The upcoming print issue of The New Yorker has an interesting article titled
Battle Lessons by Dan Baum. In it, Baum writes about the role of informal dialogues and communications in educating military officers...that there's only so much that they can learn in the various courses and training exercises, and that the formal education tends to strip out the valuable informal bits of knowledge that accumulate. Furthermore, the formal education tends to lag behind current events by years and is generally useless in the field where officers need to make on-the-spot decisions.
[...] shortly before the Americans invaded Iraq, the Army had concluded that its officers lacked the ability to do precisely what he did: innovate and think creatively. In 2000, the new Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki, was determined to shake up the Army and suspected that about half of a soldier’s training was meaningless and “non-essential.” [...] Wong found that the problem was not “bogus” training exercises but worthwhile training being handled in such a way as to stifle fresh thinking. The Army had so loaded training schedules with doctrinaire requirements and standardized procedures that unit commanders had no time — or need — to think for themselves. The service was encouraging “reactive instead of proactive thought, compliance instead of creativity, and adherence instead of audacity,” Wong wrote in his report. As one captain put it to him, “They’re giving me the egg and telling me how to suck it.”
The article goes on to tell about how two majors started up websites geared to platoon and company leaders...sort of Slashdot for military officers, to close the loop on informal lessons, and how it's actively being used on the ground in Iraq today.
The author also touches on how the officers on the ground in Iraq come from a different generation than those higher up, the on-the-ground officers tend to be Gen-X, more self-sufficient (because they had to be growing up) and more adept at using tools like web sites and bulletin boards to communicate and share information, and to research and learn.
Regardless of your position on the war in Iraq, it's an interesting article and lesson on how people find ways to communicate outside the formal channels, and how those informal lines of communication tend to have more immediate value than the formalized, rigid, and likely stale lessons of the past.
Informal channels can't entirely replace the lessons of the past (you have to start somewhere with a common background, even if it's proven wrong for the immediate problem at hand) but can certainly serve as a valuable supplement.
Of course, as soon as I posted this, I did a search for related articles
and found several:
Soldiers Record Lessons From Iraq,
Gatineau seminar on weblogs .
e.p.c. posted this at 13:47 GMT on 11-Jan-2005 .