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Asymmetric Thinking in the Military

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In an unpublished letter, Einstein wrote that the code breaker regarding invention in any human endeavor is that, “there is no necessary relationship between sense experience and thinking.” Einstein said that, “.., while we experience life through our senses and what we think in response to those senses makes perfect sense to us, this thinking is purely arbitrary”.  In other words, we have the ability to think anything we want. When a person is able to appreciate this, it allows for the free play of imagination. Asymmetric Thinking enables such free play of imagination.

As an example, the Sylvan Learning Center’s educational process produces breakthroughs in reading, even with the most unlikely students. By reducing reading to its smallest elements, and with a process of continuous assessment and inventive teaching, they succeed where conventional education often fails.

A similar educational process is possible for teaching both senior and junior officers to think independently, respond to asymmetry (the absence of a common basis of comparison in response to a quality, or in operational terms, a capability), and to create new possibilities in planning and on the ground responsiveness.

In learning Asymmetric Thinking, practices include:

Practice in identifying and promising unpredictable outcomes.  e.g.  uncharacteristic commitment evokes uncharacteristic thinking. For example, John Kennedy promising to land a man on the moon within ten years.

Practice in stalking possibility.  e.g.  noticing adjacent possibilities, conversations for possibility and sustaining a personal attitude of openness.

Practice in suspension.  e.g.  suspending the need to act and implement for the sake of Asymmetric Thinking; suspending the need to “look conventional” in conversation.

Practice in shifting the normal reaction to stress from reactive thinking and emotion to Asymmetric Thinking.

Practice in seeing what is missing as well as what is there.  e.g. recognizing that something needs to be seen as missing before it can become a part of the solution.

Practice in provoking thought.  e.g.  deep questioning, “pulling the rug” on  existing ideas, giving people real problems they don’t already know how  to solve.

Practice in integrating opposites.  e.g.  the creative power that comes from holding opposites in one’s mind; not stuck in either/or thinking.

Practice in maintaining an open mind, a “beginner’s mind.”  practice in hovering.  e.g.  rising above the field mentally,  and then observing.

Practice in creating context.  e.g.  identifying what’s common to all past attempts at solution and acting against such commonalities.

Practice in identifying and going beyond self limiting beliefs and assumptions.

Practice in listening generously.  e.g. with deep appreciation for the feelings and experience of  others — colleagues, superiors, subordinates, civilians, and even enemies.

Practice in moving from Asymmetric Thinking to decisive action and back again.  e.g. remembering that mission is context.

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