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Asymmetric Thinking in the Military

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Our military’s already-high state of readiness and execution will respond dramatically to the opportunity of Asymmetric Thinking. Implementing Asymmetric Thinking through an organization will require essential skill development, new language and different models analysis. The value of this investment will be to prepare for achieving goals when past practices no longer suffice, or there is no common basis for comparing our own method.

Asymmetric Thinking is a hallmark of American military success.  Jimmy Doolittle’s carrier-based bomber raid on Tokyo in WWII, Douglas MacArthur’s amphibious landing at Inchon in the Korean War in the face of 30 foot tides, the act of scuttling ships as a platform for supply piers in the Normandy Invasion, and the wide end sweep made by the XVIII Airborne Corps in Desert Storm are each prime examples of Asymmetric Thinking. Each made something possible that was not possible before.

Such people see themselves naturally as creators of new possibilities while others seem content to operate in an already existing framework. In this sense, being a creator of new possibilities is an act of self declaration — the self declared ability to create the possibility of possibility itself, where it doesn’t already exist. For Asymmetric Thinking to be successful, people must be able to develop ideas within a culture that promotes the use of new possibilities. In that culture, a mistake is a demonstration of one possibility that requires no further consideration

Einstein said that problems could not be solved at the same level of thinking from which they were created. He could have been referring to the fast-changing terrorist threat or nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Asymmetric Thinking is a valuable approach as we reassess our methods of planning, training, and preparation. It will enable us to go beyond the traditional ways we have been taught to think in schools and in much of our historic military training. It will train us to be dissatisfied with following habitual patterns of thinking and reiterating previously-proven solutions to the problems that arise.  It will teach us to examine all the possibilities, and become willing to generate never-before tested scenarios in order to see all that’s available in our decision-making process.

A New Thinking Process

We must begin with the question: “Where does new possibility come from?” It clearly doesn’t come from brainstorming alone, nor even from thinking “outside the box.” Unless there is a palpable sense of new possibility, and a small or large rush of inspiration, one is left only with a list, and not much new will happen.

There are three areas of knowledge in any operation. There’s everything you know. There is information you know you don’t have (the things you know you don’t know). And finally there is the unknown (things you don’t know you don’t know). This last area is the blind spot. This is also where truly new possibilities reside.

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