If you haven’t yet, please read TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-0, The Army Capstone Concept (through Small Wars Journal here). If you are a civilian with an interest in persuasion, consider it as a learning opportunity to understand how the world’s largest and most powerful organization thinks and plans. If you are military, you need to read the pamphlet for both what it contains and what it seeks. In this post, I want to work from a close analysis of General Martin Dempsey’s Foreword to the Pamphlet.
Ideas matter. Emerging from specific human, historical, and technological contexts, ideas affect understanding and influence behavior. Ideas can serve as the driving force behind significant institutional change. Because the need for change will always be with us, the exchange of ideas and conceptual development must be among our top priorities.
This paragraph argues that if you can change ideas, you can change people in directions you desire. But, how do you change behavior? Persuasion uses communication to change how freely choosing people think, feel, and act.
The purpose of TRADOC Pam 525-3-0, The Army Capstone Concept Operational Adaptability—Operating Under Conditions of Uncertainty and Complexity in an Era of Persistent Conflict, is to describe the broad capabilities the Army will require in 2016-2028. It provides a guide to how the Army will apply available resources to overcome adaptive enemies and accomplish challenging missions. TRADOC Pam 525-3-0 articulates how to think about future armed conflict within an uncertain and complex environment. It provides a foundation for a campaign of learning and analysis that will evaluate and refine the concept’s major ideas and required capabilities. Ultimately, prioritized capabilities that emerge from this concept and subordinate, more detailed concepts will guide changes in doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leader development and programs related to the human dimension for our Army.
As part of the “Campaign of Learning and Analysis” I’d like to suggest the principles, concepts, and skills of persuasion as an organized, coherent, and tested body of knowledge. Persuasion is not a brand name, but rather an extremely old and well studied area of inquiry. It explains and reveals human nature whether that human nature operates in a marketplace or a theater.
The aim of Army operations is to set conditions that achieve or facilitate the achievement of policy goals and objectives. Future enemies will constantly adapt and seek ways to overcome Army strengths and capitalize on what they perceive as our vulnerabilities. We operate where our enemies, indigenous populations, culture, politics, and religion intersect and where the fog and friction of war persists. The U.S. Army must maintain its core competency of conducting effective combined arms operations in close combat to employ defeat and stability mechanisms against a variety of threats. The U.S. Army must also hone its ability to integrate joint and interagency assets, develop the situation through action, and adjust rapidly to changing situations to achieve what this concept defines as operational adaptability.
“Under Conditions of Uncertainty and Complexity” is the key idea of this paragraph. While war always involves uncertainty and complexity, we are clearly transitioning from more familiar forms of war (World War I and II) into something less familiar. Stated another way, uncertainty and complexity in war is even more uncertain and complex in this transition as we discover what the rest of the world is going to do in relation to the overwhelming US power. Persuasion is the prime form of human thought and action under conditions of uncertainty and complexity. If you are certain, you don’t persuade; you inform or you power. If you have simplicity, you don’t persuade; you unload on schedule. Persuasion is how you make your way through the fog and friction “Under Conditions of Uncertainty and Complexity.” You use persuasion principles to plan, to generate support, and to coordinate partners, resources, and action. You use persuasion to test, manipulate, and shape uncertainty and complexity to make the problem before you less uncertain and more simple.
Operational adaptability requires a mindset based on flexibility of thought calling for leaders at all levels who are comfortable with collaborative planning and decentralized execution, have a tolerance for ambiguity, and possess the ability and willingness to make rapid adjustments according to the situation. Operational adaptability is essential to developing situational understanding and seizing, retaining, and exploiting the initiative under a broad range of conditions. Operational adaptability is also critical to developing the coercive and persuasive skills the Army will need to assist friends, reassure and protect populations, and to identify, isolate, and defeat enemies.
The essence of “Operational Adaptability and Flexibility” is expressed in three persuasion Rules: It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid; All Persuasion Is Local; and All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere. If you live with uncertainty and complexity AND you have to solve problems with and through other people, you can learn how to adapt and flex through persuasion principles and skills. Indeed, the essence of effective practical persuasion is Adaptation and Flexibility in the face of Uncertainty and Complexity. Stated another way, if you can persuade, you are adaptable and flexible.
Although the Army must continue to develop technology to meet future challenges, we must emphasize the integration of technology into capable formations commanded by innovative leaders who are comfortable operating under conditions of ambiguity and uncertainty. To maximize the potential of technological developments, we must conscientiously evolve and adapt capabilities based on changes in threat capabilities and the operational environment.
We now add the challenges of Technology to our previous issues of Uncertainty and Complexity. Does persuasion have anything to offer here? Persuasion shows you how to master and innovate with technology within existing and proven persuasion principles and skills. Realize that no one any longer talks about Marshall McLuhan and the Medium Is the Message, as if a new technological device is a new form of human nature. New technologies bundle old elements of human nature into different combinations, but the new technologies do not change those elements of human nature. Technology is beautiful when you understand that is a new way of combining old things.
We must be prepared to decentralize operations to adapt to complex and rapidly changing situations. Yet, organizational or physical decentralization alone may be insufficient to meet the challenges of the future. Leaders throughout our future force must have both the authority as well as the judgment to make decisions and develop the situation through action. Critical thinking by Soldiers and their leaders will be essential to achieve the trust and wisdom implicit in such authority. The training and education of our entire force must aim to develop the mindset and requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities required to operate effectively under conditions of uncertainty and complexity.
This paragraph implies that we are each that advertised Army of One. One person in one moment doing the one thing can be decisive. What training helps make the Army of One we seek? Persuasion.
To achieve clarity in thinking about future armed conflict, it is critical that our Army evaluate and discuss the implications of the ideas presented in this concept. Our language must be clear and our logic must be precise. While TRADOC Pam 525-3-0 lays the conceptual foundation for Army modernization, it is only a beginning of an ongoing campaign of learning.
Much of TRADOC Pam 525-3-0 will strike experienced readers as old wine in new skins or perhaps as a discernible new adaptation in the evolution of the Army. Where do you direct your personal campaign of learning about Uncertainty, Complexity, Technology, the “Army of One,” and the rest? Please consider persuasion.
Finally, recall this post’s title: Capstones without Persuasion are like Good Strategy with Bad Tactics. Persuasion is not a Magic Bullet, never has been, and never will be. It is a specific set of ideas and practices aimed at one important element of human nature: People can change solely through planned words. Persuasion understands why and how people change through communication, but is deaf, dumb, and mute when it comes to determining what should be changed. Persuasion is a tool of strategy, but it is not a strategy in itself. Do not read this post as Snake Oil from a civilian in a blue suit. Although, I’ve got a book for sale and I do train for hire . . . but so do a lot of other persuasion folks.