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Win, Learn, Focus, Adapt, Win Again

March 10, 2011

We continue to learn important lessons from our ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every once in a while, however, an incident outside the Army can help us understand the challenges we will continue to face in the future. In that spirit, I’ll briefly use the recent oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico to illustrate how we’re working in U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) to prepare for the future.

The once unimaginable scenes of oil streaming from the broken well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico are still real to us. For months, the powerful images of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon platform and the oilcovered wildlife were part of our everyday life. It will likely take many years to calculate the full costs of this tragedy. One marine science professor noted, “It could take years, possibly decades, for the system to recover from an infusion of this quantity of oil and gas. … We’ve never seen anything like this before. … It’s impossible to fathom the impact.” Yet these seemingly unimaginable events do occur, whether they’re generated by Mother Nature or human nature. In TRADOC, we are working to avoid a “failure of imagination.”

Of course, we have always lived with uncertainty and the specter of the unimaginable. We believe, however, the character of uncertainty is fundamentally different today. Today’s uncertainty is the result of persistent conflict with hybrid threats, enabled by technology, that decentralize, network and syndicate. We live in a far more competitive security environment than we did just 10 years ago. In such an environment, we should expect to be surprised more frequently and with potentially greater impact. Our profession, therefore, demands leaders with greater imagination and increased awareness of the “weak signals” of impending change. We see it as our responsibility to think differently about institutional adaptation—shifting from a reactive to a proactive stance to recognize and influence change before “strong signals” force us to adapt on others’ terms.