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Military Reform through Education

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]
Photo of Don Vandergriff instructing with a map

Don Vandergriff facilitating Adaptive Soldier/Leader exercises at Fort Benning

Fred Leland at LESC Blog recently had a guest post up by Dan Grazier from the Project on Government Oversight regarding the important work Don Vandergriff is doing to reform professional military education and training:

Military Reform Through Education: From The Straus Military Reform Project, Something We In Policing Can Learn From

….I had the privilege of experiencing this process with a group of 30 soldiers and Department of Defense (DoD) civilians learning about adaptive leadership and mission command. All were teachers from various courses at Fort Benning sent by their senior leaders seeking to infuse new ideas into their organizations. They spent a week learning how to incorporate adaptability into their courses during a seminar taught by CDI military advisor Don Vandergriff and his colleagues with Yorktown Systems Group.

The Adaptive Soldier/Leader Training & Education (ASLTE) seminar aims to move the Army away from outdated assembly-line training methods that teach soldiers to mindlessly execute checklists. Instead, the seminar shows soldiers how to incorporate creative and interactive methods that challenge both students and teachers. This results in empowered soldiers at all levels able to adapt to any situation. [….]

….Don Vandergriff, a retired Army major, has been on the front lines of personnel reform for many years. While he is most noted for his work at the service level, these seminars seek to transform the Army from the bottom up.

Approximately 20 soldiers and 10 civilian educators spent the week learning various teaching methods through experiential learning, which flips the traditional method military students are used to. Most training today follows the “crawl, walk, run” theory all service members are familiar with. Students are generally expected to complete reading assignments, sit through a PowerPoint lecture, and then finally conduct field training to reinforce what they have learned.

The seminar exposed students to new methods by putting the practical exercises first. For example, the seminar uses several Tactical Decision Games (TDGs) to encourage students to rapidly develop a plan for a military problem presented by the facilitators. TDGs can be created for nearly any kind of a situation, but this course mostly used actual battlefield problems like how to capture a bridge or defeat an enemy force entrenched on a hilltop. While working through these problems, the students are exposed to such concepts as Mission Command and the Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act decision cycle, commonly called the OODA Loop or Boyd Cycle.
It is only after the practical exercises that they receive reading assignments about those concepts. Because they’ve encountered them during the exercises, the concepts become more tangible. The OODA Loop, for instance, explains an individual’s or an organization’s decision-making process. It is a difficult concept to truly understand, but it becomes easier when one first sees how it works and then reads about it. The idea is to give them a moment of discovery, that “Ah ha!” moment. Success using such methods is to have a student say, “So, that’s what you call that,” while reading.

Don is making use of several powerful learning methodologies in his Adaptive Leadership philosophy – and I saying “learning” and not “teaching” because Don has properly put the emphasis on the student actively thinking and doing rather than on passively listening to a lecture or discussion. Lecture has a place in education, to explain or to set the student up for new learning experiences, but it should be used sparingly and in short bursts of time when the instructor has carefully set up a “teachable moment”. By having the students doing active problem solving first, they come to Vandergriff armed with their own questions, eager to have feedback.

The use of games are also a very powerful learning tool, perhaps one of the most effective because the situational learning. tends to be transferrable rather than be compartmentalized and isolated information. The right kind of decision games are serious practice for life. This was noted by RAND social scientists way back during the early days of the Cold War:

“The gamers argued that insights arose from immersion in play. In 1956 Joseph Goldstein noted that the war game demonstrated ‘ the organic nature of complex relationships’ that daily transactions obscured.War-gaming gripped its participants, whipping up the convulsions of diplomacy ‘ more forcefully…than could be experienced through lectures or books’.”

” A team from the Social Science Division [ at RAND ] posed a number of questions which they hoped the unfoldig month of gaming would resolve. Chief among them was whether gaming could be used as a forecasting technique ‘ for sharpening our estimates of the probable consequences of policies pursued by various governments’. Would gaming spark “political inventiveness“, and more importantly, how did it compare to conventional policy analysis? Did gaming uncover problems that might otherwise be neglected? And invoking the emerging touchstone of intuition, did the experience impart to policy analysts and researchers “ a heightened sensitivity to problems of political strategy and policy consequences?”

  Sharon Ghamari- Tabrizi, The Worlds of Herman Kahn

Back to the article:

….Vandergriff’s teaching method incorporates recent research into adult learning, designed “to engage students in direct experiences which are tied to real world problems and situations in which the instructor facilitates rather than directs student progress.” This creates a situation where the students learn from one another. Unlike most other military classes, the ASLTE teachers use very few PowerPoint presentations. They also end up speaking far less than the students themselves.

Vandergriff ran the class through the first TDG and led the discussion afterward. From that point forward, students took turns leading the class through After Action Reviews. Students gained confidence in leading such an exercise while the rest of the class bounced ideas off each other. The interactive nature of this kept the entire class engaged and gave all of them ownership of their own learning.

The concept of ownership was a consistent theme throughout the seminar. According to Vandergriff, a good teacher “works to make his students better than himself and encourages them to take ownership of their development, to make them life-long learners.”

Here Don is making use of the social pressure and reinforcement of a Peer to Peer (P2P) dynamic to maintain maximum student engagement while having them practice critical intellectual reflection, something that is a vital constituent of a professional culture of learning. A true professional embraces an honest discussion of ideas and both accepts and gives critical feedback on performance in hopes of learning and improving.

Read more regarding Don Vandergriff’s adaptive leadership methods here and here.

Lexington Green Interviewed on Against the Current

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

America 3.0 : Rebooting Prosperity in the 21st Century by James C. Bennett and Michael Lotus

Lexington Green” of Chicago Boyz blog, a.k.a Michael Lotus, co-author of America 3.0 was interviewed recently by Chicago talk radio host and TV commentator Dan   Proft, on Proft’s video podcast, Against the Current.

I heartily approve of the cigars.

Tune in for approximately fifty minutes of conversation regarding national and local politics, futurism, economics and political philosophy through the analytic prism of America 3.0 (a book I warmly endorse):


Our ZP blog-friends on the Iran deal

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — waiting for the other shoe to drop — or be thrown, i suppose — or if a sandal, for the sand to be shaken off it if need be ]


Which leaves us with:

AP Exclusive: UN to let Iran inspect alleged nuke work site

Iran will be allowed to use its own inspectors to investigate a site it has been accused of using to develop nuclear arms, operating under a secret agreement with the U.N. agency that normally carries out such work, according to a document seen by The Associated Press. [ .. ]

The Parchin agreement was worked out between the IAEA and Iran. The United States and the five other world powers were not party to it but were briefed by the IAEA and endorsed it as part of the larger package.

On Wednesday, White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the Obama administration was “confident in the agency’s technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran’s former program. … The IAEA has separately developed the most robust inspection regime ever peacefully negotiated.”

All IAEA member countries must give the agency some insight into their nuclear programs. Some are required to do no more than give a yearly accounting of the nuclear material they possess. But nations- like Iran – suspected of possible proliferation are under greater scrutiny that can include stringent inspections.

The agreement in question diverges from normal procedures by allowing Tehran to employ its own experts and equipment in the search for evidence of activities it has consistently denied – trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Olli Heinonen, who was in charge of the Iran probe as deputy IAEA director general from 2005 to 2010, said he could think of no similar concession with any other country.

The White House has repeatedly denied claims of a secret side deal favorable to Tehran. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told Republican senators last week that he was obligated to keep the document confidential.


IAEA Director General’s Statement and Road-map for the Clarification of Past & Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran’s Nuclear Program

IAEA Director General’s Statement:

I have just signed the Road-map between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the IAEA for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. The text has been signed on behalf of Iran by the country’s Vice-President, and President of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mr Ali Akbar Salehi. This is a significant step forward towards clarifying outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. [ .. ]

Joint Statement

by the IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano and the Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, President of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi [ .. ]

Road-map for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran) agree, in continuation of their cooperation under the Framework for Cooperation, to accelerate and strengthen their cooperation and dialogue aimed at the resolution, by the end of 2015, of all past and present outstanding issues that have not already been resolved by the IAEA and Iran.

In this context, Iran and the Agency agreed on the following: [ .. ]

5. Iran and the IAEA agreed on another separate arrangement regarding the issue of Parchin.

It appears to me that the other shoe is still up in the air — and must feel much the same way Schrödinger’s Cat feels.

DoubleQuoting violence, the choice today

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — humanity I love, but humans when humanity goes out the window — more difficult ]

The question, the choice facing me, is this: should I DoubleTweet today’s Times tweet —

with another of today’s tweets, this one from the Evening Standard:

— or with this one — or similar — from the Daily Mirror a couple of years ago?


There’s a simultaneity to the first option, and a sort of tit-for-tat causality to the second: which is to say there are both synchronic and diachronic linkages on offer.

So it is with the world’s events, there are synchronicities and diachronicities.


Hat-tip to Bryan Alexander of Infocult: Uncanny Informatics. A very bright man, a very Russian beard, a very good friend.

Visiting with T. Greer and Lexington Green

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

 Reading Room, University of Chicago Library

Last Sunday I spent a very enjoyable afternoon meeting T. Greer of Scholar’s Stage blog and visiting with him and Lexington Green of the group blog Chicago Boyz ( where T. Greer and I both occasionally post).  Greer was in Chicago for The Midwest Political Science Association Conference at The Palmer House downtown.  It was good to finally meet T. Greer and see Lex after a long hiatus and our conversation in person took off from where they had been online without skipping a beat.

The weather was uncooperative, but Lex took us on a walking and driving tour of his alma mater, the University of Chicago.


We spent some time at Powell’s Books, a Lexington Green favorite, which is an absolutely fabulous bookstore for the serious bibliophile. We went through the stacks and reached the basement level.



I bought a few from the military history and strategy section

Next we spent some relaxing time and deep conversation about books, ideas and policy at  the legendary Jimmy’s Tap where Saul Bellow and a legion of intellectual luminaries, students, writers and workingmen just off their shift rubbed shoulders. We sat in the back room where it was quieter. The discussion was a rare pleasure.

Finally, we ate at another Chicago and Hyde Park landmark – the cafeteria style service Valois.  If you ever visit the University of Chicago, eat here. The food was outstanding (I had the prime rib with hash browns, which I strongly recommend) and the prices more than reasonable. We ate our fill and talked some more.

One of the nicest aspects of blogging has been the friendships forged in the broad circle of folks debating military and foreign policy, strategy, counterinsurgency, intelligence issues and (unavoidably) politics. From meetings like this to book and article projects to the Boyd Conferences, the interactions have all been positive and enriching.

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