Friday, February 23, 2007

The Face Of War

The Ancient Egyptians were probably the first people to establish a professional army composed of career soldiers. The Mesopotamians also established a professional army about the same time. These armies were trained and led by a professional corps of officers and tacitly led by a variety of Kings and Princes although many of these were generals and warriors in their own right. These armies were organized into various specialty units such as; infantry, cavalry (chariots), archers (artillery), and the usual corps of supporting units like engineers, ordinance, logistics, etc. Weaponry tended to be alike as did strategies and tactics with the outcome of battles being largely dependent on the quality of the leadership and the discipline of the troops. Battles tended to fall into two categories—battlefields and sieges – or offense and defense.

This was the pattern of warfare until the introduction of gun powder in the 13th Century. Prior to that, changes were largely improvements to existing weapons technology, i.e. cross bow, long bow, shorter Roman Lance, shield design, stronger castles, etc. With the introduction of gun powder came cannons, which rendered the Castle largely obsolete, although these strong points existed right up to the First World War in the form of the Maginot Line. The introduction of muskets again changed the face of war although the same tactics which relied on massed troops maneuvering on the battlefield under fire, continued through the American Civil War.

The reaction to the carnage of the American Civil War led to a revision in tactics, which led to a more defensive mentality reminiscent of the siege warfare of the Middle Ages where troops were sally forth from the castle and retreat back to the Castle if things didn’t go well. But World War II led to some additional tactical rethinking. First – battles became three dimensional with the introduction of the Air Force. This allowed generals to reach behind the front lines and attack the enemies infrastructure, spelling the end to permanent strong defensive positions. But in addition to the Air Force, the Armored Cavalry was now able to sweep around these strong points and render them untenable. But overall while the tactics were refined, the weapons improved, and battlefield changed to three dimensions, the essential battle structures remained unchanged.

That is while the battlefield was now larger it was still controlled by a Central Command and relied on Corps, Division, Brigade, and Battalions executing a planned strategy. Officers in the field were given very specific objectives, reported back through a chain of command, and had limited flexibility in their decisions. Throughout WW II Infantry, Artillery, Cavalry, and the Air Force were major components of land warfare. The objective was to physically destroy the enemy and to occupy his land. However, overlooked in the enthusiasm surrounding the victory, was the residual war in China, which was actually a civil war between the Chinese Nationalists and the Chinese Communists. The struggle was interesting for several reasons, but primarily because the Nationalists were well armed, well organized, and supported by the Western Powers. Although the Communists had the support of Russia they were essentially on their own. They were not well armed but were well organized and highly motivated but what set them apart was their reliance on guerilla tactics and their ability to simply blend into the landscape and population.

Although guerilla tactics have been employed since the Israelites fought the Romans, they really have only been destabilizers rather than a victorious strategy. But Mao Tse Tung used these tactics very successfully and eventually drove the Nationalists offshore to Taiwan where they remain. Since that time the Viet Cong successfully employed these tactics against the French in Indochina and then later against the US in Viet Nam. But during this time several things remained constant. First, the Guerillas were backed up by trained and well organized military units. Secondly the battles continued to be orchestrated and controlled by a central command structure with the units organized into the classic military structure, such as; corps, divisions, brigades, etc. But more importantly, the various combat arms remained distinct and functioned as distinct units, other than the liaisons and this is how things stood for Gulf War I. In fact Generals Powell and Schwartzkopf were probably the last of the classic generals fighting a classic war where maneuvers were at the corps and division levels, with armor based flanking movements ala General Patton.

Gulf War II started much the same way with General Franks using division based tactics supported by the air force to overwhelm the Iraqi Army in a matter of weeks. But General Franks aided by SecDef Rumsfeld changed the face of war and it continues to evolve. First, gone are the distinctive work uniforms and in their place are the ubiquitous camouflage used by all branches. Units are now made up of combinations of Marine, Army, and Air Force personnel. These units are not always mixed branch but commonly are. Furthermore, even those homogenous units can be made up of Artillery, Infantry, and Armor troops with all being employed as infantry.

This new face of warfare has been brought about by the rapid collapse of the Iraqi military and the unanticipated rise of the militias and incursion of foreign guerillas. This new form of warfare is not only guerilla based but relies of terror. In this environment the generals and central command have largely been relegated to advisors or at the least have lost any close control over day-to-day field operations. Instead, it is the Sergeants, Lieutenants, Captains, and the occasional Major who are conducting the war with only broad direction from the central command. Tactical units are now at the Squad, Platoon, and Company level with occasional use of battalion or brigade sized units. Large field maneuvers have vanished and in their place are these small unit battles conducted by the junior officer corps. These junior officers may be Marines, Army, Navy Special Forces, or Air Force.

The result has been a huge improvement in inter-branch communications, much greater teamwork, and a blending of the Armed Forces into a cohesive whole that has not been seen before. The military is changing not only how it thinks but how it fights. Most recently small company sized units have taken up residence within the neighborhoods they patrol and protect. This is in response to the guerilla tactics of blending in with the population. By abandoning the central encampments (i.e. castles or strong points) the military now is more vulnerable but also more able to determine friend from foe as they become familiar with the local population. This also gives them more frequent and reliable human intelligence.

SecDef Rumsfeld has been heavily criticized for his actions, especially by those politicians and old fashioned generals who want to retain control and to continue fighting the last war. Just as General Billy Mitchell demonstrated the value of the air force and its effectiveness against battle ships and paid the price for his audacity, Secretary Rumsfeld may be in the same category. Time will tell but it is unlikely that the American war machine will ever go back to what it was and in the future the Sergeants and Junior Officers will play a much larger role and have greater flexibility.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Magic and Management

Managing is an experience, but then so is a root canal and the two experiences seem to have much in common. That is both are some times painful but both have certain rewards once the pain is over. Nevertheless there are many people who actually desire to lead the band. To members of the band being the Maestro seems like a great and enviable position but anyone who has stepped up front knows that if you want to lead the band you have to face the music. The reality is that the manager – or in the more contemporary term leader – is the focal point for dissatisfied customers, unhappy team members, clueless superiors and that their actual ability to control or influence events is almost nil and the larger the band the more this is so. Consequently some days the manager might prefer to set his hair on fire rather than go to the office, but then there are those other days when things actually go as planned. True the number of days when this happens is woefully few, but they do occur and in the long term that usually makes everything worthwhile. Leading may be a lonely business but it is also fun and in the long run it can be rewarding even though it frequently means hours of wading through tedious details and listening to complaints and problems that would tax a saint.

And this brings us to one of those great unanswered questions, which is – why does anyone want to take on the task of managing much less leading anything? Of course masochism comes to mind but no one really knows why anyone wants to subject themselves to the stresses of leading an organization or indulging in self-flagellation either but actually there is a huge gamut of reasons ranging from power to “some one has to do it”. But this brings us to another and perhaps larger question and that is what are the differences between management and leadership. Even though it is generally acknowledged that there are differences between managers and leaders these differences largely remain at the intellectual level and are generally ignored as organizations strive to keep up with the current trends in management style. The old management style – that is planning and directing-- is now considered old fashioned and companies are moving to the new leadership style of inspiring and governing. This trend can be observed everywhere as organizations morph into teams and leaders replace managers and management is replaced by governance. The result is that the old and now out of style understanding of what constitutes managing an organization is disappearing as organizations meld into teams staffed by associates, team members both real and virtual and management is transformed into governance. Of course when challenged very few executives can make a clear distinction between these terms. The terms manager and leader are used interchangeably just as management and governance are used interchangeably. It appears that our corporate executives have come to believe that with the stroke of their magic administrative pen and a new magical organization chart they can transform their unwanted and outdated managers into leaders who govern the organization. It all seems so simple but alas contrary to what Shakespeare might believe there is more to it than just a name.

Those of us who must live with these changes know how it actually works. One day you are the Department Manager happy as a clam in your little bureaucratic heaven and the next day you are TRANSFORMED into the "Leader" of a new downsized, reengineered, and streamlined team, ready for action and poised to meet the future. As if by magic your department has disappeared and in its place is this newly constituted team armed with processes and acronyms prepared to battle the reactionary elements who thought things were working just fine and no change was necessary. Of course that’s because down at the worker bee level the new team looks suspiciously like the old one--except – SURPRISE -- smaller. You find that at the stroke of the pen you have been transformed from a manager of resources into a leader of men (in the generic sense of course) charged with “governance” and no longer burdened with managing people.

But as most of us have found that unlike the caterpillar who morphs into a butterfly we find that following our organizational metamorphosis very little has changed and we –alas--remain a caterpillar. True we are a smaller caterpillar but a caterpillar nonetheless. The downsizing has left us with a smaller staff, the same responsibilities but with a wonderful new title. Well -- almost the same responsibilities because as the leader you are not only expected to manage – oops – govern this team but also to be a part of the team (translation: do the work). You and the smaller staff must now do everything you did before plus work more hours to compensate for the reduced staff. Furthermore, as the new leader you are expected to lead by example, which means that you have retained all of your old duties plus taken on direct responsibilities for certain tasks formerly done by the staff, and added more hours to your work schedule. You find that you not only are doing everything you did before but you are also an active contributor with tasks of your own. Essentially as a leader in this new paradigm, management has become "an extra duty", something to be done in your spare time as a "background" activity.

This magical transformation of managers into leaders and the associated trimming of "excess" employees is then touted to the (those that are awake) board-of-directors and stockholders as an example of how the company executives are up-to-date and have the vision necessary to lead the company into the new century. They have eliminated all of those high priced middle managers and over priced workers. They have created a virtual organization staffed with enthusiastic "A" players now governed by motivated leaders. The company is now poised to meet the future head-on -- but is it really?

The problem is that changing titles and reducing staff is an age old management strategy that may have an immediate impact on the bottom line, but without a change in operational methods it is at best an organizational band-aide. What is required is fundamental structural, cultural, and philosophical change, plus an understanding of the purpose/ reason for the changes and a clear vision of the future. The new managers (leaders) must have a clear understanding of how their position has changed and what is expected of them. Without these real changes and an understanding of the impact of the changes reducing staff and changing titles are merely euphemisms and administrative exercises that may actually hurt the performance of the enterprise more than they help. Therefore, magical transformations of managers to leaders won't work and remaking an organization requires more than a changing a few names on the org-chart and some new titles.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Science Evolution and Magic

Somewhere I once read that the American Indians had a saying that “to name a thing is to know it”. This is a pretty profound statement especially when you view it in terms of science. The field of science is littered with terms that are little more than names because no one really knows what they are or how they work, among these we find gravity, magnetism, black holes, great force, weak force, and of course evolution. Of course most scientists toss these terms about as if they really understood what they are and how they work but the reality is that they are actually describing the effect of these things without actually understanding what they are or how they work. This is especially true of Evolution which we are assured by the most reputable of scientists is a factual reality. In support of this we are offered numerous examples of “evolution” which on inspection turn out to be examples of adaptation. That is the species is modified but remains the same species. The reality is that there are no examples of one species becoming another and that there are no transition fossils found in the fossil record.

Charles Darwin was a product of his time. His Theory of Evolution was clearly an extrapolation of the Charles Lyell’s Theory of Uniformitarianism, which postulates that things change gradually and that those changes occur over long periods of time. This geologic theory held sway for a very long time but as the science of paleontology matured it became obvious that the geologic periods ended in abrupt – catastrophic changes with mass extinctions. This gave rise to the Theory of Catastrophism which vied with Uniformitarianism but these quickly and easily melded together to form a picture where geologic processes were uniform for long periods but then each period ended abruptly with catastrophic events. What triggered these abrupt changes was unknown but recent discoveries indicate that some of these if not all, were triggered by collisions with meteors or large volcanic eruptions. So these findings go a long way toward explaining the mass extinctions and abrupt endings to geologic epochs but it really doesn’t address the creation of life, evolution, or speciation.

The Pre-Cambrian is almost devoid of fossils and what fossils there are tend to be slime, tracks, or other similar evidence of simple worm like animal forms. But in the Cambrian we find some very sophisticated life forms with trilobites being the most well known. And from this point on every geologic epoch is filled with ever increasingly complex life forms, some of which go extinct while others live on, like the shark or ant, into modern times. Evolution doesn’t address the origin of life but simply addresses how life has divided and subdivided into this myriad of life forms ranging from worms to mankind. At this point it is important to note that Evolution may in fact be true, but the issue is that it remains a unproven theory and is not a demonstrated fact. Certainly, Evolution is not supported by the fossil record and therein lays the problem, which plagues paleontologists. If the fossil record does not show any transitional life forms, such as something between the Pre-Cambrian worms and the Cambrian Trilobite, then evolution as a process remains simply a possibility and with some significant hurdles for the paleontologists.

To solve this problem of no transitional fossils, Gould and his protégé Eldredge have postulated punctuated equilibria. Essentially this new theory says that a species splits off from the parent species in a very short span of time – no more than a few thousand years so no fossils are likely to be found. But the punctuated equilibria theory does allow for older forms of a species to co-exist with newer forms, which conveniently eliminates the problem with Eohippus. Initially Eohippus was cited as an example of evolution because it could be demonstrated that the horse evolved from a relatively small mammal into the current horse. Unfortunately it turned out the early fossils of Eohippus were not related to the horse and that older forms as well as newer forms of the horse co-existed. Although it was ignored the fact was that even if the fossils were all related they would all still be horses and not an example of one species becoming another. But scientists valiantly carry on because evolution cannot be abandoned without having to answer some very difficult questions regarding the origin of life, so the current effort is to demonstrate that punctuated equilibria is really evolution at work.

The primary thrust of this argument is that even members of the same species are not identical and variations occur. This is described as stasis meaning that variations occur and that these variations advance and reverse through time, which accounts for some of the variations in the fossil record which show recent fossils may be more primitive than earlier ones. This observation is then used to point out that these variations may be of the moment and not carried through time, but some are and it is these variations that lead to speciation Essentially the theory is that these variations lead to identifiable groups within a species that reproduce within their own sub-group but elect to not mate with closely related members of the same species and gradually this leads to a new species which is unable to reproduce with members of its parent species. This process is theorized to occur over a relatively short period of time – perhaps thousands of years rather than millions. It is this short period of time which is believed to account for the lack of any transitional fossil forms and to explain the sudden appearance of various life forms in the fossil record. In essence we can take a Hippopotamus lay our imaginary hand on its forehead and utter the magic word EVOLVE and we have an elephant. But this is more extreme than the theory postulates.

Essentially the Punctuated Equilibria Theory points out that the fossil record indicates that a species through time will develop sub-species and these do not reproduce with each other, hence we have variations with the species that lead to new species. Alas while this argument may be sound the reality is a trilobite is still a trilobite, a mollusk is still a mollusk, and a bird is still a bird. However, this is the foundation of the argument that man, ape, and chimpanzee all are related and that mankind has indeed split off from a common ancestor that was in fact an ape. The problem of where did that first ape come from remains and in fact if we start with primordial life in the Pre-Cambrian we must accept that we are slime derived, essentially our most ancient ancestors were pond scum.

So there is no explanation offered for the explosion of highly developed life forms in the Cambrian and there are no transitional life forms in the fossil record to indicate exactly how pond scum became fish or fish became reptiles and reptiles became mammals. Certainly Punctuated Equilibria may provide an explanation as to how animals species have so many variations and sub-species but it really doesn’t explain the march of life from the simplest forms to mankind. The conclusion can only be that Evolution remains a theory and that Punctuated Equilibria is a theory that offers a partial explanation for speciation but it too must remain a theory. The only conclusion we can draw is that science has many theories for the origin of life but they have no solid proof. And as Puck observes in “Midsummer’s Night” “Oh what fools these mortals be”.