How the military mindset kills strategy
The real "Red Queen problem" and the culture of extreme obedience and hierarchy
In the wake of the Second World War, a US Navy rear admiral named J.C. Wylie wrote a book titled "Military Strategy." It is a short read, but a powerful one. His observations are sharp, and the book's a usefulness-per-word quotient is high.
One of Wylie's aims for the book was to unpack the "military mind." He wrote, "There do exist some very real military minds, both individually and collectively, and the products of those minds will sooner or later, as they have in the past, have a profound effect on our nation and on our society and its civilization."
You can imagine he meant it. In the years after 1945, it must've seemed like no minds could matter more.
How far we've fallen. As a member of the US military myself, I see the same stakes as Wylie. Unfortunately, the characteristics I'd ascribe to today's "military mindset" are extreme obedience and hierarchy-beyond-rationality. Both are strategy-killers.
Of course the military requires obedience and hierarchy. The organization is purpose-built to withstand extreme environments. One can think of the military's members and sub-organizations like individual fingers. (One's the Army, one's the Navy, and so on.) To fight well, these individual parts must band together as fingers form into a fist.
The system works because there is an established hierarchy. Everyone on that ladder agrees to subordinate themselves to those above them.
But that military mindset, that default setting, can be harmful when carried too far. Particularly if the organization is not at war, such a lean can cloud out critical thinking.
There's too many examples to raise here, but a couple will suffice. Several years ago, while teaching at West Point, a cadet walked into my classroom wearing a physical fitness uniform under a bright florescent reflective belt. I asked him why he was wearing the belt indoors. He replied that the regulation stated it was always to be worn with physical fitness attire. The regulation permitted no deviation due to location of wear. At the time, I criticized this as the "willful suspension of judgment for the sake of nonsensical bureaucratic rules." (For the record, I often run with a reflective belt when appropriate, so I see value in the right context.)
Another is more recent.