I’m looking around the military and wondering why we haven’t taken the lessons learnt far before Darwin in 1859. I know Anthropology is considered a “soft-science,” I am pretty sick of hearing the binary thinking all the E-MBA folks telling me about soft-science. Really? Tell me a mission we do where I need 18 credit-hours of War planning class or a memorized quote from Clausewitz. Now tell me a mission we do where 6 “soft” hours of philosophy, anthropology, psychology, or (actual) world history (not “US” history) would do some good…. Um “all of them.” When, I beg you, is cultural understanding, broad thinking, mature question formulation and honest information brokering NOT a good idea? Wait, wait… I know; any mission where we don’t care about the culture we are affecting, the media- and world-opinion, or whether or not our efforts are culturally appropriate (and therefore meaningful and long-lasting). Anything come to mind?
We need to open the gates of cross-pollination in communication and admit that adaptation (challenging status quo) is sine quo non if we’re actually seeking future success for the Navy (and country) - not just ourselves on the short-term. Believe me, it would be far easier to attach one’s carriage to status quo and hold fast for twenty years.
Integrity and loyalty demand more.
(this is where some of my former bosses’ eyes glaze over)
To be loyal to an organism is to want it to survive and to do everything possible to ensure it will. To be loyal to an organization is no different. Should you hate the ship you are on, you would abandon it to watch it sink without you; loving it means fighting for it, doing the hard things, making the hard choices, and saying the right things to save it – regardless of whether or not there is room on the lifeboat for you (yes that one; the one crowded with the ring bearers of fabled glory: the schadenfreude-elite and shameless sycophants).
In leadership they teach about lifeboat ethics – how about saving the ship through adaptation and not needing the lifeboat? Just saying…
The truth about needing to adapt, and the fact that is it not only necessary, but admirably natural, started years before Darwin’s island visit. Try 2000 years before. Enter Aristotle (see also my first MA’s writing on this subject back in 2003); in Aristotle’s ‘Physicae Auscultationes’ after observing that the purpose of the rain is not specifically to make corn grow any more than it is to spoil the corn if kept outside after harvest, Aristotle then applies the same adaptive argument to everything. “So what hinders the different parts [of our body] from having this merely accidental relation in nature? [T]he teeth, for example, grow by necessity, the front ones sharp, adapted for dividing, and the grinders flat, and serviceable for masticating the food; since they were not made for the sake of this, but it was the result of accident. [In] like manner as to the other parts in which there appears to exist an adaptation to an end. [Therefore,] all things together (that is all the parts of one whole) happened like as if they were made for the sake of something, these were preserved, having been appropriately constituted by an internal spontaneity, and whatsoever things were not thus constituted, perished, and still perish.” Here, even Aristotle talks about natural selection and adapting to be successful. Sure, he was a little off with the how-our-teeth-came-about thing, evolution was far from understood even then, but the point that he saw was that our environment (and use for it) drives our very being. You have think of what you have to do, and do the best you can with what you have got available (right now).
A man named Lamarck was the first to get real public attention with this kind of thinking in 1801 and in 1809 in ‘Philosophie Zoologique.’ In 1815, in his ‘Hist. Nat. des Animaux sans Vertébres’ advocated that species, including man, are descended from other species and adapted to the changing world around them to survive. You can look to the past for reference, hint hint, but it is what you have now (or expect to get) that matters when you are decided how to handle current and future crisis.
Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, in ‘Life,’ 25 years before Lamarck could say it, claimed that species are all various degenerations of the same basic type – that is, each new species is a positive mutation of one from before that was not as well adapted to the surroundings as the new one (in question) became. What’s interesting about St. Hilaire’s words are that today we normally think of “mutation” as a negative thing, just as we think of people with different opinions negatively. In Japanese the word for “different” and “wrong” are the same thing (yes, I speak Japanese – my teacher said “chigaimasu” to me a thousand times as I was stumbling through it… she was saying “well, that’s different…” the same as saying, “nope dummy, wrong…”). In the Navy we LOVE to think of anything different as wrong; what may be healthy is to understand that a mutation (a change) could be positive too.
In 1813, Dr. W. C. Wells presented to England’s Royal Society a paper about how certain races were immune to virus and decease that others were not based on their environmental needs. His ‘An Account of a White female, part of whose skin resembled that of a Negro’ was not published until five years later in 1818 but it was Wells who took the bold step to distinctly recognize the principle of natural selection. He was the first to recognize (or point out) that blacks and mulattoes enjoy immunity from certain tropical diseases that whites fail to possess. Using blacks as an example, he explained that some peoples have adapted faster or better than others due to environmental needs/factors. He observed that all animals tended to vary in some degree depending on survival needs and that even agriculturists improve their stock by deliberate mate selection and by their craft selection mirror the selection that “seems to be done with equal efficacy, though more slowly, by nature, in the formation of varieties of mankind, fitted for the country which they inhabit.”
Hey man, everyone is different; that’s great. Why don’t we stop talking about how great diversity is and actually admit that it is. All the talk about it is just so managers can say that they covered the subject and made sure everyone knew they covered it. Great, now let’s actually believe it and practice it. Then we can maximize the potential different cultural perspective (race, sexuality, creed, age, station) can bring to the table? In a strictly hierarchical communications and information diffusion system, it is not that we are dismissing minority cultures, it is that we are excluding ALL cultures sans the ones that have succeeding inside the system (become products of the system) and therefore are cheerleaders for it (the status quo one, not the needed change adaptive one).
I spoke with a young Marine recently while waiting for a MAC flight out of Hawaii about DADT (the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell). He and I agreed that we didn’t understand “what the big deal was” with being concerned about what people do in their “off” time so long as it doesn’t affect their “on” time. He said that his generation (he was 23, I’m 39) grew up not caring if someone was straight or not and made a rather fascinating observation. This Lance Corporal said that he and his friends felt that all the depth of training and lectures and power-points and signed-paperwork acknowledging compliance they (the junior guys) had to go through about the repeal of DADT was really about someone up high making sure that middle-management saw the DADT repeal impact info over and over again. It is they, the LCPL said, that actually need to learn about the change needed; he and his friends, he said, already didn’t care about how someone feel in love, just that they did their job. Very astute for a “kid.” That’s just DADT, but the point should not be lost that the new Servicemembers think differently than we (old farts) do. They demand more, can do more for it, and will need a different ilk of leadership than we (old fogies) did while we were at the bottom looking up.
One last example of how common this knowledge is. In 1826, Professor Grant, in the last paragraph of his paper, ‘Edinburgh philosophical journal,’ (vol. xiv. p. 283) clearly announces his belief that all species are the deliberate ancestors of other species, which have become improved over time through modification. All successful cultures are adaptive. Name any extinct culture, peoples, species, or plant life. What do they have in common? Failure to adapt.
Yes, it’s bold. But look, if you believe that the dinosaurs were destroyed by meteor or volcanoes, then you also must know that they became extinct because they failed to adapt quickly enough to the change in light, plant life, oxygen, water, what have you. The Caspian Tigers used to live in China, Tajikistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey. Hunted for their furs they and to shield newly founded local livestock (to the tigers’ environment) caused them to be hunted dry. The last Caspian Tiger reported shot was in 1957 having failed to adapt to the encroachment by humans, the shrinking living quarters, and new rules about not eating someone’s apparently free game (but not really) livestock. Cultures have to adapt too. The American Indian’s didn’t do so well adapting to gun powder and the odd white man’s demands. The Aztecs vanished; the Tasmanian Aborigines were squeezed out by the British; ancient Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Normans – name it. If it isn’t around anymore, it didn’t adapt to changes (fair or unfair) that were forced upon (or offered to) them. That’s not fun, but that’s the facts.
So what happened to the lessons laid out by our ancestors from the Sumerian culture disappearing to the first salamander that lingered too long in the quagmire to be eaten vice his quick moving brother who made it to the brush (and got to mate)? Why are we operating in a system that violently refuses to adapt to the next generation of demands and opportunities? The Navy’s kidneys are working to flush out anyone with the audacity to suggest change is afoot. In the words of the CNO, Admiral Roughead, “For whether we embrace the fundamental communications changes underway today or not, our talented young workforce not only embraces them, they know nothing else. As leaders, then, it‟s not enough that we keep pace with these changes – we must lead the change.”
The Navy has got to let his good ideas trickle down past the hair-clog in the middle of the drain to reach the bottom (where the real work is done). We’ve got to swallow the little red pill and go down the wormhole, so to speak. The next generation of Sailor is not only smarter and more educated than generations from the past, but he and she is more technically savvy, and therefore more outside-the-Navy marketable than we were when we joined 20 years ago.
Look, if a guy doesn’t want to put up with the crap, he can get out and wrangle a job for the same (or better) pay and benefits with his smarts and the skills we taught him on the way in the door. What could be leftover is a fleet of NON-outside-the-Navy-marketable folks and binary-thinking people who accept that fear of authority is synonymous with respect for it. Quite the contrary my friends, fear is not respect. Respect comes from self-respect, and if you fear the system enough to not speak out on it’s survival’s behalf, you are not doing your duty to it, and you cannot claim to respect someone you are letting down (even if supporting the right thing will cost you personally). The days of badgering the new guy into compliance and treating new people like being new is a crucible are over.
Let’s take, for example, the archaic rank structure and demand of separation. There is certainly a time and place for obedience. Someone might have to be ordered to shut the hatch behind them, dooming their shipmates to death to save the ship. On the other hand, it’s not 1916 anymore and the necessity to tell a line of men to leap from the muddy trench, without question, and charge into no-man’s land are over. Take that hill is for some combat units perhaps, but not the bulk of the service, especially the Navy’s. For leaders it is no longer ‘die for me’ so much as it is ‘die with me.’ A different kind of symbiotic relationship is needed. The tiny lexicon shift is not insignificant. In the US Air Force an Airman can freely tell her superior ranking supervisor her opinion on a work assignment without prejudice or repercussion. In the Navy, no way. In fact, if there is any repercussion on the USAF side, it is merely something as awkward an improved perspective and understanding for all involved parties on the project. God forbid everyone have a sense of ownership and pride in the process, worse even should the new perspective improve the process. I’m not saying throw the baby out with the bath water, but I have men working for me who are smarter than they are being allowed to be. These men will, by virtue of being intelligent, self-select out of the organization and seek enlightenment, organizational citizenship, challenge, affirmation of potential, and personal reward elsewhere. That’s not opinion talking, that’s proven fact from my years of PhD work in Organizational Psychology. Yes, I know it’s poor form to self-qualify, but the point of the qualification was validity, not back-patting. Move on.
All I’m saying is that to cling blindly to status quo is not only cognitively pathetic and weak, easy, cowardly, and sad – but it is also not as loyal to the system as the actions of questioning status quo, offering adaptations, solutions, and fixes to processes that are getting old and need repair or replacement. If you love someone you want them to put a coat on in the winter and sunscreen on in the summer. There are those in the Navy who want Her to wear the same old woolen frock year-round regardless of the weather.