The World’s Most Powerful Chemical Weapon

A pen in the strategist’s hand

A century ago, TE Lawrence wrote, "The printing press is the greatest weapon in the armory of the modern commander."

Still true today, for commanders and strategists alike.

Nothing meaningful can be done absent the coordination of communication. Nothing.

But you can’t communicate effectively if you’re constantly distracted. Clarity suffers if your mind’s cluttered. If there is an Iron Law to the Strategist’s Toolkit, as I once wrote, it might be that, “The quality of the tool is inversely proportional to its ability to extract attention” from the task at hand.

I remember seeing someone I admired at a conference, plugged in to his own Apple-style-Matrix. He responded to emails on his MacBook. He checked the news on his iPad. He responded to social media notifications on his iPhone. He hit the Apple trifecta. (No doubt he’s since turned that into a quad shot with the Apple Watch).

But he wasn’t engaging with the conference. His mind was, like Gulliver, tied down by a battalion of Lilliputian-sized dings, beeps, and rings.

Computers are great. They allow us to be in more than one place at once, but also just as easily take us away from our real-world environment. They can hijack and drive off with our thoughts in a single stroke of a key.

Not so with pen (or pencil) applied to paper. It’s simple. It’s boring. It’s mundane. It’s cheap. It’s common. It’s old.

That’s what makes the pen the world’s most powerful chemical weapon. Inksticks just plain work. In any environment, from space to submarines. They’ve been the starter’s pistol for every consequential idea of the past couple centuries. They’ve signed orders resulting in the death of millions upon millions, edited rhetoric that shifted the course of global wars, and given us scribbles and notes that birthed the Big Ideas in science, medicine, business, sport, literature, and art.

Of course these initial ideas will eventually have to be fed into the preferred dissemination system. But that’s Step 2, and a strategist always needs to think-ahead to first principles.  

Strategists start with a blank page and a pen. Nothing’s more powerful.