The Military Mind in the Age of Innovation

Brad DeWees August 9, 2016

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Is the “military mind” compatible with the values that make innovation possible?

In 1957 Samuel Huntington defined the “military mind,” or how the military sees the world and interacts with it. His definition of the military mind formed the cornerstone of his broader work on civil-military relations—The Soldier and the State. In that work Huntington claimed the ideal soldier is conservative in the classical sense. That is, the military mind emphasizes the “permanence, irrationality, weakness, and evil in human nature.”[1] More focused on vice than virtue, the military mind is suspect of human cooperation and skeptical of change. For the soldier time is the primary measure of value; the military mind favors the status quo. It is “pessimistic” and “historically inclined…It is, in brief, realistic, and conservative.”[2]
Samuel P. Huntington at the 2004 meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (Peter Lauth, World Economic Forum, Creative Commons)
Samuel P. Huntington at the 2004 meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (Peter Lauth, World Economic Forum, Creative Commons)

Today the military mind finds itself in the company of another mind—the “innovative mind.” While the military mind is conservative the innovative mind is open to experimentation with new ideas. The military mind doubts human nature while the innovative mind trusts in collaboration. The two do not naturally mix, and yet they depend on each other, especially so the military mind on the innovative mind. The paradox of the military mind is that it is increasingly reliant on, yet incompatible with, the innovative mind. This article explores the paradox and how to manage it.

THE MILITARY MIND VERSUS THE INNOVATIVE MIND

There is no single “military mind” or “innovative mind.” The two minds simplify the rich diversity of military members and innovators. Simplifications leave out details but can also clarify comprehensive truths. Huntington’s military mind and today’s innovative mind do not perfectly describe any one individual, yet they hold true at the general level.

Huntington’s ideal military mind was reverse-engineered; he asked what kind of mind was necessary to defend the country, and concluded that a skeptical worldview was the best insurance in a risky and uncertain world. The military mind had to be skeptical of human nature and progress in order for the military to serve its function effectively. Sixty years after describing the military mind, Huntington’s argument has been deeply woven into the American military culture. And thus Huntington has met his own criteria for value—he withstood the test of time. The Soldier and the State, as part of the military canon, frames the ideal image of ourselves and guides our actions as we seek to maintain that image.[3]

RADICAL CHANGE IS THE NORM IN THE AGE OF INNOVATION.

When Huntington wrote The Soldier and The State, the military mind was meant to balance the mind of a liberal democratic citizen. The civilian mind, in Huntington’s argument, could afford to view the world as cooperative as long as the military mind retained its conservative view. The two minds would coexist but leave each other to their own space. Since then a new variant of the civilian mind has developed—the “innovative mind” is the civilian mind that Huntington envisioned, only adapted for the age of innovation. The age of innovation is the period of hyper-connectivity and information sharing created by the information technology revolution of the 1990s, and it is still unfolding today.

Radical change is the norm in the age of innovation. The most powerful companies of this generation work with collaborative technology that was largely unheard of one generation ago, and the same will likely be true one generation from now. Today’s Google is built on an internet search algorithm that would have been difficult to imagine just 30 years ago; tomorrow’s Google may well be built on technology that seems like science-fiction today. The companies that succeed tomorrow will rely on experimentation with new ideas, rather than gradual improvement, to build new business. Their experimentation will be fueled by the pace and quality of their collaboration, and by their ability to weave knowledge together from a wide range of sources.

Warfare in this age of innovation has become increasingly reliant on information technology—the common operating pictures of network-centric warfare is an example. The military mind, then, must increasingly collaborate with the developers of information technology. The question today is whether the military mind can work with a mind characterized by experimentation and collaboration. And, if so, how?

HUNTINGTON’S PARADOX IN THE AGE OF INNOVATION

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