The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

The Innovators

Innovators are not part of the model of military change in the interwar years (see previous post) but given that they seem to be an important aspect of all of the movements to change the various militaries that we have studied in H200 (and will study), they obviously plan an important role.  Some innovators boldly challenge the status quo to the detriment of the their own careers.  Billy Mitchell is the obvious example of this but JFC Fuller in England and Douhet are also examples of innovators whose careers were curtailed by the establishment.  Other innovators, such as Adna Chaffee in the US, worked with some success within the system.    Can an innovator be too aggressive and actually damage the cause they are advocating for? 

Every important movement to change and prepare for the next war that occured in the interwar years was championed by forward thinking individuals.  These leaders wrote, lectured, experimented, and led new organizations that were breaking new doctrinal and technological ground.   Who are the forward thinking leaders of the US miltiary in the 21st Century and what are their causes?  If there are none, why aren’t there?  Should there be and what should there causes be?

November 27, 2012 - Posted by | H200, military history | , , , , , , , ,


  1. I think it is quite possible for an innovator to damage the cause for which they advocate. As we learned in L100, the leader (and I would include innovators in this group) has to create or identify enough dissatisfaction to help drive change while not creating so much that productivity falls. Innovators need to drive innovation, but from within the culture of the organization. In particular, they should work to carve a niche for their product so that they are not only innovating technologically, but also doctrinally and organizationally.

    I’m not entirely sure of the innovators in the modern military. Certainly the proponents of cyber warfare could be considered innovators in that they are working to fill a current vulnerability (niche) with a new set of capabilities that are constantly evolving. However, when one considers the means by which one achieves professional success (e.g., promotion) and the career paths of prior innovators (e.g., Mitchell, Douhet, Fuller, Guderian), one sees little incentive to innovate. I think that if there IS significant innovation, it is coming not from the top of the force, but from the bottom (e.g., the junior officers and mid-level enlisted) who seek to develop rapid solutions to problems. This creates evolutionary change that, while not driven by the top, can easily be parleyed by senior leaders into successful organizational change.

    Comment by Kenneth Mortimer, 11A | December 4, 2012

  2. Innovators can be too aggressive and damage the cause they are advocating for. But with that said, it is the excellent innovators who can recognize this and “pitch” their innovation to other ears that will listen. There will always be a “different” generation that innovators have to sell their ideas or causes to in the military. If they are able to find the right person who will listen them before they “burn the bridge” with others they have a better chance of success. Patience is a virtue that should not be ignored.
    The current forward thinking leaders of the modern military are the current Majors and Lieutenant Colonels. I will say that it is not every Major and Lieutenant Colonel but the vast majority of them have served prior to 9/11 and have served diligently through the past decade of war. They are the ones that “grew up” knowing what the military was like prior to war and what it has become after a decade of war. Most of them know what skills the military needs to regain from pre 9/11 and what skill need to be integrated or not forgotten from war time experience. I believe their causes are finding the right skill balance in the future from pre 9/11 skills and post 9/11 skills. The lessons that have been learned are too valuable to let expire when the military re-centers itself for large scale conventional warfare.

    Comment by Doug Serie, 11B | December 5, 2012

  3. Innovators can certainly be too aggressive and actually damage the cause for which they are advocating; for example, consider Ernst Rudin’s eugenics of the 1930s and today’s gene therapy advocates. Innovators can also be too timid and miss the opportunity to bring about drastic change. The balance is crucial and hard to strike. More importantly, innovators may or may not have a moral compass; they may or may not respect the individual or society. For example, in the interwar period, we have as many technological innovators at the tactical and operational levels as at the theater and strategic levels. Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler are innovative in their formulation of policy and strategic planning. They ruthlessly identify potential threats (internal or external) and weaknesses in their midst and set out to eliminate them by advocating ghastly, although innovative, policies with direct consequences which are too horrifying for the average person to consider. Their innovative powers in policy seem to spring from a vigorous antisocial personality. In a world consumed by war avoidance as seen by the appeasement policies of the French and the British in the 1930s, they innovate new policies to eliminate perceived enemies (Jews, gypsies, Poles, political adversaries, minor criminals, and the mentally or physically challenged/disabled). In advocating for improving the genetic stock of people, Rudin and those like him advocated so aggressively and with such haste that they facilitated the murder of about 200,000 German patients and others through the Tiergartenstraße 4 program. Their rushed advocacy seriously harmed the reputation of the field of genetics and scientific research in general. It would be years before anyone could again openly contemplate the use of genetics for treatment. Ironically, the path of gene therapy would be reconsidered by those like Dr. Jonas Salk, an American Jewish physician, famous for the Jonas Polio Vaccine.

    Comment by Artin Terhakopian, MD | December 5, 2012

  4. It is definitely possible for an innovator to damage the cause that they are advocating. Professor Robert Quinn of the University of Michigan was quoted in a 2009 article of the  Military Review on the matters of innovators. Dr. Quinn believes innovators can be creative, but if they push their inclinations too far, their behavior leads to belligerence, chaos, disastrous experimentation, and unprincipled opportunism. I agree with this sentiment. One classic example of this type of innovator is the source of creative techniques used in Abu Ghraib. However, in some less controversial cases of innovation, the long term impact of the innovator is often not realized until much later. In other words, what initially seems damaging is often the ground work being placed for greatness. This was the case with pioneers such as Billy Mitchell.

    Regarding forward thinking individuals, I would argue that the U.S. Army currently has none. Specifically, none as described by the characteristics mentioned in the initial question. There are currently few leaders who write, lecture, experiment, and lead new organizations that are breaking new doctrinal and technological ground. The closest U.S. Army comes to this is with the advent of online blogs through such sources as Company Command net or S-3/XO net. Those peer driven resources allow innovative discussions and writings. But, not to the extent where there is potential for innovation to take place as described above. Some would argue that cyber warfare and leaders in this branch fill this gap. However, cyber warfare is more in line with an evolution technology. While it has contributed to significant doctrinal and technological strides, I would argue that these are not yet comparable to those made in the interwar period that followed World War I. 

    The reason that there are no leaders who are considers forward thinking is because of the anti-intellectual culture that currently exists in the military. This is a peer driven problem. I truly believe the military desires the forward thinking leader who will challenge the system and break new round. However, that individual must first surpass the criticism of his/her peers. Additionally, the structure of our evaluation system would penalize forward thinkers before rewarding them. Especially if the forward thinker was not successful on the first attempt.  

    Comment by Ryan J. Scott | January 4, 2013

  5. Aggressive innovators may damage the cause in which they are fighting for. However, one could also argue it is not the innovation, but the implementation of that innovative technology or procedure that damages the innovator’s cause. Albeit more common in tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), destructive implementation of innovation is far more common than ineffective technology. Therefore, it is imperative that leaders have effective strategies for implementation as well as a significant advantage as a result of innovation.

    Back in the mid 1990’s, a recently hired manger in an US Army Radiology clinic implemented new TTP to accurately track inventory, reduce waste, and expenditures for medical devices and supplies. Additionally, he instituted new inventory management software, which is similar to many point of sale and inventory systems by many organizations, including the Army. Initial savings to the organization was greater than $75 thousand. Unfortunately, the leader assumed the new system was intuitive enough that all personnel would be able to quickly adapt the new TTP with the new technology. However, there were many older employees whom did not know or care to learn to use automation. As a result, those employees purposely undermined the system and order additional supplies outside of the system. During the next quarter, expenditures increase by 25 percent. The Radiology clinic returned to using the previous methods of supply management. Why did this innovation fail? In actuality, the innovation did not fail the implementation strategy did. The Radiology department re-implemented the TTP several quarters after conducting training and an implementation strategy.

    Comment by Archie Smith | January 11, 2013

  6. Innovators can certainly be too aggressive thus damaging the cause that they are fighting for, but balance is the ultimate deciding factor for any accomplishment regardless of the deliverer. Innovation is the most important lead in our transformation, meaning it’s paramount that we continue to take it seriously to use in our favor. However the innovator must have a reputable reputation. If people are not willing to respect his or her pitch, the innovation may never materialize. While I think it’s important for innovators to be aggressive, that very energy must be delivered in a conscious fashion. Doctrine has its place and a very important place I might say, but if innovation supersedes it, Doctrine will and must play catch-up on the tail end as it has displayed in our Military past.
    I believe a lot of leaders are hindered by forward thinking due to fear. Today’s leaders, to include myself, care a little too much of how people view them. This is certainly a more kindler, gentler Army, which is good is some ways but also damaging in many other ways which hinders critical and creative thinking, therefore it’s imperative while leaders display their strategies in a bold, balanced manner that has a spirit of obtaining the overall outcome of the betterment of the department of defense and not their own personal validations.

    Comment by Detrice Mosby | March 22, 2013

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