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On Assignment to a higher staff.

Word! I don't know LTC Eden, but I know what he works on, as I help do some of the analysis. Truth is, however, this is ageless. Germanicus had to deal with same carp when he was trying to deal with Arminius after Varus' debacle in the Teutoburger Forest.

Some gems to whet your appetite - and which are now on my cubicle wall:

Competence, substance, even coherence fade in importance against the ability to brief smoothly -- not to mention that the language of higher headquarters reduces the strain of original thought and all but eliminates the need for critical analysis...

I'm guessing LTC Eden already has his retirement papers in and a job lined up.

"Okay, let's talk turkey. Your life from here on in revolves around briefing slides -- preparing them, staffing them, reworking them and, someday, if you're good enough, presenting them. How good you make them depends on verbiage, so let's cover a few of the basics...

What They Don't Teach You at Leavenworth By Lt. Col. Steven Eden

"Welcome, soldier, to the world of higher headquarters. Finding it a bit confusing, a little intimidating? Afraid that you can't pull your weight in the unfamiliar environment of conferences, working groups, process action teams and other various 'ad-hocracies' that make the Army run? Don't feel bad, newbie, I've been there. After years enjoying the simple, Spartan pleasures of troop units, we all end up here. It's tough, but the secret is learning the language. If you can learn the lingo well enough to employ it in your PowerPoint slides, you'll find that everything else becomes easy. Competence, substance, even coherence fade in importance against the ability to brief smoothly -- not to mention that the language of higher headquarters reduces the strain of original thought and all but eliminates the need for critical analysis.

"First, though, let me see that rucksack. Here, get rid of those counseling forms -- you're not a captain anymore, for crying out loud; what do you need regular, written counseling for? Nobody outside your immediate circle of friends is going to know what the hell you do anyway. And these staff manuals, you ask? Dump 'em, soldier. There are no operation orders above the division level and certainly none in TDA-land. You may have needed them to move that tank company of yours around, but mammoth major commands with hundreds of moving parts can get by on e-mails and PowerPoint. Hmmm, picture of your kids ... better keep that. Holy cow, what is this? A calendar? Typical rookie mistake. You think life was unpredictable in your old battalion? As Dr. Claus said, you have no idea.

"Okay, let's talk turkey. Your life from here on in revolves around briefing slides -- preparing them, staffing them, reworking them and, someday, if you're good enough, presenting them. How good you make them depends on verbiage, so let's cover a few of the basics.

The rest is in the Flash Traffic/Extended Entry.

"Lesson one: Never use a simple word when you can come up with something more impressive. I have a few favorites that even a newbie like you can employ fairly painlessly. 'Leverage,' for instance, sounds much better than 'use,' and you can stick it in almost anywhere. 'Optimize' is another good verb -- it's a positive, proactive kind of verb that gives the illusion of precision without actually tying you down to any kind of measurable standard. Get some excellent adjectives in the old kit bag, too, like 'overarching' and 'seamless.' That last one is especially effective because it allows you to make an otherwise ludicrous claim -- that your system or process or whatever is not subject to the laws of friction -- without being called on the carpet for it. Finally, we have a relatively new suffix that is all the rage now: appending '-centric' to a word can make a mundane statement seem innovative and sexy. Here, try it with the following example: 'This is an infantry brigade.'"

"This is an infantry-centric organization."

"Yeah, good, you're getting the idea. It may seem like basic stuff, but you have to understand something your Combined Arms and Service Staff School instructor never taught you. Senior leaders nowadays don't have time for deep reflection or thoughtful analysis. My old mentor, God bless him, said nobody above the rank of major ever reads anything longer than 1,500 words. That's why 400-page documents always have a three paragraph executive summary in front. So when you get your 15 minutes at the podium, you have to maintain the initiative and control the pace. You've got to gloss over the rough spots because they provoke questions; that leads to discussion and next thing you know the general is off to his next meeting and all you have is a tasker. Which takes me to my next lesson.

"Lesson two: Make smooth the path. There is no problem or glitch that can't be hand-waved away if you couch it in the right terms. For instance, let's say you've got a proposal for a new organization that has one big drawback: it is dependent on a particular weapon system to make it combat effective. If that weapon system can't be used because of enemy countermeasures, weather, terrain or some other factor, the unit collapses, the mission fails and soldiers die. In more innocent times, our forefathers called that a 'single point of failure.' Today, we call it a 'critical enabler.' Boy, that's the brass ring. If you can get your widget labeled a critical enabler the bean counters will carry you to the bank on their backs.

"Now, what if your organization is so hideously complex that the failure of any component causes the whole house of cards to collapse? Call it a 'system of systems.' Everybody likes systems -- the phrase connotes a well-oiled machine rather than the Rube Goldberg contraption you've actually created. Plus, you'll have every proponent, project manager and contractor in the room licking their chops in anticipation. They understand the benefits of huge, complicated projects where everyone has a vote, no one has responsibility and those nominally in charge (if they can be identified at all) have neither the time nor the personnel to run things.

"Lesson three: Focus on the trees, not the forest. If a problem can't be waved away, then try to isolate it from its context. Taken out of context, almost any deficiency can be viewed as a benefit. Stick with me, kid; you're looking like Forrest Gump at a Mensa meeting. Here, let me give you a couple of practical exercises.

"You're briefing an organization that has been stripped of the ability to support itself in combat -- not enough trucks, mechanics, fuelers, medics and more. What does the slide say?"

"Use only for disaster relief and coastal defense?"

"Hell, no! You have to concentrate, tenderfoot! Your slide says 'Reduced logistical footprint.' Then everybody at the briefing can feel comfortable that we've eliminated a lot of fat, idle, useless support weenies -- they won't have cause to wonder why we would create a unit that can't sustain itself. Let's try again.

"You've designed a command and control system that not only allows but actively encourages leaders to micromanage, exhausting themselves, their staffs and their units in the process. How do you brief it?"

"A critical enabler for accelerated decision making."

"Aces, kid. We'll make an action officer of you yet. Okay, time for one last lesson. I hope you're writing all this down, because this is the last coherent guidance you'll ever receive on any subject from here on in.

"Lesson four: Audace, toujours l'audace. Think of this as the final protective fire for the briefer. Some problems are so glaring that you can only get by them with a big can of hubris. My favorite is to invoke 'advanced or emerging technologies.' Most leaders nowadays have a touching faith in science. So, when you in effect say that such-and-such a problem 'only' requires development of cold fusion in a thimble or artificial intelligence, they will generally swallow it unblinkingly and move on to the next slide. Other examples are claiming your system will be 'ultra-reliable' or will operate in 'near real time.' Now, you're taking a risk here that somebody will leap up and point out that in two-plus centuries the U.S. Army has never created anything remotely close to being ultra-reliable, or some other unpalatable truth. At that point, the illusion is shattered and the briefing will turn into something akin to a chum-fest in the shark tank and you're a fish head. So use this technique sparingly -- and have your assistant standing by the fire alarm when you do.

"What's the matter? Oh, I get it. Some qualms about systematically skating close to the edge when it comes to ethics? Look, rook, think of it this way. Our leaders are too busy to do any actual work. That's up to guys like you and me. We are the ones who have to operate with conflicting guidance and the 'I-don't-know-what-I-want-but-that's-not-it' answers when we offer a recommendation. So think of briefings as camouflage -- they allow us to get on with the business of bending metal and preparing for war without a lot of interference.

"We're like the cowboys on the old trail, singing to the cattle to keep them calm and moving in the right direction. A bad briefing is just like a rattlesnake popping up in the middle of the herd. All the bulls get excited, everybody gets trampled, and we cowpokes spend the next few days trying to gather in the strays.

"All right, then. Here's your user ID and your password. Welcome to the team, kid."
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LT. COL. STEVEN EDEN is chief, Combat Developments, USA Armor Center, Fort Knox, Ky. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, he has served in various command and staff positions and has taught in the History Department at the Military Academy. Col. Eden holds a master's degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

17 Comments

So... whats the story behind the broken statue?
 
Ad-hocracies ... New word for the staff weenies!
 
Hilarious and frightening at the same time! :)
 
OMG! This sounds like my current job. I could joing the army and be kicking it! LOL I think I even wrote soem of the slides he's talking about.
 
Well, lessee, the broken lamp... The Lamp sits in front of Bell Hall, current home of the Army's Command and General Staff College (I say current because the new home is being built as we speak, and Bell Hall is skedded for demolition, as soon as the Vogons are done building the hyperspace by-pass). Any, it's the classic old "Lamp of Learning" motif. Two years ago, despite the Army's best efforts at preservation (which consisted mainly of lots and lots of aluminum paint) the rotted out base collapsed during a sustained 2 mile an hour zephyr... I used that pic as a metaphor (that all CGSC grads would recognize) for the title of the piece LTC Eden wrote. The Lamp has been repaired and is back in place, and will be moved to the new Lewis and Clark Center (as the new home for CGSC will be called) when the College reopens for business in it's new digs. And that, MCart, is the story of the Lamp. It was essentially an inside joke for us Army guys. Figures the first comment I got would call me on it! 8^D You normals! (Said tongue-in-cheek considering where you work...)
 
Hey - Watch who yer callin' Normal, Mister! Them's Fightin' words!! *grin*
 
I believe I filed an exemption for Shaitan-in-Redmond...
 
My head was spinning with the sheer giddiness of his logic and reasoning. I don't have a near BS in English for nuttin.' Sad part is, what he says is nearly true. I am grinning. What does the good LTC say about AARs? Can't WAIT for that one, unless he uses the same essay and switch a few words.
 
Now don't go dissin' a good AAR!
 
Nice to see someone with the BOFH's skills, but without the malice.
 
Oh, no dis intended or thoughts thereof. Just wondering how he would teach a subordinate how to brief an AAR. Should make for some hair to curl or fall out. The Engineer was reading over my shoulder and wheezing with laughter and shaking his head.
 
I blame Bill Gates and Microsnot for PowerPoint... though in truth, it started with Harvard Graphics.
 
He forgot to mention the "delta"! Cheers JMH
 
HEY, blame the user, not the tool. I've seen several PPT slide decks out of Afghanistan and Iraq that more than adequately demonstrate that PPT can be used for good, as well as evil. :) But thanks for the explanation on the statue. I thought it might be some kind of hazing stunt gone wrong. Sort of like a fire hydrant I ended up in possesson of once...
 
Hey, MC - you can use me as a reference for your next assessment - I'll attest you're a loyal son of Shaitan-In-Redmond!
 
I was a consultant at Merrill Lynch a couple of times. I think these instructions would fit right in there. Also fit right in at Met Life (another consulting job). Kinda scary when you think about it.
 
So *that's* why I'm doing well as a consultant!