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The Art of War

The Atlantic Council, through their Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, has been running an “Art of the Future” project to imagine what defense and security issues national leaders will face in future years. Earlier this week they published a piece I wrote looking at the Third Offset, the growing use of robots in warfare, and the impact it will have on US military doctrine.

If you geek out on military doctrine or blog posts about the Third Offset, go check it out.

(If not – and I don’t blame you – go look for cat pictures on the Internet or something instead.)


How do Leaders Build Trust?

…we often fail to take the time to purposefully build that sense of trust. Small critical actions and behaviors that can have a large impact in the long run are abandoned in a rush to get “just a little more” done, or to complete a task “just a little bit” faster. Leaders worry about how they will be perceived and judged if the people under them fail, regardless of the consequence of that failure (or lack thereof).

Yet if trust is so critical to our own success as leaders and to enabling the success of those who we are mentoring and leading, we must take the time to build that bedrock today–before we have to rely on it in a time of need. How can we do that?

Check out my latest article – “A Bedrock of Trust” – published in Strategy Bridge this weekend.


Current Theme: “Completion”

The theme for the last few months has been “completion.” A lot of the long-term projects I’ve been working on have come to a close, and my to-do list, while not shrinking, has been changing dramatically. One of the bigger projects I’ve wrapped up has been my thesis, which was completed and accepted by Harvard:

This thesis examines the experiences of the Army and Navy student-officers who attended the six Wartime Schools hosted at Harvard Business School during World War II, and seeks to answer the question, in what ways did the Wartime Schools students engage with, and become part of, the Harvard community? Drawing upon the official University records in the Harvard Archives, as well as thousands of letters and articles the Wartime Schools students wrote and published in the Harvard Crimson student newspaper between 1940 and 1946, it analyzes the student experience in a four-part framework of academics, athletics, extracurricular activities, and social life. When combined, the official records and the Wartime Schools students’ own writings clearly show a group of student-officers who were deeply engaged in all aspects of campus life; who became part of the HBS, University, and broader Boston community; and who simultaneously balanced their obligations to the military with the academic demands of Harvard Business School.

If the topic is of interest, or you’re simply looking to read a large PDF file that will help you quickly go to sleep, you can download a copy here.


If you’ve got an interest in either Cold War intelligence operations or literature, take a few minutes and check out my recent review of “The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book” in the CIA’s journal Studies in Intelligence.


From How, to What, to Who

Company founders face numerous challenges as they try and grow from an idea in a basement, to a corporation on the Fortune rankings. Most founders don’t make it and fall away to play other roles when an experienced CEO is brought in, or leave the company entirely. The skills necessary to be a successful entrepreneur are very different from those needed to manage a mid-sized organization, and are completely different from what’s necessary to run a large, successful, mature corporation. There are only a few founders who have successfully made the journey, transitioning among all three levels. Bill Gates at Microsoft and Jeff Bezos at Amazon come to mind. There are probably a few others.

I recently saw a few sentences in a Harvard Business Review paper talking about Bezos and how he made the journey. I think it’s the best summary I’ve seen about the critical need at each level:

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was once asked how he successfully made the leaps from entrepreneur to manager to leader of a large enterprise. He replied that as an entrepreneur starting out alone, his challenge was answering “how” questions of implementing his vision. As manager, he was concerned with “what” questions concerning what were the most attractive products and services. Now his questions are about “who,” such as who best to figure out the “hows” and “whats.”


With successful new manager development, an organization will become more consistently focused and closely aligned around its strategy, more agile in responding to market shifts and emerging opportunities, and better able to engage and retain its workforce.

My latest, in Training Industry magazine: Frontline Managers as Leaders: Is Your Organization Maximizing Millennial Talent


Successful adults often point to their childhood experiences, and the influence of their parents, when talking about their own career choices. In a recent Harvard Gazette profile, Nitin Nohria, Dean of the Harvard Business School, spoke about the influence his father’s career had on his own. Here’s an excerpt from his profile, which can be read in full here:

Q: Was your interest in business a result of your father’s influence?

A: I think that certainly my father had a very large influence on my interest in business. But more than that, I also had a very visceral experience with business. I used to travel with my father very often, and I saw what business could do. He was running an electrical equipment company. This was a time when India was getting electrified, so the vast majority of the country had no electricity, and he was building the generators, the transformers, the equipment that would help in the electrification of the country.

I still remember going to visit a factory in a place called Nashik, which was just outside of Bombay. So we’d go to these places — Nashik was a great example — where there was nothing, and my father, his company, built the first factory. Then you go to these places again five years later and where there was a factory, there were 10 factories. And then you go another 10 years later and there was a whole city. So the power of business to generate economic prosperity — I remember there was a 10th-year anniversary of the Nashik factory that I had the privilege of going with my father to see the first year when it was actually started. We were sitting at the lunch table, and it was his common practice to sit at the regular lunch table with workers. I was sitting next to a worker, and he was describing how much this factory had changed his life — how he had gotten employment, his kids had gone to college, there were now hospitals. So I had this very visceral sense of business being a noble thing and that the impact it had on society was very positive. It didn’t just feel like a choice that I was making because it was a conservative choice or a choice that would generate employment or something. It just felt like a way to live your life where you could do something with your life that was worthy.

Q: Did your father or mother offer any advice to you in those days that stayed with you?

A: My father always used to say that there must be two things that you should always do in life. He said you should find something that you love doing. And you should find something that makes you feel like you’re doing better for society. That was very important to his own sense of life — living a life in which your life was in some ways giving back to society or you felt like you were making a positive difference in society. That was a deeply important value for him.

His view was that there’s no particular way in which you should choose to do it. Find something that you love, but find something that also makes you feel that you’re making a positive difference on society.

Q: When you first came to the United States and arrived at MIT, did you have any preconceived notions about what Cambridge or the U.S. was like?

A: There was this wonderful graduate student who was about 10 years older than me. I was among the youngest people in the graduate program at MIT. She was very concerned, almost like quasi-maternally concerned, about whether this young kid who had just dropped off the boat from India was doing OK or not. I remember about four weeks in, she sat down and she said to me, “Are you having culture shock?” I said, “Yeah, I’m in culture shock.” She says, “In what way?” And I said, “I didn’t realize I had come to a village.” Because I was shocked that you couldn’t go out after 10 p.m. and get dinner in Cambridge! In Bombay, after 10 p.m. is when you started to go out and it was a big city even then. Now it’s 20 million, but when I left it was probably 10, 12 million. Boston felt very provincial.

On the other hand, the academic environment at MIT was the most freeing — you suddenly felt like there was no limit to what you could imagine, what you could think, what you could do. I had this simultaneous sense of, on the one hand, being in a small place, but on the other hand, being in a limitless place intellectually. What was striking is that nobody said that just because you’re a graduate student, you’re supposed to think small thoughts and you have to wait until you get tenure to think big thoughts. In India, you almost always felt that you had to find your place. It was a very hierarchical society, and when you were young, you were never supposed to challenge a professor.

Here, to suddenly be liberated to imagine whatever you wanted to imagine for yourself, to be encouraged to sit in seminars — your right to ask a question, if you asked an intelligent question, was the same as anybody else’s right to ask an intelligent question. To constantly be challenged by your professors, I had this extraordinary sense of liberation intellectually, which was exhilarating. There’s no other word that can describe it. It was just exhilarating. Of course, I did have to get over the cold.


I’ve been spending all my “free” time these last few weeks doing research for my thesis, examining life at Harvard during World War II. I took a break to read through some saved articles, and came across a profile of Gerald Holton, the Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Professor of the History of Science Emeritus at Harvard, who came to the school at the start of World War II and taught radar classes to the student officers who came to Cambridge as part of their military training. Here’s an excerpt from his Experience profile in the Harvard Gazette:

The war broke out and the time had come, since I now knew some physics, to have it put it to work. With the recommendation of Cady, I came to Harvard into the war labs. I was put into the section right off Jefferson Lab, the Cruft Lab, into the Electric-Acoustic Research Laboratory under that remarkable leader, Leo Beranek, who was an assistant professor here. (We just celebrated his 100th birthday.) I was also a teaching assistant to teach radar to Navy officers. Radar was top secret. And along comes an alien with a German accent and a swastika on his passport.

Now, this is where the Quakers come in again, because I was also being interviewed by two people from Washington who said, “We would like you to come to Santa Fe for some research.” I said, well, tell me about it. “No, we can’t talk about it here, but we can take you to New York into a safe house, and there we can tell you what’s going on there.”

I did go, I listened to them, and it was clear that this was about building an atom bomb. Most of the physicists at Harvard and elsewhere had disappeared, particularly those who knew nuclear physics, and most had gone to work somewhere. Nobody said they were at Los Alamos in those days, because it was supposedly at Santa Fe, Post Office Box 1663. That was the code for it.

I said no. I am really attached to the kind of spirituality which asks you to do defensive, not aggressive work. In fact, in England, and for a time in the United States, I had gone to the Quakers’ weekly First Day meetings. So I worked at the electric-acoustic lab here to improve sound effects such as that people can more comfortably use oxygen masks and gas masks, and to get rid of the excessive, disorienting noise in aircraft, and so on, trying to make life safer for the troops.

There was a problem, of course. Roosevelt had declared people like me with a German passport as not just enemy alien, but alien enemies. They had some rules for us. No radio, no camera, no travel beyond three miles without authorization. There were other rules like that. Nevertheless, this is a very pragmatic country. Among the 4,000 people that ended up in Los Alamos, there were a lot of people who had German passports, and also roughly 15,000 refugee boys in the Army. This is quite pragmatic again.

Later on I got my Freedom of Information Act file, and I discovered that, although I was given full freedom at the research labs — I was even allowed to visit, on the same floor, the rooms where they were building the first computer, Mark I — I was being followed all the time, perhaps appropriately. It was clear almost every contact that I had was being asked about me, including, I regret to say, a very appealing young lady who seemed interested in me, but turned out to be on the payroll of the FBI. [Laughter.] But this was wartime.

Q: After those war times, were you influenced at all about women appearing for the first time in Harvard classrooms? What, in fact, created your interest in women in science?

A: Oh, sure. I should start with the fact that all my education had been in all-male schools, from age 6 on, from elementary school to a professorship in the brilliant Harvard Physics Department. Maybe because I came from Vienna, I was wondering, “Where are the women?” [Laughter.] There is a song there: Without women, things don’t work. I don’t want to say that I peek around to look for women, but it was obvious that there was something wrong in the life of the university where there are no women as equals in many classes, and I had to go over to Radcliffe and teach physics to women in those early days.

Harvard had one or two women as tenured faculty members. The Faculty Club allowed women only through the back entrance, later called the handicapped entrance, and only into their room, not into the main room. Absolutely absurd.

And we had no tenured woman in the Physics Department from my time here in the 1940s until 1999, when Melissa Franklin finally was asked.

So that was another puzzle. The Physics Department was a beautifully working department. That there were no women tenured seemed to me to be a question that can be researched. I like researchable questions, particularly if they serve some purpose. So together with Gerhard Sonnert, who is an excellent sociologist at the Center for Astrophysics now, we sat down, got a little money, and spent quite a lot of time researching this in American science generally up to the 1990s. We wrote a book that’s called “Who Succeeds in Science: The Gender Dimension” (1995). It’s not like this now, but the book is still useful.

We found generally there was no blatant misogyny, no glass ceiling, but what happened in the case of female scientists — it is now different, in law and so on — they tended to have an accumulation of disadvantage, many small disadvantages that accumulated, even when the quality of their work was as good or better than the men’s. Since then things have changed a lot as far as I can see.


“Simply put, having new leaders manage teams without first having them develop a leadership mindset is a missed opportunity for your organization.”

My latest, “New Managers as Leaders: Closing the Skills Gap,” over at SmartBlog on Leadership.


Words for War

I recently contributed a guest post in the “Words for War” series at WarCouncil.org, highlighting seven relatively unknown quotes about the realities of war, conflict, and military life. Check it out here, and make sure to spend time on the rest of the site – Matt Cavanaugh, an Assistant Professor at West Point, does a great job with it.