Friday, October 17, 2008

National Defense University 1

Meeting Complex Challenges
Through National Security Reform
October 16-17, 2008

A conference’s title, properly chosen, conveys, implicitly if not explicitly, the key abstractions that the organizing group intends to have attendees ex;plore. And if the conference organizers are adept at this business, the one or two page flyer that describes the objectives to be achieved and names a few well-known “leaders” in the field – usually academics, retired government officials, and occasionally individuals who have had direct experience with the subject matter or the processes through which the subject matter changes and, in so doing, changes the trajectory of history.

Thus this conference was advertised to be about the inevitable plethora of distinct person-to-person relationships that develop over time between representatives of governing entities that, when looked examined over a long period of time are said to possess certain characteristics. If a significant number of “outside” (foreign) observers convey negative or ambivalent feedback and the country in question is alert enough to detect the negative signals, reforms can be undertaken. But to be consistently effective ot only in making the change across all relevant departments and agencies, there must be a high degree of what the mliitary refers to as “unity of effort.”

The two paragraphs above describe only processes – the intellectual “bundling” of impressions from a large number of individual encounters between a group possessing common characteristics (e.g., location, type of habitat, use of implements, dialect, etc.) and a broad, highly diverse set of “not them” who have developed a state of mind about what can be expected from members of the group wherever encountered.

My experience in the military attaché system and then working with military attachés assigned to Washington clearly refuted this conclusion. One of the delights of working in this field is the opportunity to invite to lunch or dinner attachés whose countries were at near war with each other – Pakistan and India come readily to mind. Yet get these officers on neutral turf and the generalization that they are implacable enemies could not be sustained. They acted and genuinely interacted like “ordinary” human beings might.

Indeed, I doubt that anyone reaching maturity in the 21st century has not heard some variation on the warning that generalizations are dangerous. Yet the volume of information flowing through the senses to the brain is so overwhelming that humans have had to develop mechanisms that unconsciously prioritize and generalize according to the circumstances the constitute the dominate context (e.g., is the alligator I see in its zoo habitat or roaming along a river bank 20 yards away and closing?).

When it comes to international relations, countries, like individuals, are characterized by others according to the perceptions created through behaviors in various contexts. Thus it becomes imperative that a country aspiring to leadership or a business seeking to expand into foreign lands be aware of the impressions held by allies and adversaries and any others whose intervention could help or hinder achievement of the goal. And depending on the context, the country or business in question may find it expedient to undertake reforms of its practices and processes.

This is about where the conference started – with the premise that more often than not, when government or business begin to talk about reform, they are really talking about process – the “how can the operation be made more effective?”

Now this question, particularly in the context of reform, usually is directed toward the udusl litany of getting rid of waste, fraud, and abuse. One participant in the conference who had held a very high position in his country’s military structure, offered the opinion that after two or three years one could pretty well expect to recoup about ten percent of an agency’s budget from inefficiencies that creep into the organizational processes.

Another participant offered the following formula as a statement of what businesses and governments often do wrong when they go after reform: Q x A =E, where Q is quality, A is acceptance, E is effectiveness.

Now the goal of business is to turn out a quality product in such a way that resources are used in the most optimum manner. The person who is on the production floor or in the product stream is often the one who knows better than a plant manager whether the production process is being effectively implemented. A key element in effectiveness is acceptance of th process by those who do the work. If management disregards suggestions on better ways to work, morale will go down. And should it hit zero, then effectiveness goes to zero also

Next: An idea can be the most powerful force on earth
An idea can be the most dangerous force on earth when it is the only one you have.


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