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The Army Capstone Concept and Institutional Adaptation

March 16, 2010

Today’s operational environment is increasingly complex, with an ever-expanding array of threats. Within this environment, four trends emerge: growing uncertainty, accelerating change, increased competitiveness and greater decentralization. These trends reflect a future in which the Army is compelled to rapidly adapt in order to defeat new unforeseen threats as they present themselves in unexpected ways. Our challenge then is to build an Army whose leaders and Soldiers are comfortable with change and can rapidly adapt themselves, their units and even the institution as a whole to prevail in the future.

In his 1872 novel Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll captures the essence of our challenge. His antagonist, the Red Queen, lectures Alice about what it takes to advance in the game of chess. Suddenly, Alice finds herself running hand-in-hand alongside the Red Queen:

“Now! Now!” cried the Queen. “Faster! Faster!” And they went so fast that at last they seemed to skim through the air, hardly touching the ground with their feet, till suddenly, just as Alice was getting quite exhausted, they stopped, and she found herself sitting on the ground, breathless and giddy. The Queen propped her up against a tree, and said kindly, “You may rest a little now.”

Alice looked round her in great surprise. “Why, I do believe we’ve been under this tree all the time! Everything’s just as it was!”

“Of course it is,” said the Queen: “what would you have it?”

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, just to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Lewis Carroll’s world in the late 19th century was an age of discovery and science, learning how systems fit together, and determining how the industrial age would affect the social fabric. So what Lewis Carroll was talking about was a reflection of the science of the time and the revelation that was discovering that systems are interdependent. And because of their interdependence, if we want to keep up with the system, we have to evolve at least as fast as the system. If we want to get ahead of the system, we have to evolve twice as fast. The choice is to adapt or perish.