Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Learning, anticipation, and adaptation

"The real problem in the [Clinton] campaign was that they weren't adaptable, they were not able to change game plans right in the middle once it looked like they had a real fight on their hands."

David Gergen

"There is one person, however, who almost never seems to come in for criticism. That is Sanchez himself. In 494 pages I could only find two instances where the general admits,in passing, to having made errors."

Max Boot,"The General's Chain of Blame in Iraq," Washington Post (May 13)review of Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story by Ricardo S. Sanchez with Donald T. Phillips.

Much of my thinking about mistakes and failures has been influenced by Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War by Eliot Cohen and John Gooch. Yes, it is strange for a quasi pacifist to learn lessons for peaceful pursuits from war and failed battle plans. Maybe it's because failed battles are like failed engineering projects and health interventions -- it's hard to hide sometimes catastrophic events -- and the wrongheaded assumptions, decisions, and behaviors behind the failures are quickly scrutinized for accountability. Hmmm! Maybe not.

Cohen and Gooch believe that most mistakes arise from a failure to learn, anticipate, or adapt. Sounds easy, right, at least viewing things in retrospect. A big problem is that smart leaders can become isolated from real information as their protectors and advisors drown in Groupthink. It takes real leadership to cut through the bull, admit mistakes, and take a fresh look at the world.

1 comment:

Josh said...

Taking a sharp look at your own shortcomings on a project can be incredibly difficult. This is precisely why it is done so rarely.