Intuitive Decision Making and Military History

One of the recent popular books that delves into the subject of critical and creative thinking is Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. This book y is a fairly in depth discussion of intuitive decision making. What is interesting is that I was not expecting Gladwell to talk about the military, but he does. The following is an excerpt from the book:

“Of all the interviews I conducted while researching Blink, the one that made the most lasting impression on me was my interview with General Paul Van Riper –the hero (or villain) of the Pentagon’s Millennium Challenge war game…. I remember being surprised when he took me on a tour of his house by the number of books in his study. In retrospect, of course, that’s a silly thing to find surprising. Why shouldn’t a Marine Corps general have as many books as an English professor? I suppose that I had blithely assumed that generals were people who charged around and “did” things; that they were men of action, men of the moment. But one of the things that Van Riper taught me was that being able to act intelligently and instinctively in the moment is possible only after a long and rigorous course of education and experience. Van Riper beat Blue Team because of what he had learned about waging war in the jungles of Vietnam. And he also beat Blue Team because of what he had learned in that library of his. Van Riper was a student of military history.”

What Galdwell is implying is that a foundation of intuitive decision making –thinking without thinking –is study and preparation, and for the military professional a major component of that study is military history.  Now to just get the senior military leadership to buy the concept.

Ender’s Game: Insights into Training Tactics, Strategy, and Critical and Creative Thinking

Just finished reading Orson Scott Card’s science fiction novel, Ender’s Game.   It is a recognized sci-fi  classic and my intent here is not to review it.  There are over 2,000 positive reviews of it on Amazon (as well as over 60 negative reviews) and I encourage that all who are interested in the book graze over what the Amazon readers have opined.  Despite the few very critical reviews, I found the book a quick, easy, and interesting read.  I recommend it strongly to those interested in sci-fi in general, military sci-fi in particular, and training military leaders.

My interest in Ender’s Game is that it is a sci-fi novel that is mostly about training for battle.  The actual war is wrapped up in the last 30 pages of the book.    I think the important points that the book makes are about training; and the most important points about training that it makes are the importance of immersion in the training environment and the focus on creative solutions.  It also makes the point that it is absolutely critical to focus on the development of individual leading and thinking skills.  Acquiring knowledge, technical skills, and collective training are important but secondary educational requirements.  The leader is the single point of failure in military endeavors.  Knowledge, skill, and collective training mean little unless uniquely trained and exceptionally competent leaders employ soldiers and units correctly and most effectively.  Ender’s Game makes the point that leaders make two vital contributions to military success:  first, effective decision-making and second, maximizing the abilities and potential of subordinates.    

The most intriguing aspect of the book is the use of simulation and technology to train critical and creative thinking and decision-making.  Written in 1985, this book advocates many of the training characteristics I did in my article “Training Tactics in Virtual Reality” ten years later. 

What I think is still frustrating to me is that, though I believe the technology is there to support it, the military in general still has not made the leap to using technology to train individual thinking and decision making skills.  Much like my earlier comments regarding Star Trek, Ender’s Game demonstrates that military sci-fi can be a creative inspiration for how we should be thinking about and using technology to make our military more effective.

Click here to go to Orson Scott Card’s Website.

Thinking through Technology: Tactics Training in Virtual Reality

 

I’m not a trained education specialist, nor do I have any particular knowledge about creating virtual worlds or simulations or gaming.  I am a retired professional soldier who has been wrestling with how to train and educate soldiers to think better than their adversary for thirty years.  With that perspective, I think there is a huge role to be played in  professional military education (PME) by technology that remains untapped.

I wrote the below article more than 15 years ago for Armor magazine. I have never been asked about it or ever heard anyone comment on it.  I think that means that it was completely ignored.  Either that or I totally failed at explaining the idea.  To my knowledge nothing approaching an individual focused virtual trainer designed to both train and educate officers has  been considered by the U.S. military.What amazes me is that after all this time, and all the technology that has evolved since, I still think the concept stands up and should be pursued.  The below trailer for the Call of Duty 4 game system is indication of where virtual technology has gone.

What inspired this article, all so many years ago, was two things.  One, mentioned in the article, is the army’s UCOFT (Unit  Condcut of Fire Trainer) training system for tank gunnery.  It is essentially a training matrix that a tank crew works through on a simulator that begins with simple and moves to more complex tasks.  Each level requires mastery of the tasks at the previous level.  The other is the Kobayashi Maru test mentioned in the Star Trek TV series.  The test was a tactical thinking test which was only ever passed by Cadet James T. Kirk –an accomplishment which identified him as a gifted officer early in his career.  It seemed to me that a combination of the UCOFT concept and the Kobayashi Maru test would be an incredable training device.

I just don’t think our leadership has the imagination to understand how to truly leverage the technology that is out there and available.   I believe that the right use of technology, such that it becomes imbedded in the lives of people, much like the relationship some people have with their blackberry, can change the way a person thinks, reacts, and responds to situations at an instinctual level.  I don’t think the  military recognizes or has bought into that.  Once they do, the possibilities of using technology, not just to train skills, but to train and teach thinking, can truly be realized. 

Tactics Training in Virtual Reality (The Future of the Officer Advanced Course)

The company commander looked ahead and saw the Bravo section of his 1st platoon break the wood line as they began bounding forward. Turning to the right, he could see the small group of houses where the Alpha section was waiting. A glance at his commander’s display told him that 2d and 3d platoons were moving along their designated axis. At that moment, there was a sudden roar, and then the concussion of incoming artillery. He looked up in time to see the streak of antitank missiles; he watched both of the bounding Bravo vehicles take hits and explode. Missiles were also coming at him, but his vehicle defense system was faster than the enemy gunners: it launched smoke, chaff, and electronic countermeasures. As his helmet-mounted thermal goggles automatically came on, his driver was already moving back into the deep cover of the forest and out of the line of fire.

Read the rest of the article here.