Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Innovation requires creativity – do we know how to foster it?

We at least have some idea of what doesn't work. Take this article.

Coming up with good idea takes creativity

How do you come up with a really good idea? (By the way, if I had a sure-fire answer, I would not be sharing it today). But in the proper spirit of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, let’s look at some sophisticated research, done at the Stanford Graduate School of Business by Melanie Brucks and Szu-chi Huang, that might shed some light on the puzzle.

The answer is creativity. And the question is should you spend a few minutes every day working on a problem or should you wait for the idea to appear like a lightning strike while you’re shopping at Vons. The Brucks and Huang research concludes, “regular brainstorming sessions are not likely to lead to an increase in unique ideas.”

This research simply confirms what creative people like David Ogilvy and David Gelernter have already told us about the nature of creativity.

Thinking about thinking, creativity and, innovation

Killing Creativity

Finding big ideas
Brucks and Huang's work also supports Gen. George Marshall's contention that “ no one ever had a creative thought after 5 pm.”

Subjects in the test did much better in the morning. Around 11 p.m., they produced the worst results. And they noted that “thinking late in the afternoon” leads to more habitual (not very creative) thinking.
We have known for some time that brainstorming rarely produces breakthrough ideas or significant innovation. Yet organizations keep turning to it. Another Marshall aphorism helps explain why.

Don't fight the problem – decide it! 
Brainstorming, just like endless debate and repetitive analysis, can be a means of avoiding hard decisions and harsh realities.


Understanding innovation

Caught flat-footed in a VUCA world

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Thursday, December 24, 2020

Merry Christmas!

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:8-14

Monday, December 14, 2020

Why bureaucracies fail (II): Can experts admit to mistakes?

Part I is here

Gen. George Marshall did not create his system on a whim. His decisions were grounded in his deep study of US history. He understood that the US oscillated between long periods of peacetime complacency and sudden bursts of belligerency. When it went to war, its forces were poorly trained, ill-equipped, and badly led. The early days of the war usually brought demoralizing defeats*. The critical need was to find commanders who could adapt and recover – realistic optimists who could rally citizen-soldiers and convey a sense of confidence and urgency.

*Note, however, that blame for these defeats did not rest solely with the army. Civilian leaders had to bear some of the blame for meager peacetime budgets. More importantly, the enemy could usually be blamed for forcing a peace-loving America into an unwanted conflict.

The system worked in WWII and in Korea. Both wars followed the American tradition of unpreparedness -- defeat – recovery. After JFK took office, however, everything changed. The peacetime Army was not starved for funds in peacetime; it was well-equipped with world-class weapons.

Overall, this was all to the good. It did mean, though, that most of the blame for failure would fall on the army and its leadership.

Relieving a commander in the middle of a war raises all sorts of dangerous questions. Why had he been promoted? Why was he selected for a post where the cost of his failures was measured in American blood?

The problem goes beyond optics and and public relations.

The bedrock belief of any bureaucracy is that the organization is the possessor of unique expertise and special competence. To recognize the need to replace a commander calls that expertise and competence into question. Such a general, after all, “had risen through a demanding process over two decades.” He had been vetted, promoted, and selected by the top leadership. Hence:

To say he was not fit for a position was tantamount to a rejection of the process that had produced him.
Tom Ricks The Generals
It is a constant temptation to find explanations for failure that do not raise questions about the systems and the leaders of the organization.

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.
Saul Bellow


Thursday, December 10, 2020

Credit where due

Perhaps the greatest accolade the “Marshall system” received came from an enemy. German Field Marshall Gerd von Runstedt told his interrogators after the was “We cannot understand the difference in your leadership in the last war compared to this. We could understand if you had produced one superior corps commander, but now we find all your corps commanders good and of equal superiority”

Marshall could clear out dead wood in the army's senior leadership because he had a fairly deep bench of mid-career officers mid-career officers who had been educated (and evaluated) in the Army school system. What is often overlooked is that this happy state of affairs owes little to Marshall. Credit goes, instead, to Gen. Douglas MacArthur – the anti-Marshall in many ways.

MacArthur was Army Chief of Staff from 1930-1935 – i. e. in the very depths of the Great Depression. He fought losing battles against pacifists and bean-counters who wanted the Army's budget reduced. With the limited means available to him, MacArthur invested in men instead of equipment:

MacArthur believed that retaining a strong officer corps, even at the expense of weapons upgrades, was essential.

Mark Perry, The Most Dangerous Man in America 

As MacArthur explained to Congress as Chief of Staff:

An army can live on short rations, it can be insufficiently armed and equipped, but in action it is doomed to destruction without the trained and adequate leadership of officers. An efficient and sufficient corps of officers means the difference between victory and defeat.

James P. Duffy, War at the End of the World
This was a considered judgment; MacArthur was no troglodyte nor was he that stereotypical general who in determined to “fight the last war.”

As one of his last acts as Chief of Staff he commissioned a study of future military developments. No less an authority than B. H. Liddell Hart wrote at the time "No more progressive summary of modern military conditions and the changes now developing has appeared from authoritative quarters in any army."


The MacArthur enigma

MacArthur reconsidered

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Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Training versus education

In this talk by Tom Ricks he offers another explanation for why America can no longer win wars:

Many of our generals are well-trained, but not well-educated.
He gives a very good explanation of the difference between the two:

You training for the known; you educate for the unknown -- for uncertainity, for the chaos of war.
In World War Two the Army school system was critical for Gen. Marshall's build up of the US Army from 1939-1945. The Naval War College played an even greater role in preparing for the Pacific War. Sadly, the schools fell out of favor in the 1950s, and the generals in charge in the 1960s were not prepared to deal with the complexities of Vietnam.


Why bureaucracies fail: Politics and enforced solidarity

Military Schools and Business Education

Military Education IV

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Saturday, December 05, 2020

Why bureaucracies fail: Politics and enforced solidarity

When Gen. George Marshall became Army Chief of Staff in 1939, the US was at best, a fourth rate power. Portugal, Romania, and Bulgaria all fielded larger, better equipped armies.

Given time Selective Service would supply the men; the US economy would provide the weapons. The key challenge Marshall faced was finding the right men to lead the divisions, corps and field armies that would go to Europe to face the Wehrmacht.

As Tom Ricks points out in this lecture, Marshall embarked on a process of ruthless winnowing and culling. He expected his generals to perform; those who failed to do so were quickly replaced.

Ricks contrasts this winning approach to war-making with the less impressive performance of the recent past. From Korea to Iraq, the US Army has become more tolerant of failure, and, as night follows day, less successful in her wars.

How did this happen? Why, with Marshall's example to guide it, did the US Army learn to accept mediocrity? Rick's offers one interesting reason: it is harder to relieve generals in an unpopular war.

One can see the logic. The public acknowledgment of failure – even the failure one individual – might strengthen the opponents of the war and the critics of the senior commanders. There is a powerful incentive to avoid controversy and hope for the best. When an embattled organization circles the wagons, it winds up protecting its worst performers. The competent and talented become hostage to the weak and mistake-prone.

This phenomenon shows up repeatedly and not only in the military. The British intelligence agencies were driven by the same dynamic as they uncovered traitors in their ranks. Again and again MI5 and MI6 showed more concern about the reaction in Parliament than with the harm done by the spies. They were keen to keep their American allies in the dark even if that meant that systemic failures had to be covered up and papered over. To the Whitehall mandarins reform and criticism was more dangerous than Stalin and the KGB.

This also helps to explain why journalism has been unable to reform themselves or even correct their most egregious failures. As the public loses trust in the media, the industry feels compelled to admit to no mistakes for fear of hurting journalism's reputation and strengthening its enemies. The guild rushes to protect every member no matter how much it costs the industry in public trust.

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