Thursday, August 30, 2018

Speaking of Gen. Marshall

Two paradoxes.

A career staff officer and educator, with only a few months of wartime experience, he had deep insights into the qualities needed by commanders at a time of revolutionary change in military affairs.

He was a man renowned for his taciturn demeanor and refusal to seek the spotlight. Yet, he gave us a treasure trove of pithy sayings and useful anecdotes.

Take this one which relates directly to the previous post:

Don’t fight the problem, decide it.
There is a lot of wisdom in each half of this statement. “Fighting” a problem is a terrible temptation. Facing up to disagreeable facts is hard; it is easy to convince yourself that maybe things are not so dire. Maybe there is a way to avoid hard choices.

In addition, fighting the problem nitpicking the data, asking for more analysis, ‘waiting for the situation to become clearer” is also a good way to avoid taking responsibility for a tough decision while giving the illusion of action and diligence.

Note, also, that Marshall did not say “solve the problem”. This is the trap that many smart people fall into. Rather than choosing a messy, imperfect solution, they delay decision, (and hence, action) in an endless search for the clean, elegant solution.

Before anyone had heard of the OODA loop, Marshall understood that in the modern world speed of decision was a key success factor.

And this is where we close the loop back to Blackett’s advice. Silence is often the greatest contribution someone can make when the speed of decision and a bias for action are what matters.

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