tag archive: global politics

If You Want to Generate Strategies for Future Success, Start with Narratives and Metaphors

Terms like metaphor, myth, story  and narrative are not necessarily the first that come to mind when considering how to develop a future-facing national strategy.  But they should be.  This point was made in brilliant ways by the participants at the Atlantic Council’s second annual Global Strategy Forum in Washington DC earlier this week.

Metaphors Shape how We Understand Reality

Our collective understanding of reality is shaped in profound ways by metaphors. A metaphor is a statement suggesting that something with which we are unfamiliar is like something with which we are familiar.  New technologies often produce new metaphors for how we understand society writ large. The idea of the “networked organization,” for example, grows out of a comparison with computer networks. Being able to generate metaphors about the future can help strategists pave the way to creating the systems or processes that will be required for success in it.

I had the honor of sharing the opening session stage with DARPA Director Dr. Arathi Prabhakar and Rhodes College political scientist Jennifer Sciubba and our moderator Toffler Associates CEO Deborah Westphal to discuss Strategic Foresight.

Arathi talked about DARPA’s investments in artificial intelligence, Jennifer explored some of our myths about global demography,  and I addressed our need for anticipatory metaphors (beginning at 44:21).

When Conditions Change, so Must Our Strategic Narratives

Despite our 3 different topics, we all stressed that changes in our global condition means that we must think in new ways about how to be successful.  As the conditions of the industrial age fade away, so will our ability to define success in the terms of that era.

When global trends portend dramatic change, as ours do now, we must assess how we think about success, and rewrite the stories and myths that guide us in our quest to compete successfully.  A hundred years ago, technological conditions privileged size—big tanks, and sizable armies could take territory and resources. Our guiding principle for success became: lets get big and control large spaces.

The rise of computer networks changed our social metaphors. We think in terms of networks now: social networks, networking, and everything from human bodies to neighborhoods as networks.  We didn’t simply discover that all of these phenomena are arranged as networks, we applied a guiding metaphor to discover ways in which they are like networks.

My question is: what’s next? What will be the guiding metaphor of 25 years from now? The organization that can begin to frame an anticipatory metaphor–the future of our own imaginations– is preparing itself conceptually for the future. After that, structures, processes and systems will follow.

And while our conversation at the Atlantic Council was about the American role in the world, the basic takeaways for how to generate strong strategy apply to organizations everywhere.

To see the entire day’s sessions, go: here.

 

Posted in: Conferences, Decision making, Innovation, National Security, Strategic Communication, Strategic Leadership, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Creating an Innovative Workforce in a Large Bureaucracy: Lessons from the U.S. Air Force

Strategic Narratives for innovationIn 1963, Air Force pilots were awarded NASA’s Project Mercury astronauts the Collier Trophy by President Kennedy for their pioneering work in spaceflight. Today, the Air Force seeks to innovate anew

The idea that bureaucracy inhibits innovation is far from new: Political scientists in the early 1960s were already making the charge that, “There is a growing feeling that modern organizations and particularly the large, bureaucratic business and government organizations, need to increase their capacity to innovate” (Victor Thompson, Administrative Science Quarterly, June 1965).

Fifty years later, this ‘feeling’ continues to grow, often in bureaucracies that have also grown in the interim. The US Air Force is one such institution. Yet, there are creative ways to advance, as my opportunity to spend a day earlier this month with the Air Force Chief of Staff and an advisory group of my peers made abundantly clear. A diverse group of us were gathered–technology entrepreneurs, corporate CEOs, government executives, futurists and Air Force officials—to share ideas and offer our recommendations.

Although we talked extensively about practical fixes that could begin to create new pockets of innovation across the Air Force, we all agreed that ultimately the United States government as a whole will need a new way of thinking about innovation and failure. This new strategic narrative will tell a story about the US government as innovative, respectful of necessary failures, and open to true diversity of thought.

The Challenges to Innovation Facing Large Bureaucracies are Formidable
The challenges opposing innovation are formidable.

Like other large bureaucracies, the Air Force has:

  • A globally distributed workforce–in this case it is over 300,000
  • Mission critical areas in which failure is not an option
  • Decision-making that lies beyond its ability to control: Congress and the White House have a strong say in how the Air Force allocates its resources and defines incentives for performance
  • A deeply embedded structure for performance and advancement
  • A budget that is static and set by others

The lack of control over much of their own destiny, coupled with a stringently defined mission, makes it difficult to incentivize innovation. As the Air Force officials explained to us, the Service can best reward new problem solving approaches only at the tactical level, over which it has authority. Strategic innovation is more complicated.

Yet, doing nothing is not an option, in the view of the Air Force. The need to innovate is pressing. While the United States Air Force once had a clear advantage among other nations, global power shifts and the democratization of technology have made it much simpler for states and non-state actors to advance. Like other elements of the United States government, there is palpable concern these days that without establishing the conditions for innovation, the United States will fall behind, with consequences that have not yet been contemplated by national leaders.

When Mission Failure is Not an Option, Incentivizing Failure as Part of Innovation is also Difficult

One of the key recommendations for organizations seeking to innovate is to permit, even encourage failure. At the Pentagon, we discussed corporate leaders in the technology sphere who encourage failure, knowing that it is a necessary part of successful innovation.

Yet unlike a private corporation, the Air Force must explain itself to Congress, which does not look kindly on resources or programs are anything but highly successful. Neither the mindset nor the way in which budgets and programs are evaluated currently support useful failure. Other government agency or corporate managers seeking to drive innovation from below may recognize this problem as well.

How to Introduce a Culture of Innovation

The ideas that my colleagues and I came up with over the course of an afternoon, although designed to serve the Air Fove, may hold value for the leaders of similarly large, bureaucratic or networked organizations.

  • Public private collaborations are essential to accelerate innovation. Opportunities to work on a project with colleagues from other institutions could be a reward for innovation as well
  • Develop an expectation that a certain amount of failure is not only tolerable, but productive. Identifying a threshold of expected failure (20%, for example) can be a useful metric to show that innovative ideas are being developed and tried. This kind of mindset can be introduced to those who hold the purse strings, like Congress.
  • Create rewards and incentives that are not financial when the budget is fixed. Millennials (and even non-millennials!) may appreciate a shorter workweek or the opportunity to work on projects of their choosing more than money.
  • Ensure better teamwork by “translating” different fields to one another. In order to accelerate productive collaborative work, interdisciplinary team members need to understand the values, norms and vocabularies of their colleagues. This kind of understanding can be encouraged organically by embedding team members with their counterparts, so they can absorb how others talk and work. It can also be productive to surface this need and hold workshops or other guided discussions in which teammates explicitly translate their work to others.
  • Develop teams in which diversity of thought is encouraged and nurtured. In many cases, external signs of diversity (race, ethnicity, gender) are markers of diversity of thought because different people experience the world differently, but sometimes there are no external markers. Seek people who think and create differently from one another, and encourage the conditions in which those differences are valued.

These are practical steps by which a large bureaucracy can begin to establish a collective narrative of innovation that resonates throughout the organization.

If you would like to discuss developing an innovation narrative in your organization, I’d be pleased to hear from you at [email protected]

Posted in: Decision making, Innovation, National Security, Strategic Communication, Strategic Leadership, Workforce strategy Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Let’s Celebrate the 2nd Anniversary of “A National Strategic Narrative”

This has been a tough spring for national cohesion in the United States. Automatic federal spending cuts called sequestration kicked in after Congress failed to agree on how to manage the federal budget. The Senate voted down a bill that would expand background checks for gun purchasers, despite strong support around the country.  And bombings at the Boston Marathon committed by young men hovering between foreign identity and American citizenship confused any clear idea of American identity.

This makes it a good time to mark the two year anniversary of A National Strategic Narrative, published in April 2011 by aNational Strategic Narrativeuthors Captain Wayne Porter, USN and Col Mark Mykleby, USMC under the pseudonym Mr. Y.

The document grabbed the attention of politicians and pundits here in the United States, and foreign ministers in Europe and the Middle East. Perhaps most important, it garnered attention from everyday citizens for proposing a reinvigorated American identity and role in the world. Continue reading

Posted in: Books & Films, Decision making, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, National Security, Politics and Policy, Strategic Communication, Strategic Leadership Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Post-Boston: A More Effective Battle of Ideas (Part II)

Boston MarathonReprinted from The Globalist,  April 24, 2013

 Instead of getting sucked into heat-of-the-moment reactions to Boston, let’s base our responses on a more stable paradigm of contemporary global terrorism. To fight a battle of ideas successfully, one must first show what one is going up against. Amy Zalman makes the case that there are three distinct trends in terrorism — Hybrid, Multi-motivational and Narrative Terrorism.

This paradigm is evolving, but several trends are coming into view and are likely to deepen in the future:

  •    Hybrid terrorism:

In traditional categorization of terrorists, there are “lone wolves” who are unconnected to any organized group and those who are members of organizations.

Today, a hybrid type appears to be evolving: someone who works without full organizational support or direction, but who is not working in total isolation from others. Continue reading

Posted in: Crisis Management, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, News and Journalism, Political Analysis, Politics and Policy, Strategic Leadership, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Post-Boston: Keep Calm and Think Clearly (Part 1)

Boston Marathon

Reprinted from The Globalist, April 23, 2013

The Boston Marathon bombings provide an opportunity for the United States to consider how to combat extremist ideas more effectively than it did a decade ago. But this is not the time to let fear and uncertainty drive us into misguided and — as importantly — ineffective forms of countering violent extremism.

Warning: Prominent policy makers are already making demands to disinter the discredited concepts of the Global War on Terror. Options presented range from designating the bombers enemy combatants to calling for sweeping surveillance of majority Muslim communities.

The motivations that led Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev to set off lethal bombs at the Boston Marathon last week may not yet be clear. But the characteristics of that event already tell us a substantial amount about the direction of 21st century terrorism — and how we might combat it with increasing effectiveness. Continue reading

Posted in: Crisis Management, Decision making, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, National Security, Political Analysis, Politics and Policy, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Resilience Narratives Key to Resilient Systems

The 2013 World Economic Forum Conference that began today in Davos is dedicated this year to resilient dynamism. As Arianna Huffington noted earlier in the day, the key concept that gives rise to the need for resilience is our global interconnectedness. Quoting Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin, she cites five attributes that resilient systems characteristically share:

  •  Spare capacity
  • Flexibility — the ability to change, evolve, and adapt in the face of disaster.
  • Limited or “safe” failure, which prevents failures from rippling across systems.
  • Rapid rebound — the capacity to reestablish function and avoid long-term disruptions.
  • Constant learning, with robust feedback loops.

Huffington adds a sixth, “the will to want to be resilient.”

To that list, I feel we must add a seventh requirement for the present and future, Resilience Narratives: stories that will help disparate and potentially adversarial players see themselves as active participants in collaborative futures. Continue reading

Posted in: Conferences, Crisis Management, Decision making, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, Politics and Policy, Strategic Communication, Strategic Leadership Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Need for a New Story: Faizullah Jan Compares Narratives of the U.S. Drone War in Waziristan

The narratives told in Pakistan and by international organizations about the secret U.S. drone war in Waziristan are so confused that “the people who are caught in the crosshairs of the war have lost their voice and their story to tell.” In this guest blog, reprinted from Dawn.com, Jan explains the issues.

Reprinted from Dawn.com

January 5, 2013 by Faizullah Jan

THERE are competing narratives about the US’s drone war in the Waziristan area, a bastion of militants. These narratives have so far failed to gain traction in the public, inside Pakistan and elsewhere.

The Pakistani narrative goes like this: the drone attacks are a violation of our national sovereignty. They kill innocent people, including women and children, as collateral damage and hence incite suicide attacks across the country in a cycle of reprisal and retaliation, thus killing more Pakistanis, which again includes women and children.

In short, suicide attacks on public places like markets — and even mosques and shrines — are provoked by drone attacks. If there are no drone attacks, there will be no suicide attacks in cities and towns. Continue reading

Posted in: Guest posts, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, National Security, News and Journalism, Political Analysis Tags: , , , ,

How Power Works in the 21st Century

We live in stories.  That is, we are always in the process of trying to make sense of what is happening to us and around us.  That process drives us – to vote, to go into the street and fight for a nation, to make changes in how we consume, or to do none of the above.

Political leadership that understands that stories, perceptions, values, ideas, culture are present wherever there is human activity have a powerful tool for understanding what drives both change and apathy.

There is no name more firmly associated with linking political power and values and ideas than that of Joseph Nye. He coined the term soft power, which is power that stems from the intangible sources such as “institutions, ideas, values, culture …” as he explains in The Future of Power. 

Earlier this week, The Globalist published my article, How Power Really Works in the 21st Century: Beyond Soft, Hard and Smart. In it, I explain how, in a networked, information driven age, the power of symbols and ideas is always an important part of the strategic landscape. Nye’s insight that culture, ideas, perceptions, stories has been deeply assimilated into strategic thinking—a great tribute to him. But the insight has outgrown the categories that once described them. Continue reading

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Numbers as Narratives: Review of World Economics Website

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In popular imagination, narratives and numbers are opposites; the nebulous and imaginative versus the precise and factual. In public policy, narratives our political leaders often rest on numbers in the form of statistics, indices, averages, probabilities. Numbers are so compact, so easily legible, that it is easy to forget they are themselves stories: shorthand renderings of someone’s point of view about which facts are important and how to interpret them.

The World Economics website promises to put an end to any such complacency. The site, whose editor Brian Sturgess I met recently in Baku, has compiled a small mountain of counterintuitive and thought provoking challenges to clichéd uses of numbers to narrate what’s happening in the world.

Among a few of the site’s provocations: Continue reading

Posted in: Decision making, International Politics, Narrative forms, National Security, Politics and Policy, Strategic Leadership Tags: , , ,

Hacker Narrative: Next Chapter in History of Civil Rights?

Peter Fein, self described Hacktivist, recently revealed he is a member of the group Anonymous,  a self-organized group that targets institutions that stand in the way of their vision of Internet freedom with Distributed Denial of Service(DDOS) attacks.  DDOS attacks are a way of effectively shutting down websites by  overwhelming them with traffic.

The hacktivist group Anonymous: the next chapter in the story of American civil liberties?

For much of the U.S. security and legal community, hacktivists are criminals and security threats.  In another popular image, hacktivists are anarchists dedicated to total liberty.

Peter Fein doesn’t see it either way, for him, his activities place him at the center of a uniquely American history of ever progressing civil rights. Continue reading

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