RC#16 Different Context, Different Narrative, Different Imagination – Summer Reading

An intriguing synergy ? A messy, uncertain century emerges despite advances in technology and global economy. The ability to deal with events and survive on our own terms (Boyd) would appear to reflect T.E. Lawrence’s metaphor of needing to learn to “eat soup with a knife.” Accomplishing that task -building learning organizations- and creating resilient communities will require change of context, narrative, and imagination (Thomas Friedman). The following books are recommended as offering great insight on those three elements of change from multiple story lines and perspectives:


The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation by Frans Johansson

innovations occur when people see beyond their expertise and approach situations actively, with an eye toward putting available materials together in new combinations. Because of ions, “the movement of people, the convergence of science, and the leap of computation,” a wide range of materials available for new, recontextualized uses is becoming a norm rather than an exception, much as the Medici family of Renaissance Italy’s patronage helped develop European arts and culture.

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam by John A. Nagl, Peter J. Schoomaker (Foreword)

…culture runs deep in organizations, helping or hindering organizational learning. The three key elements in meeting the organizational learning challenge: the right culture, the knowledge itself, and access to the knowledge.

The Enlightened Soldier: Scharnhorst and the Militarische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-1805 by Charles Edward White

… the transformation of the Prussian army from a robotic war machine into a modern fighting force that was instrumental in defeating Napolean in 1813 and in 1815. How organizations change

America‘s Army: A Model for Interagency Effectiveness by Zeb B. Bradford and Frederic J. Brown

a series of lucid and realistic solutions to the challenges posed by friction among organizations which must collaborate, but whose efficiency of joint effort is hampered by internal and external bureaucracies, procedural inflexibility, culture, or, worst of all, ignorance. Information Management plus Knowledge Management plus Commander Leader Teams = Teams of Leaders (TOL)

Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power by Victor Davis Hanson

technological advances and superior weapons have certainly played a role in Western military dominance, but cultural distinctions are significant factors. By bringing personal freedom, discipline, and organization to the battlefield, powerful “marching democracies” were more apt to defeat non-Western nations hampered by unstable governments, limited funding, and intolerance of open discussion. We want to fight hard, quickly, decisively, and go home, but if we can’t?

1776 by David McCullough

…decisions in crisis at the beginnings of a country

Terror at Beslan: A Russian Tragedy with Lessons for America’s Schools by John Giduck

…the story of Beslan Middle School from someone who went there and had the connections and background to see, understand, reflect, and tell the story

Worst Cases: Terror and Catastrophe in the Popular Imagination  by Lee Clarke

Hard thinking about worst cases opens new possibilties. Envisioning worst case scenarios may allow us to reduce the probability of their emergence, reduce the time to recovery or both…even in this very nervous world, insufficient thought is being given to the possibility of worst cases…no how matter bad you thought things could get, they can get a lot worse.

Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis by Graham T. Allison  and Philip Zelikow

…the Cuban missile crisis through three different lenses – The Rational Actor Paradigm, Organizational Behavior Paradigm and Governmental Politics Paradigm, each of which is based on a different set of assumptions, each of which has a distinct bundle of organizing concepts and, each of which brings different general/specific propositions for the issue under question.

If We Can Keep It: A National Security Manifesto for the Next Administration by Chet Richards

… alternatives to the invade-occupy-fight paradigm and draws some surprising, important and instructive conclusions about what future forces and weapons should look like if America is to survive on its own terms in the world.

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram

…transformed the way military aircraft-in particular the F-15 and F-16-were designed with his revolutionary Energy-Maneuverability Theory, then  dedicated his later years to a radical theory of conflict that was largely ignored during his lifetime, but that is now widely considered to be the most influential thinking about conflict since Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization by John Robb

how the same technology that enabled globalization allows small, ad hoc bands of insurgents and criminals to wage a chaotic global war against larger adversaries and what we must do now to safeguard against this new method of global guerrilla warfare.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

exploration of randomness, examination of the influence of highly improbable and unpredictable events that have massive impact. We have problems with the abstract, we plan for what we know

The Counter-Terrorism Puzzle: A Guide for Decision Makers by Boaz Ganor

the dilemmas of countering terrorism, based on the Israeli experience extrapolated to the world.  There is no one answer for all occasions

 Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig

the nature and significance of “quality” – a necessary anodyne to the consequences of a modern world pathologically obsessed with quantity.

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