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Archive for April, 2005

Tuesday, April 26th, 2005


Those who follow PNM theory already know that Dr. Thomas Barnett is an advocate of Horizontal Thinking and dedicated a section of his first book, The Pentagon’s New Map, to that process which he entitled ” How I Learned to Think Horizontally”. Barnett credited this technique and outlook of mind with making him a global strategist and enabling him to develop PNM theory by seeing the interconnections.

Horizontal thinking is an extremely powerful tool. In fact, I will later argue in this series that it is the required catalyst for the generation of insight but Horizontal thinking alone won’t do it in terms of cognition. Instead, Horizintal Thinking works best in conjunction with
“traditional “Vertical Thinking the way your right hand works with your left. Or as creativity theorist Edward DeBono originally summarized the relationship:

” Some people are unhappy about lateral thinking because they feel it threatens the validity of vertical thinking. This is not so at all. The two processes are complementary, not antagonistic. Lateral thinking enhances the effectiveness of vertical thinking by offering it more to select from. Vertical thinking multiplies the effectiveness of lateral thinking by making good use of the ideas generated .” (1)

The unhappiness to which Dr. DeBono refers is a result of the nature of modern, Western, education which is designed, at the apex of the system, to develop people with rarified skill-sets and a very high degree of expertise, usually in an aspect of a subfield of a much larger discipline in say science, medicine, engineering or law. Practitioners take the broadest view when they are initially introduced to the general principles of their field but as their knowledge base deepens, vision narrows as the professional perspective shrinks to the most complex problem or leading edge of field knowledge.

At this stage there are relatively few people at this level with the competency to act as a peer or offer competing ideas or correct errors. The field’s Rule-set which includes principles as well as habits of mind becomes for the high-level practitioner, a two edged sword. They define the expert but they also create a psychological frame that screens out much vital data from the expert’s awareness – this is the educated incapacity phenomenon decribed by Herman Kahn. The expert actually becomes more efficient at ruling out possibilities, in light of the field’s Rule-set, than in generating them. A frustrating cognitive trap that John Boyd called ” paralysis by analysis” where all potential moves are seen to have so many downsides that they become less attractive choices than remaining still.

Horizontal thinking can get the expert out of that mental cul-de-sac by setting aside analysis in favor of synthesis, intuitive pattern recognition, suspension of judgment, reversing/challenging premises, counterfactual thought experiments and brainstorming alternatives. These exercises are intended specifically to get he expert to look outside the confines of their field and into others in search of parallels and analogies. An important first step toward the realization that the field Rule-set is a tool and not – as is usually the case with experts – something to be regarded as an end in itself.

In Part II we examine how using Vertical Thinking helps the horizontal thinker.

1. De Bono, Edward Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step, p. 50, Harper Perennial, 1970

Tuesday, April 26th, 2005


A collection of good topics tonight:

The ubiquitous praktike (who was kind enough to link here) on the limits of democracy promotion.

Stuart Berman gets down with a battle of the Toms – Barnett vs. Friedman !( I think I hear Dr. Barnett wincing all the way from here).

Dr. Demarche on how unreasonable environmentalism kills African children.

Pundita on the Mandarins of State and John Bolton.

Prometheus6 on machines that can read your state of mind.

Lord Curzon on the agony of Nepal.

Tuesday, April 26th, 2005


Brace yourself for a good deal of rubbish in the next few days regarding Putin’s address to the Russian people, particularly regarding his grandiosely ahistorical claim that the demise of the USSR was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” MSM psuedo-experts and talking heads are going to pop up next Sunday morning with Tim and George to engage in ominous, arm-waving, hysterics over that line.

It was a phrase designed to raise an emotional red flag ( pun intended) but at home, not in the West. It is dubious that Putin himself really believes that – at least to that extent – since if the USSR were still around he’d still be trying to recruit the local girlfriends of the Marine guards at the American Consulate in some Bulgarian backwater, instead of being President of Russia. There are millions of patriotic Russians who miss the days when their country was the feared superpower and they like to hear that kind of rhetoric from Putin.

Trust me, these quasi-nationalists are also the same people who used to tell jokes about Brezhnev being a walking corpse. These people don’t want the Bolsheviks to come back, they want to stop feeling humiliated about the condition in which Russia finds itself. By speaking as he does, Putin sucks all the political air away from the extreme Right and the hardline Communists who would be waving the ultranationalist bloody shirt for all they were worth if they could. They can’t though, so long as Putin is seen as a ” respectable” outlet for conservative sentiments.

These Russians, muzhik-descended, second-generation urbanites, older for the most part and living in outlier cities and towns are Putin’s equivalent of Nixon’s ” Silent Majority” and Putin plays to them in a similar way. The beneficial aspect in terms of American interests is that Putin prevents their radicalization with his blunt talk. The extremists on Russia’s political margins on the right and left are a scary, anti-semitic, wildly anti-American and anti-capitalist bunch. We really don’t want them riding a populist wave to power, we want to help Putin where he takes positive steps and help the real Russian liberals build truly credible, democratic, alternatives to authoritarian rule.

But get the U.S. to loudly push the case of the check-writing, ” democratic”, mafia Oligarchs and you can paint what is left of Russia red and brown.

UPDATE: The text of Putin’s speech.

Monday, April 25th, 2005


Robin Burk of Random Probabilities and Winds of Change had the following comment in regards to large-system analysis and design that I thought would be as of much interest to my readers as it was to me:

“Speaking as someone who started in software engineering and is now working in decision analysis, I think you need to separate out several isses in large system design.First, there is the issue of causal feedback loops. That’s what you’re getting at when talking about “planning for success”. This is the domain of systems dynamics modeling.

Systems dynamics modeling is highly regarded by many public policy analysts for the very good reason that it captures 2nd and 3rd order effects of decisions.However, many decision analysts will say that the difficulty with systems dynamics modeling is that for it to be predictive of system behavior you often have to be able to estimate various rates of change in key factors — and that can be very difficult to do. However, it can be used to generate hypothetical best / worst / most likely scenarios, useful for diagnosing whether ones assumptions were on target.

A different approach that is useful when thinking about complex systems is multiple objective decision analysis. This technique recognizes that hard problems are often hard because we have multiple objectives we want to achieve. MODA offers ways to identify those objectives, prioritize them and tie them to specific evaluation measures. Alternative system designs are then simulated or otherwise modeled to predict expected behavior on each evaluation measure and a resulting weighted value score identifies which alternative provides the best expected overall outcome. There are other steps in this process, including (very critically) analysis of the degree to which ones conclusions are sensitive to small changes in priorities.There’s lots more that can be said about other disciplines as well.

People who do decision analysis for mission-critical military and other systems are often members of INFORMS and (for military apps) MORS. “


That was quite timely. These computer modelling techniques will also be helpful in drawing a clearer line between intelligence analysis and policy decision-making. Currently the border between the two domains tends to get fuzzed over as IC analysts and 1st-4th tier intelligence consumers often tend to rely upon similar mental ” tools” for looking at data. In fact, some policy appointees have been, by training, world-class analysts in their own right. There really wasn’t a whole lot the CIA was going to give George Schultz or Lawrence Summers, in terms of economic forecasts, that either man could not see on their own, without benefit of using a series of computer models to run scenarios as Robin suggested above.

UPDATE: A Pundita reader who is a decision analyst develops Robin’s explanation further.

Monday, April 25th, 2005


Zenpundit has been honored as a winner of the Pundita Prize for recent posts on Russia! I thank Pundita for the award and pledge a continuing series on U.S.-Russian relations in the very near future. On a related note, I will also be doing a more limited, but unusually colorful, series of posts on the dynamics of Horizontal and Vertical cognition for those aficinados of PNM Theory, so there may be less news of the day type posting this week unless the MSM offers up stories that are germane to one of these topics.

More to come…….

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