Strategy: Merging thoughts, theories, and actions By Fred Leland | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

“I want to consider the goal of achieving non-linear effects consistently. Does it work in the real world? Sometimes it does, certainly, but for all the papers and presentations trumpeting the advantages of non-linear strategies, my sense is that consistent success remains elusive. This is despite the fact that current U.S. strategists and leaders have been raised on complexity, systems perspectives, RMA, transformation, and effects-based operations. I would guess that for every thousand strategists who read Sun Tzu, fewer than a hundred can implement the principles effectively and consistently outside of the classroom. Why? Good strategy is never a checklist exercise. Context counts, and it changes. Even the best strategist is susceptible to biases. Incomplete information, deception, the fog of war–the list of challenges is long and daunting. … So, what’s the answer? What can we do that we’re not doing already to generate better real-world strategies?” ~Mark Mateski

This quote above was taken from a short analysis and a critical question posed by Mark Mateski posted at Rethinking Security, “What can we do that we’re not doing already to generate better real-world strategies?

In this recent Blog post (Application), Adam Elkus analysis, addressed the issue of, the application of strategy and how most folks in any profession that deals with non-linear, complex issues, (conflict and violence) seeking to implement strategy, do not possess nor can they assimilate the knowledge necessary to apply strategic theory in their field on a consistent basis.

Adam Elkus makes a great point on the subject that led me to thinking about us cops and security professionals, as to whether or not we can first gather enough knowledge and awareness, about conflict and violence. Then an even more critical question; can we apply our knowledge in the dynamic non-linear, complex and chaotic circumstances we find ourselves in on a consistent basis? 

This led me to also think and ask the question, why is it so few in our professions are able to be effective on a constant basis at getting the job done? How do we evolve to the level that we know that its sound operational art and tactics we are using to implement a strategy with less dependence on luck and more focus on effectiveness?

When dealing with conflict and violence we are dealing with complexity and uncertain conditions. This is why we must recognize momentary advantage and seizing the initiative as it arises. This means we must have a evolving strategy within ourselves of “taking whole”  of understanding the underlying conditions of conflict and violence. Understanding cultures different from you own and understanding human nature and how the mind and body work under pressure. This takes special effort on the part of individual officers taking individual initiative a gathering knowledge on a constant basis in an effort to be prepared and effective in crisis situations.   

It’s not enough to know what you can do in complex situations. We must also know and understand what our adversaries can do in response. This is a multi-dimensional game with walking, talking, thinking and moving human beings. Therefore we must first consider our position and our safety so we can maneuver effectively and take action as the situation requires. We must also be privy to the fact that we will never have perfect information. Yet the more information we possess about the ground (environment/where we are?), the climate (what’s going on?). This continuous situational awareness and assessing via the Boyd Cycle interpreting the signs and signals is knowledge we need to know and assimilate. This is information we do or should know and most cops and security would be able to tell you what they should be looking for. Yet when it comes to application of this knowledge we miss the mark. In my mind this is an important area to be explored because knowing does not necessarily lead to applying. The better we are at applying our methods as well as predicting the behavior, tactics and strategy of our adversaries, the more apt at success we will be in the application of strategy at all levels, the moral, mental and physical. 

This poses the question do we know and understand conflict in its three dimensions, the moral, mental and the physical as John Boyd described? And how do these three dimensions affect our strategy, operations and tactics? Can we win at the physical level of conflict and then lose at the moral? The answer is yes. Ask any protection professional who applies what he believes is reasonable force only to have a controversy arise as to how others perceived it as excessive use of force.

Take the Rodney King case for example, most cops felt the situation was dangerous and the force used in that case was reasonable. The public and the politicians and the justice system saw it another way. Officers went to jail for what was perceived at the moral level an inappropriate and excessive use of force. The battle was won tactically at the physical level of conflict and lost strategically at the moral level.  Why?

A lack of knowledge by law enforcement as to how the public perceives what we do and how we carry out our strategy to protect and serve. The methods used in this particular case were perceived as excessive by the public we are sworn to protect. Not so much in the initial use of force, but in the continued use of force, in combination with emails back in forth between officers alluding to a racist incident where we used excessive force. A lack of knowledge in any area in the application of strategy can tarnish even a solid case. 

This case changed the way we are perceived by the public and had great impact on how we police today on the street and in throughout the justice system. I use it as an example only to show we must possess knowledge not only at the tactical level but we must understand the strategic and operational levels as well so the methods we use such as, utilization of force are winnable at moral, mental and physical levels of conflict. All the levels are there whether we like it or not and winning at one and losing at the other can be costly be it a life or freedom taken. This is translating theory to practice and we must be better at doing it.   How? Rethinking how we do our jobs and carry out our protection professional strategy to “protect and serve” in a way that considers all dimensions of conflict.

Sun Tzu said; “Know yourself and know your enemy. You will be safe in every battle. You may know yourself but not know the enemy. You will lose one battle for every one you win. you may not know yourself or the enemy. You will then lose every battle.” If we are to create unity, focus and strength which is what knowledge and information brings to the equation of translating strategic theory too practice, each individual officer, each leader must take responsibility to continually learn, unlearn and relearn. Rethinking what we know about ourselves and our adversaries.

This requires we know our strategy so we can focus our efforts. We must know what our resources are and how to utilize them. We must know we are united and that a cohesive effort based on mutual trust  (leadership/frontline) is indeed the climate we are in. Then we can apply the correct methods based on the unfolding and rapidly changing conditions.

We must constantly strive to seek knowledge and then rethink it. As COL John Boyd put it “”We can’t just look at present experiences or use the same mental recipes over and over again; we’ve got to look at other disciplines and activities and relate or connect them to what we know from our experiences and the strategic world we live in.”  This takes great individual and organizational effort but effort worth taking if we strive for safety and effectiveness at the application of translating theory into practice.

Adam Elkus states, “There are two things at play here. The first is that, as both Jomini and Clausewitz agreed, individuals who can draft and apply effective strategies are extremely rare. Studying strategy is worlds away from implementing it and designing it.

Second, one of Sun Tzu’s fatal flaws (which is shared by complexity, systems methodologies, effects-based ops) is that he emphasizes a level of knowledge and understanding about the world that most do not possesses and will never acquire. In the American context, this is even more galling because of continuing ignorance of other cultures and continuous de-emphasizing of history.”

This leads me to the next question. What attributes do individuals officers need to evolve in this critical area of law enforcement and security and how do we create and nurture them so more in our professions are able to practice what we preach?

Stay Oriented!


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