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Asymmetric Thinking in the Military

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“Ex Impossible Quodlibet”
“From Impossibility, Anything Follows”

Copyright 2003

Charles E. Smith, Ph.D.

Maj. Gen. Michael T. Gaw, AUS-RET

The world of new possibilities is asymmetric. It does not follow the logic of usual patterns.  Thinking for new possibility is also asymmetric. Like oblique shafts of illumination, new possibility comes out of nowhere, and all of a sudden, creative action can be taken. Creativity itself is an activity to create something, but Asymmetric Thinking is not creativity. Instead, its purpose is to introduce the possibility of new action. Getting “outside the box” is often an obviously good idea. Why then, doesn’t it happen very often, even with those who advocate it?   The reason is that the possibility for getting outside of historical patterns isn’t there in the first place.

Asymmetric thinking has more to do with attitude, frame of mind and ways of “being” than with action.  It goes beyond conventional approaches to creativity in that it reaches into the heart of what’s blocking creativity in the first place. This notion is often hard to sell to men and women whose lives are dedicated to taking action. The problem is that they are stuck with their traditional possibilities. And stuck is stuck.

Asymmetric Thinking is an educational process for teaching people to create new possibilities for others and themselves in everyday situations and in special projects. This happens through assessment, education and training. At best, it is simultaneously associated with strategic initiatives or other mission related activities. It has impact on values, attitudes, commitment, skills and uncharacteristic action.

Great leaders employ Asymmetric Thinking. But in these perilous times, there is a need for Asymmetric Thinking at every level of our military. Demands for increased mobility and flexibility require continuous innovation in the face of enemies who think in ways that don’t occur to us naturally. The right thing to do is often hidden because we don’t examine critical assumptions that exist outside of our usual ways of thinking.

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