‘Adapt or Die’ video prompts Army to change culture
By Hugh C. Laughlin and Lisa Alley/TRADOC News Service
FORT MONROE, Va. (TRADOC News Service, May 5, 2005) – We need self-aware, adaptive leaders and Soldiers to combat our adversaries, says Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker during the introduction to the Army’s new “Adapt or Die” video presentation.
The videoclip is available on the Army Website in the Army’s professional video collection, http://www.army.mil/professionalvideo/movies/adapt.html. A videotape containing the presentation was also distributed throughout the Army in late April.
“Adapt or Die” is also the title of an Army Magazine article co-written by U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Brig. Gen. David A. Fastabend and Bob Simpson from the Futures Center’s Concepts Development and Experimentation Directorate. The article prompted the video production for the entire Army.
The Army is at a “watershed” time, leaders pointed out in the video. “We can never rest. We need to constantly strive to improve our position, to find better ways to do things,” Schoomaker said in the video.
The seriousness of this watershed time is captured in the phrase “adapt or die,” something the video’s producers hope to imprint on every Soldier and civilian employee. The “Adapt or Die” article in Army Magazine spurred on the conversation and now, with the release of the “Adapt or Die: the Imperative for Creating a Culture of Innovation in the Army” video, “the challenge is to sustain an interest in changing the culture,” Simpson said. “This can’t be done with briefings and with the video and in articles. How do you really make this thing happen? I think it is in recognizing our culture is changing.”
“It’s a change in mindset. It’s a change of how we as leaders look at how we do business every day,” said Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston in the “Adapt or Die” video. “It’s being able to step back away from the current processes, the legacy systems we’ve got in place, and look for creative, innovative ways to do business for the future.”
Fastabend explained that the aware, agile leaders and Soldiers Schoomaker and Preston mentioned grow out of individuals’ mindsets as well as an adaptive training base.
“You have a strategic environment where you have adversaries who are very adaptive. Therefore, if you want to execute your mission for the nation, you have to be more adaptive than they are,” he said. “In that sense, because the global environment has changed significantly during the past couple of years, it is the right time to remind ourselves about the need for adaptation and why we need to continue to do it now more than ever.
“The ‘Adapt or Die’ video illustrates the challenges we have to overcome in reinforcing our culture of innovation,” said Fastabend. “It illustrates the challenges we have in extending our culture of innovation from the operational army to the institutional army.”
According to Simpson, if we don’t learn to think ahead of our adversaries, we are at risk of letting them achieve their goal.
“We have to change our pace of innovation. It has to become part of our nature, rather than part of a lengthy process,” Simpson said. “We are good at innovating and changing ourselves over time; we have done so throughout our history. Now we have to do it more quickly.”
The Army consistently shows how Soldiers innovate, adapt and overcome obstacles on today’s modern battlefield, according to Fastabend and Simpson. The “Adapt or Die” article and video challenge the institutional army to do the same.
“You can’t watch a week go by in Iraq or Afghanistan, or any place we have Soldiers in the field, where we aren’t adapting and innovating – where you see great initiative, thinking and learning going on,” said Simpson. “Our institutional army, however, has not historically been as adaptive or agile as our warfighting army.”
The institutional army – or as TRADOC’s commanding general, Gen. Kevin P. Byrnes, prefers to call it, the “foundational army” – is working to meet the needs of a nation and Army at war.
“We can’t wed ourselves to the way we’ve done things in the past,” Byrnes told an audience Feb. 17 at the Association of the United States Army’s winter symposium. “TRADOC is a foundational organization. … We are foundational to the Army. We recruit, train and educate its leaders. We think about and work the designs, etc., for the Army of the future. We are not working our own lane; we don’t have a lane. Our lane is the Army lane, and that’s how we think about what we do. We’re not wedded to old practices, and we’re not wedded to processes.”
The foundational army learns from the operational army, and the operational army learns from the foundational army in a kind of golden circle, linked and continuous. Schoomaker explains the relationship between the foundational army and the operational army with a sports metaphor.
“The institutional army is like a football franchise,” he said. “It’s the coaching staff, the front office, the schedulers – all the things that enable a game to take place. Our operational army is what plays on the field. Our doctrine is what you do in the huddle. You have a game plan that the head coaches and the assistance coaches put together, and you move to the field with the doctrinal construct you share in the huddle. You get to the line of scrimmage, and you see the opposing team adjusting the defense, and you then go to audibles and you innovate. You adapt. And then the ball’s snapped and everything changes, and now you rely on the skill and innovation of the individual athletes to act as a team and to take advantage of opportunities that now arise that you never thought of before.”
“The whole model for tactical problem-solving is one of innovation. [The foundational army teaches] people in the operational army that no problem is the same, so we teach them a generic decision-making process. And we also teach them they will not have an obvious solution,” Fastabend said. “Soldiers are going to have to determine the solution to every problem they get in the tactical arena because every problem is different. Innovation really is routine to our junior Soldiers who are solving tactical problems.”
“Every day, Soldiers are innovating and adapting to realities they find, and they’re creating tactics, techniques and procedures and doctrinal constructs that we feed back in through the institutional system and institutionalize, and put back out through the schoolhouse and through the training base and incorporate,” explained the Army’s chief of staff in the “Adapt or Die” video.
According to Simpson – and as Schoomaker described – it’s the foundational army’s responsibility to take Soldiers’ good warfighting ideas and spread them rapidly throughout the organization.
“If a platoon in Afghanistan develops a technique for solving a tactical problem that has utility across the force, it is the institutional army’s responsibility to get that disseminated quickly so we could effectively save a Soldier’s life by spreading that TTP or technological solution,” Simpson explained. “It’s vitally important we do that because our enemies are adapting. They adapt as quickly as we can. As the video and article point out, we have to adapt or die.”
Byrnes has made it clear that he expects TRADOC employees to embrace a culture of innovation. Fastabend explained that this translates to changing the behavior of an organization.
“I would tell [the institutional army] that you have even more serious challenges in rising to this task because your environment is more constrained by law, regulations, policy and resources,” Fastabend said. “When we say we need to extend this culture of innovation to the institutional army, we are not saying we need to extend the motivation to do it. They already have the motivation to do it. We need to extend the opportunities for them to do it.”
Changing direction is a difficult but necessary step.
“What can happen over time is that the processes which were developed to support the system begin to consume the system,” said Simpson. “So everything begins to feed the process, and you lose sight of the outcome. You have to refocus on what is the product, what is supposed to happen as a result of this process?”
Both men said that the mindset of innovation is opposite the “process” they described.
“Innovation has to be encouraged and fostered by the most senior leaders. This is about leadership and changing behavior,” said Simpson. “But the paradox is that for it to really operate, it has to be felt at the very lowest levels, where you create ownership. Regardless of what your position is, you are an owner, you are a stockholder in the Army and in what we do.”
The “Adapt or Die” video points out that good ideas start at small-unit level. Simpson expanded on this, emphasizing that in an organization, there are different roles to play in creating innovation.
“People think innovation is just having a good idea. So, if they think they aren’t that kind of individual, innovation doesn’t apply to them,” he said. “It is not just about having a good idea. Probably only a small percentage in any organization is going to have truly genius insights that are going to really cause some dramatic change.”
The leadership comes in because someone has to choose which of those good ideas should go forward and be replicated throughout an organization.
“It takes a different kind of person to wade through the analysis and thinking,” explained Simpson. “Within an organization, there has to be a way to spread that idea. If there is a better way to do something, it has to be replicated and repeated within an organization for it to take hold throughout the institution. So innovation isn’t about a bunch of people sitting around having a good idea. It’s about having the good idea, separating the good idea from the not-as-good ideas, and then spreading those ideas throughout the organization. All sorts of people can play a role in doing that.”
Achieve a sense of ownership “can be very discomforting because the Army is a very hierarchical organization,” Simpson said. “So how do you develop an organization where people feel comfortable getting outside their hierarchy? The answer is leadership. Leaders encourage that and operate that way.”
The Army’s top officer points out in the “Adapt or Die” video that he expects Soldiers to choose discomfort.
“What we have to do is constantly seek and challenge the status quo in the movement to areas of innovation, which create areas of discomfort,” Schoomaker said, “and, as we become comfortable in those areas, we have to strike out again.”
Ownership in the culture of innovation is purchased with teaming and a project mentality to innovation, described Simpson.
“A project mentality helps you overcome the process mentality. Developing a project mentality – where you have a start date and an end date, and this is what we are producing – can help you overcome those impediments of process,” he said.
The project mentality should be coupled with becoming a learning organization.
“I think part of the cultural change is getting out of the hierarchical thing, where ‘Just because I’m the colonel, I’m smarter, and this is the way it’s going to be,’” described Simpson. “We have to get out of that mindset. We have to have a culture where we judge ideas on their merit rather than on the rank of the person who thought of the idea. That is what learning organizations do.
“One of the things we do here at TRADOC – we try to put the money where our mouth is,” Simpson said. “It is one thing to write this article and produce this video, but you have to behave that way yourself. That is being a learning organization.”
Fastabend explained how the foundational army is changing behaviors.
“As an example in the video, Accessions Command uses Websites and cyber-recruiting to get access to recruits,” he said. “Another example is company commanders communicating on their Website, sharing information. I think these are good examples of the type of innovative behaviors we can take advantage of.”
The original version of the Army Magazine “Adapt or Die” article was produced almost a year ago. Simpson commented on what he has learned since then.
“I was one of those guys who thought innovation required genius. That it took some great combination of talent, drive and leadership to truly innovate. I just don’t believe that anymore,” he said. “I really do think every organization in the Army can innovate. It does require leadership. But it is the kind of leadership that is about building a good team, giving the people ownership of the organization and being a learning organization.”
“We wrote the ‘Adapt or Die’ article at a point where major combat operations in [Operation Iraqi Freedom] had already come to a close,” explained Fastabend, “and we could already see quite clearly how innovative and adaptive the operational army is. What wasn’t apparent to us at the time of the article was how the institutional army was going to respond as well.
“Since that article was written, the institutional army has responded quite dramatically,” Fastabend said. “The ‘Adapt or Die’ video captures some of the things the institutional army has been doing.”
The video is compelling because the Army has a lot to be proud of, according to Fastabend.
“You can see in the video some of the things that are going on and how they are self-generated,” he said. “People are justifiably proud of what the Army is doing. They like that. It gives them an opportunity to educate within the Army the kind of behaviors we want to reinforce. But it also gives a chance to show those people outside the Army who don’t understand how much the Army is changing the kind of things we are doing to respond to this current conflict.
“We’re one of the more innovating and adaptive institutions in the country,” he added. “This is about extending some extraordinarily excellent behavior the Army already exhibits. This is about extending and reinforcing across the entire Army this behavior.”
Extending and reinforcing is a foundational army role, but, as the Army’s top leader makes clear in the “Adapt or Die” video, senior leaders to junior enlisted – every owner and shareholder – have responsibility in transforming the Army while fighting the Global War on Terrorism. In simple terms, that responsibility involves ceasing to think one is confined to a “lane.”
“You can’t be in the Army and not have heard someone say, ‘That is outside my lane,’” Simpson said. “People have been uncomfortable getting outside their lane. Getting past the idea that you have a lane is a step toward innovating.
is not just adapting or innovating – it is innovating again and
again and again,” he said.
Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, Army chief of staff
“What we have to do is constantly seek and challenge the status quo in the movement to areas of innovation, which create areas of discomfort. And, as we become comfortable in those areas, we have to strike out again.” – Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker
“We can never rest. We need to constantly strive to improve our position, to find better ways to do things. I think you see this every day. Every day, Soldiers are innovating and adapting to realities they find, and they’re creating tactics, techniques and procedures and doctrinal constructs that we feed back in through the institutional system and institutionalize, and put back out through the schoolhouse and through the training base and incorporate.” – Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker
“The institutional army is like a football franchise. It’s the coaching staff, the front office, the schedulers – all the things that enable a game to take place. Our operational army is what plays on the field. Our doctrine is what you do in the huddle. You have a game plan the head coaches and the assistance coaches put together, and you move to the field with the doctrinal construct you share in the huddle. You get to the line of scrimmage, and you see the opposing team adjusting the defense, and you then go to audibles and you innovate. You adapt. And then the ball’s snapped and everything changes, and now you rely on the skill and innovation of the individual athletes to act as a team and to take advantage of opportunities that now arise that you never thought of before.” – Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker
Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston
“It’s a change in mindset. It’s a change of how we as leaders look at how we do business every day. It’s being able to step back away from the current processes, the legacy systems we’ve got in place, and look for creative, innovative ways to do business for the future.” – Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston