Pete’s Combat Wish List Pt 2: Mental Models, Mistakes, Reflection and Learning on the Fly

Mental models are the images, assumptions, and stories which we carry in our minds of ourselves, other people, institutions, and every aspect of the world. Like a pane of glass framing and subtly distorting our vision, mental models determine what we see. Human beings cannot navigate through the complex environments of our world without cognitive “mental maps”; and all of these mental maps, by definition, are flawed in some way. This definition is from Peter Senge and it stresses the importance of having an open and growth mindset, a self-awareness that allows us as individuals and organizations to see things as they are instead of how we think they are. Learning to adapt in a volatile and uncertain world is strategy. What we must always realize is that we’re never acting independently of others — the actions of others affect our context as our actions affect theirs.

I too made mistakes. Let’s not forget for one moment, I had the interesting benefit of staying as unit after unit rotated into my region. I watched, gave bad advice, said the wrong things, experimented and absolutely played a role in people dying as I figured out what worked.

I got to learn by watching others and committing my own errors repeatedly for years. I witnessed units rotate in with the same flawed mindset. Watching units spend weeks carefully handing off a mission to the next unit, only to have that new unit begin the same pattern.

I began to predict the future. I witnessed how units communicated/operated, I saw what their training kept them from seeing. I learned through mistakes how to speak commander, how to piss off Colonels and not get fired — but sometimes I did get fired.” ~Pete Turner

Pete in his Wish List Pt 2 describes issues with stability operations in combat zones, the same holds true all too often in high crime areas as our own biased views of how we police fighting crime and quality of life issues is often over shadowed by school solutions and or policy and procedures, when the wisdom of a street cop based on his training, experience and the context of the situation he finds himself in would bring about a more procedural just solution. Situations matter and so is a street cop’s discretion. We cannot keep using the same mental recipes over and over, we must challenge the prevailing mindset.

One of the issues with progress in stability operations is our own myopic view of our inevitable success. Our bias, our institutional ethos denies us the ability to see the wins that are present or available. This myopia undermines our ability to understand the challenges, successes and failures that we create throughout own lack of acuity, and institutional standards.

Peter Senge in his book The Fifth Discipline says; Skills of reflection concern slowing down our own thinking processes so that we can become more aware of how we form our mental models and the ways they influence our actions. Inquiry skills concern how we operate in face to face interactions with others, especially in dealing with complex and conflictual issues.” For example, Pete explains:

“By talking to 1000’s of locals, I’ve learned that instability in conflict zones is the norm. Further, instability’s elasticity is stronger than a commander’s resolve. Every effort or operation that a unit undertakes must buttress their delivered stability by connecting the populace to the government. Since this is not an organizational tool, it never happens and causes US operations to contribute to instability.”

This is about gaining mutual trust, or we could describe it as your work being seen by the populace as legitimate whether we are talking combat zones or communities. The lack of legitimacy results from environmental factors (financial, family, etc.), negative experiences (physical, verbal, emotional, etc.), and observations of police actions (in person, stories, rumors, media, etc.) Like Pete continually reminds us Affects dominate effects!

Pete makes excellent observations that relate to policing, emphasized even more in a free society.

Our focus cannot remain 100% on the creation of capacity without creating influence. Again, affects be effects. A unit commander may accomplish a positive demonstrated training effect yet loses the fight each day by not creating a positive affect towards the HN police. So long as the population remains distant, disdainful and lacks trust in “its” own police, the war is being lost.

Training effects are best measured externally; the ground truth denies our myopic view of our success. Tactics are best measured against the Ground Truth, not strategy. The standard is significantly higher than units are prepared for.

Trained police must get past the US evaluation. They must also employ the tactics/techniques and doctrine without US baiting/coaching. Further, police performance is measured in criminals arrested, and prosecuted…no police force exists if the population derives no benefit.

There is a lot more information contained in this piece by Pete, that I think very important to anyone wanting to win in the moral, mental and physical dimension of conflict, and crisis. Pete says, this list isn’t centered on combat, of course, that makes it hard to swallow — and, that is sort of the point (See Rule 2 The civil population is the Center of Gravity (COG) in modern conflict). The list contains no drones or bullets, but it does focus attention where the fight is won or lost, the population.

I like Pete’s ideas in these wish lists because they focus on conflict and its full spectrum from persuasion (hug them to happy) versus the other force (hit them before they hit us) which is all to often how too many see it. Conflict violence and crime have always been made up of adaptive, ill structured and probabilistic factors that ebb and flow back and forth amongst these extremes. Conflict is an extreme test of wills and unfolds in moves and countermoves. It is indeed a social process not only between the combatants but also very much so through the eyes of those watching. The civil population is the center of gravity in policing. Failing to understand this leaves winning on the street in the physical dimension while at the same time losing in the eyes of the public in the moral dimension. We cannot ignore these factors as we police or engage in conflict, to do so will put us at a disadvantage because police leaders will not know how to use police strategies, operations and tactics to an advantage. this form of group think what Boyd called Incestuous Amplification.

Incestuous amplification has the effect of closing off the system from its environment, and any activity in a closed system always generates entropy, thereby making it impossible to maintain that system’s coherence. Therefore, without a correction or change that opens the decider’s OODA loop to an effective communication with the real world, the only uncertainty in the outcome is how long an OODA loop driven mad by incestuous amplification can last before it degenerates into chaos, confusion, and disorder.

Pete’s wish list and his ideas get me reflecting and to thinking about the lessons policing has learned over the years and how those lessons when applied can lead to opportunities in how to better deal with conflict, crime and violence in a way that makes police more effective while at the same time making themselves and those they serve, safer. It takes stepping outside our comfort zones and a willingness to make a difference.

“Some can struggle to a victory and the whole world may praise their winning. This also demonstrates a limited ability. Win as easily as picking up a fallen hair. Don’t use all of your forces. See the time to move. Don’t try to find something clever. Hear the clap of thunder. Don’t try to hear something subtle. Learn from the history of successful battles. Victory goes to those who make winning easy. A good battle is one that you will obviously win. It doesn’t take intelligence to win a reputation. It doesn’t take courage to achieve success. You must win your battles without effort. Avoid difficult struggles. Fight when your position must win. You always win by preventing your defeat.” ~ Sun Tzu"

Stay Oriented!