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Vandergriff Joins Fabius Maximus Blog

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Noted expert on adaptive leadership, military education, strategy and 4GW, Don Vandergriff, has become a contributor to the Fabius Maximus blog. A thought leader on the subject of military reform, Don is the author of Raising the Bar: Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War, Manning the Future Legions of the United States: Finding and Developing Tomorrow’s Centurions, The Path To Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs and Spirit, Blood and Treasure and his official site can be found here.  I know Vandergriff will make an excellent addition to FM’s well regarded blog.

FM declared last week to be “Don Vandergriff Week” and here are links to FM’s posts regarding some of Vandergriff’s ideas:

A new addition to the FM website team: Don Vandergriff

Donald Vandergriff has joined the team of writers on the FM website.  He’s one of the select few who are incomparably more influential after they retired (but still alive).  This week we’ll run excerpts from some of his works.


In the world of military theory today there are many people on the cutting edge.  Historians like Martin van Creveld, analysts like John Robb and Chet Richards, visionaries like Thomas Barnett, even some crossing across these categories like William Lind.  But there are few developing solutions that can be implemented today.  By solutions, I mean large-scale programs (not incremental improvements) requiring no substantial political or institutional changes.

One of the best known on this short list is Donald E. Vandergriff.  He retired in 2005 at the rank of Major after 24 years of active duty as an enlisted Marine and Army officer.  He now works as a consultant to the Army and corporations.

Why is Vandergriff’s work an important contribution to preparing America for 21st century warfare?

Summary:  The second chapter in Donald Vandergriff week on the FM website, introducing his work to those readers not already familiar with it.  This chapter briefly sketches out why his work is critical.  People – not doctrine or technology – are the key to winning 4th generation wars (the many factors are always important, of course).  Recruiting, training, motivating, and retaining our men and women in uniform

Vandergriff: “Theirs Is to Reason Why”


Outcome-based training teaches the art in a manner that encourages retention while fostering independent and creative means of obtaining the end goal.

War is an art and as such is not susceptible of explanation by fixed formulae. Yet, from the earliest time there has been an unending effort to subject it’s complex and emotional structure to dissection, to enunciate rules for it’s waging, to make tangible it’s intangibility. One might as well strive to isolate the soul by the dissection of the cadaver as to seek the essence of war by the analysis of it’s records.
– “
The Secret of Victory” by General George S. Patton Jr.  (1926)

Preface to Manning the Future Legions of the United States: Finding and Developing Tomorrow’s Centurions

Today’s we have a excerpt from the Preface to Don Vandergriff’s book Manning the Future Legions of the United States: Finding and Developing Tomorrow’s Centurions (2008).  Posted here with permission of the author.

“People, ideas and hardware, in that order!”
– John Boyd (Colonel, USAF, 1927-1997), “A Discourse on Winning and Losing”, unpublished briefing,  August 1987, p. 5-7.


Like the United States today, Rome faced multiple challenges in 107 B.C., and was hard pressed to field adequate forces; the number of men who were qualified to serve, who could equip themselves was running out. The Jurgurthine War in North Africa had been going on far too long for the liking of the Roman Senate, a task that counsul (general) Gaius Marius took upon himself to resolve. German tribes had already defeated several Roman armies and threatened Gaul (southern France) as well as Italy.

Marius was a man of vision and acted upon the need to secure Roman provinces with the resources at hand. He did not have a technological revolution at his disposal to solve his strategic problem.  Marius turned to an intangible solution, the way the Roman Army was manned, structured and fought its legions as the solution. 

Training of officers, a key step for the forging of an effective military force

Chapter six:  Training (and Educating) Tomorrow’s Soldiers and Leaders

There is no standardized entry test for U.S. Army commissioning.

  • 10%-15% of officer cadets come through the United States Military Academy at West Point. Here, academic excellence takes priority over military proficiency and many of the places are allocated on the basis of Congressional patronage.
  • Most of the rest of cadets (future officers) join through the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) located at 270 schools throughout the US and its territories.
  • A small, but growing, percentage comes through the 16-week Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, GA. This course has been frequented more by former noncommissioned officers (NCOs) than by those who have met the minimum entrance standard with a degree and only basic training prior to attending, which is good for the Army if those former NCOs are not tied to the old way of doing things.  (See “OCS expanding to turn out more officers“, Army Logistics News, Nov-Dec 2000)

Innovating Institutional Cultures

Monday, January 11th, 2010

John Hagel is in a small category of thinkers who manage to routinely be thinking ahead of the curve ( he calls his blog, where he features longer but more infrequent posts than is typical,  Edge Perspectives). I want to draw attention to the core conclusion of his latest:

Challenging Mindsets: From Reverse Innovation to Innovation Blowback

Innovation blowback

Five years ago, John Seely Brown and I wrote an article for the McKinsey Quarterly entitled “Innovation Blowback: Disruptive Management Practices from Asia.” In that article, we described a series of innovations emerging in Asia that were much more fundamental than isolated product or service innovations. We drew attention to a different form of innovation – institutional innovation. In arenas as diverse as motorcycles, apparel, turbine engines and consumer electronics, we detected a much more disruptive form of innovation.

In these very diverse industries, we saw entrepreneurs re-thinking institutional arrangements across very large numbers of enterprises, offering all participants an opportunity to learn faster and innovate more effectively by working together. While Western companies were lured into various forms of financial leverage, these entrepreneurs were developing sophisticated approaches to capability leverage in scalable business networks that could generate not just one product innovation, but an accelerating stream of product and service innovations.

…. Institutional innovation is different – it defines new ways of working together, ways that can scale much more effectively across large numbers of very diverse enterprises. It provides ways to flexibly reconfigure capability while at the same time building long-term trust based relationships that help participants to learn faster. That’s a key breakthrough – arrangements that support scalable trust building, flexibility and learning at the same time. Yet this breakthrough is occurring largely under the radar of most Western executives, prisoners of mindsets that prevent them from seeing these radical changes.

Read the whole thing here.

Hagel is describing a mindset that is decentralized and adaptive with a minimum of barriers to entry that block participation or information flow. One that should be very familiar to readers who are aware of John Boyd’s OODA Loop, the stochastic/stigmergic innovation model of John Robb’s Open Source Warfare, Don Vandergriff’s Adaptive Leadership methodology and so on. It’s a vital paradigm to grasp in order to navigate and thrive in the 21st century.

Western executives (think CEO) may be having difficulty grasping the changes that Hagel describes because they run counter to cultural trends emerging among this generation of transnational elites ( not just big business). Increasingly, formerly quasi-meritocratic and democratic Western elites in their late thirties to early sixties are quietly embracing oligarchic social stratification and use political or institutional power to “lock in” the comparative advantages they currently enjoy by crafting double standards through opaque, unaccountable authorities issuing complex and contradictory regulations, special exemptions and insulating ( isolating) themselves socially and physically from the rest of society. It’s a careerism on steroids reminiscient of the corrupt nomenklatura of the late Soviet period.

As the elite cream off resources and access for themselves they are increasingly cutting off the middle-class from the tools of social mobility and legal equality through policies that drive up barriers to entry and participation in the system. Such a worldview is inherently zero-sum and cannot be expected to notice or value non-zero sum innovations.

In all probability, as an emergent class of rentiers, they fear such innovations when they recognize them. If allowed to solidify their position into a permanent, transnational, governing class, they will take Western society in a terminal downward spiral.

Vandergriff on Bacevich’s Strategic Critique

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Maj. Don Vandergirff has the extended remarks of Col. Bacevich before Congress.

Dr. Andrew Bacevich was also featured recently by Jeremy Young over at Progressive Historians

New! Vandergriff’s Adaptive Thinking Blog & Cameron’s Cognitive Mapping Blog

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

Military education reformer and author Don Vandergriff has joined the blogosphere and  he is off to a nice start:

First of all, my hat’s off to anyone that ventures out and participates in something like the adaptability conference. It takes moral courage to admit, “maybe I can get better, let’s see what happens here.” More compliments to the person’s organization if the organization was willing to support and encourage its people to get better. Too many organizations focus on the short term profit and simply don’t want to lose control of its people, don’t take the opportunity to make a long term investment in making its people more competent and confident. These attributes are the hallmark of adaptability.

I use a series of different games and scenario based education to involve the students (or participants) in the discussion about how to evolve adaptability in themselves and in their organization. The students end up doing the talking and usually solving or finding the answers to their questions. Each and every time any group does these exercises, they assume that I, as the facilitator, limit what they can do, like asking question to broaden their assumptions and courses of actions, and that I will always say no if they do ask a question, like “can we have more time.”

I will leave you with this thought, after doing this approach with games and getting similar results from audiences the past 50 times, why do students box themselves in? What does that tell us about ourselves and our organizations, when we always assume the negative? How does this limit our “evolutionary adaptability”?

Facilitation is the skill that separates the great teacher, who leaves an intellectual legacy in the form of students whose worldviews they have been profoundly impacted, from the scholar who is merely competent in the classroom. The latter knows their field while the former knows how to elicit students to think about the field in a deep and meaningful way.

Not all “star” scholars are great facilitators because that skill requires a good deal of self-restraint to guide students to the point where they can make the leap to discovery and comprehension on their own ( genuine learning, in other words). A high tolerance for failure and error is required because students will initially go down well-trod blind alleys ( well trod to the instructor, not to the students – this is a perspective that academics frequently overlook) before realizing that they need to generate alternative solutions. Facilitation, unlike pontification, keeps students cognitively active and on-task with timely re-direction or adaptively ( modeling for the students) takes advantage of a student insight to create a learning moment for the larger group.

I look forward to reading more in this vein from Major Vandergriff in the future ( Hat tip to DNI )

Charles Cameron, who already blogs in his area of professional expertise at Forensic Theology, has added Hipbone Out Loud to his arsenal:

Understanding is modeling, mapping.

In this blog, I want to capture the glimpses I have of an extraordinary world, each glimpse being a tiny area of a vast map – certainly more sophisticated than any individual can generate with data visualization tools and modeling software, perhaps more complicated than a single culture can grasp as a collective – but important, as it is the matrix in which our individual and cultural life-maps fall.

You will find I favor quotes and anecdotes as nodes in my personal style of mapping – which lacks the benefits of quantitative modeling, the precision with which feedback loops can be tracked, but more than compensates in my view, since it includes emotion, human identification, tone of voice.

The grand map I envision skitters across the so-styled “Cartesian divide” between mind and brain. It is not and cannot be limited to the “external” world, it is not and cannot be limited to the quantifiable, it locates powerful tugs on behavior within imagination and powerful tugs on vision within hard, solid fact.

Doubts in the mind and runs on the market may correlate closely across the divide, and we ignore the impacts of hope, fear, anger and insight at our peril.

I’ve featured the writing of Charles Cameron here before because he produces posts rich in both complexity and depth, generating intriguing horizontal-thinking patterns that would have easily escaped my attention.  This another blog that I’ll be checking frequently.

Monday, July 16th, 2007


The ideas and arguments presented at Boyd 2007 were stimulating and, at times, controversial. I’m still pondering the implications of many of them and regret that I could not attend the next day’s follow-up discussion organized by Don Vandergriff (reportedly, AE of Simulated Laughter was present. Hopefully, he will review it). I took many notes and here are my impressions of the sessions:

Colonel Frans Osinga and Dr. Chet Richards:

These back to back presentations were the ones that dealt in depth with the strategic theories of John Boyd, particularly the meaning and use of the famous OODA Loop. Osinga’s major point was that the OODA Loop really reflected the deeper epistemological themes in Boyd’s research of military history, theoretical science and strategy; that Boyd’s strategic worldview was “neo-Darwinian” and geared to the adaptive competitive fitness of systems in conflict.

Richards focused on the overriding importance of the implicit in the OODA Loop, serving as guidance and control for Orientation and empowering the ability of individuals and harmoniously aligned groups (” novelty-generating systems” ) to sieze and retain the initiative over their opponents. The purpose of the OODA Loop is to ” reduce your opponents to a quivering mass of jelly” ( and here Richards means the complex version of OODA, not the simple circular version) by creating disharmony in the other side even as you improve your own.

William Lind, Colonel TX Hammes, Frank Hoffman, Bruce Gudmundsson on 4GW:

I am conflating several sessions here and probably will not or cannot to justice to the views of all of the participants. Anyone who was also there, please feel free to offer corrections or extensions in the comment section.

William Lind was the most colorful and entertaining speaker at Boyd 2007 and, unsurprisingly if you have followed Lind’s writings at all, the most radical in his arguments for 4GW. To an extent, many of the participants were responding to Lind’s thesis as much as they were putting forth their own arguments. Frank Hoffman is somewhat excepted, as his role was a designated devil’s advocate critiquing the weaknesses of the 4GW theory from the viewpoint of mainstream military historians and defense policy academics.

Lind opened by postulating “Three great Civil Wars” – namely WWI, WWII and the Cold War – that irreparably weakened Western civilization physically and, most importantly, morally and led to the rise of 4GW. This view is akin to Philip Bobbitt’s concept of the 20th century ” Long War” and Niall Ferguson’s gloomy interpretaion of the First World War. In Lind’s view, this civilizational loss of confidence set in motion by the horrors of the Western Front has led to the nation-state undergoing a ” crisis of legitimacy” and the universal decline of the state argued by Martin van Creveld.

As the conflicts today are, in Lind’s view, organic cultural conflicts of clashing ( and fractionating) primary loyalties, a new grand strategy must be offered; a defensive posture that seeks to conserve ” centers of order” ( like China, America, Europe) and isolate ourselves from those centers of ” disorder”, including immigration by culturally indigestible groups like ” Islamics”. Lind also pointed to the need for an intellectual and moral regeneration at home and replacement of a self-serving, corrupt and politically inept bipartisan elite influenced by the tenets of cultural Marxism and political correctness ( interestingly, no one cared to argue the point about the incompetence of the elite though the cultural aspect was disputed).

Lind further dismissed any idea of the emergence of a 5th generation of war from consideration and, in response to a question, offered a ferociously bitter, ad hominem, attack on the ideas of Thomas P.M. Barnett as “a fairy tale”, fit for publication in ” a comic book”. Lind offered no specifics and my impression was that Lind has a visceral dislike of Dr. Barnett’s theories because their optimism and economic determinism sharply contradicts Lind’s deeply pessimistic, culturally-based, analysis.

TX Hammes, while admiring of Lind’s work, did not accept Lind’s “kultur uber alles” premise and pointed to traditional political-economic-military indicators as being sufficient analytical categories for 4GW and emerging 5GW. Frank Hoffman hammered hard at the theoretical weaknesses in 4GW theory, accusing the school of making use of ” selective history” and being elusive in its definitions – though Hoffman too blasted the ineptitude and blindness of the political and military establishment with much the same vehemence of Lind. In the seniors session, General Anthony Zinni, flatly repudiated Lind’s characterization of Muslim societies as myopic, being based upon the mythic rantings of Islamist radicals who were wholly unrepresentative of Muslims or mainstream Islam.

The Generals And the Major:

The senior session with General Paul Van Riper, the aforementioned General Zinni and General Alfred Gray are worth noting as was the seminar conducted by Major Don Vandergriff.

Van Riper called for a return to a “wide open intellectual climate” in the Marines and the military as a whole that ignored rank and focused upon the quality of ideas. An education of “how the world works” in terms of complex adaptive systems and the differences between those that were structurally complex and rigid and those that were interactively complex and fluid must be given and understood in order to confront ” wicked problems” effectively. The “Reductionist-Analytical” intellectual model can no longer be relied upon to provide answers, in Van Riper’s view.

Much of the rest of the time was taken by the generals answering Shane Deichman’s question of operational jointness and Goldwater-Nichols. Shane’s question was so good it basically hijacked the rest of the session as the generals offered their experiences and criticism of how “jointness” came to evolve in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Attaboy, Shane! ;o)

Vandergriff offered an outline in implementing the intellectual change Van Riper hopes to see come about with a forced practice method starting with ” Three Levels Above” that requires students to adapt and think in “free play” scenarios. Vandergriff boiled his educational theory down to the principles of:

1. Evolve the Course

2. Every moment offers an opportunity to develop adaptability

3. Student Ownership

4.Develop at three levels.

5. Outstanding teachers

Vandergriff’s ideas are centered in military education but their applicability is entirely societal and systemic.

Comments are welcomed, especially if you can fill in anything that I have missed or gotten wrong.

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