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Asymmetric Thinking in the Military

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Even if a suggestion is unusable, it often leads to something new and worthwhile.   Trusting in the collective intelligence of others opens the way to Asymmetric Thinking.

2 Personal Presence
You cannot underestimate the value of personal presence. Asymmetric Thinking without personal presence is rare. When a commander visits troops in the field, whether they’re training or actually in combat, they know that the commander doesn’t have to be there. They know that if you are there, you must care about what’s going on, and probably care about them as individuals.

Leaders in Asymmetric Thinking talk to soldiers that they meet. It is often a soldier’s perspective that opens up possibilities, at their level and yours. A good example of this was displayed in a conversation with a sergeant during the exercise of moving the Third Cavalry from Seattle to Ft. Bliss. In response to the question: “Well, how’s it going?” the sergeant said, “Well sir, it’s not going real well — that soldier over there has only has one uniform, and she’s got to wash it every single night.”  It didn’t take long to light a fire under Supply, who took initiative, went back to the same Sergeant, and determined that six more people didn’t have their full issue.

Within two days, the soldiers without uniforms had been re-supplied.  Just as importantly, attitudes throughout the unit improved when other soldiers saw what happened. Some soldiers consider new possibilities, such as re-enlisting, and showed other expressions of unit cohesion.

3 Connection

The closer the connection between the leader and the group, as well as among the members of the group, the more Asymmetric Thinking becomes a reality. The best leaders know instinctively that there is untapped potential in any group and work to set an environment that brings out the best of people. The best leaders are always hunting for connection with the group.  Connection, or the chemistry of relationship, evokes new possibilities. General Tommy Franks has always had the ability to connect with soldiers and his staff. He asks questions that provoke thought and keeps asking deeper questions until people begin to reveal what they don’t know and don’t know they don’t know. This penetrating inquiry combined with genuine caring has people think in new ways.  The ensuing action is direct and imaginative.

Can Leadership For Asymmetric Thinking Be Taught?

Asymmetric Thinking is teachable but, as with any discipline, the effects of such training will vary.

Some people employ Asymmetric Thinking, but haven’t been able to lead others to do so.  Some don’t use Asymmetric Thinking but will adopt it easily. Others will participate fully in training and benefit from the effects of it, but will never generate Asymmetric Thinking on their own. And some people are so hindered by other concerns that they have great difficulty in thinking asymmetrically for themselves, let alone creating it for others.

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