drone Missions.

And the progression of change in the strategy that enters into all of this and of its operational execution, evolve on. And with that noted, I finish this series installment. And I will finally turn to address more general issues of strategic planning as started in Part 1 of this series, in my next installment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. Also see Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation.

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