The other day I read this post on learning to escape the ROI trap. I think Chuck and Polly’s transposition of the phrase “return on investment” to “risk of ignoring” is intriging. Chuck’s meme on how he dislikes the use of the concept of ROI influenced me to think more about the concept of doctrine. Readers of my blog will know that I have been randomly thinking about the concept of doctrine. I am going to point out that if you are expecting a pithy post on SDNs, OpenFlow, networking or equity charts, this is not that post and you might want to skip to the last paragraph.
I have been thinking about the concept of doctrine and how it is employed in technology companies and the creative pulse of the technology industry for some time. I have worked in five startups and two large public companies. I never really thought about the concept of doctrine until I was motivated to write the Tubthumping post in February 2012. In that post I wrote the following:
“The concept of doctrine enables technology people to make assumptions. Assumptions are great as long as they hold. When I refer to doctrine I am referring to procedures that ecosystem participants follow because they have been trained to reason and act in a certain manner within the command and control structure of their business and technology. We design networks, manage companies; evaluate technology and markets according to a common set of doctrines that have been infused into the technology ecosystem culture over many decades. I was thinking along this thought line in mid-October when I posted “I also believe we are all susceptible to diminished breadth in our creativity as we get older. Diminished breadth in our creativity the root cause as to why history repeats itself and another reason why when we change companies we tend to take content and processes from our prior company and port them to our new company. This is especially true in the technology industry. We recycle people; hence we recycle ideas, content and value propositions from what worked before. Why be creative when it is easier to cut and paste? As a casual observation it seems to me that most people working in tech have a theta calculation as to their creativity. I believe a strategy to guard against creativity decay is to look back on the past and critique the work.” In mid October I had not fully fused the thesis of creativity fail or creativity theta with doctrine. The idea to link the two concepts occurred to me last night as I was reading Shattered Sword for the second time.”
I did a search of my blog and found eight entries in which I mentioned or used the word doctrine to imply a specific meaning or invoke an association in my mind or the reader’s mind. I want to explore that concept further. A book I am currently reading is Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat by Wayne P. Hughes; side note I am also reading The Crimean War: A History, which is a very dense book to read. Fleet Tactics is the book that has most influenced my recent thinking on concept of doctrine in technology companies, but I would state in 2002-2003 I was greatly influenced by the ideas put forward by John Boyd.
Allow me to digress as I stitch together (I really enjoy that abstraction) some concepts and history and then apply them to the business of technology. In the book Shattered Sword, the authors put forth a novel thesis that when the Kido Butai arrived northwest of Midway Island on June 4 1942, and faced the American carrier force to northeast the battle was already lost due to doctrine. I am not going to repeat the supporting elements of the thesis in the book, but the conclusion by the authors is that the innovation and power of the Kido Butai was finally defeated in the course of a single day because of the limiting effect of low entropic doctrine employed by the Imperial Japanese Navy. If you are not familiar with naval military history a quick primer might be needed. The Kido Butai was the formation of all the major Japanese aircraft carriers into an unified striking force. The concentration of multiple carriers in a single, fast moving offensive striking force was a true innovation in naval combat. Six Japanese carriers launched the strike on Pearl Harbor. These carriers were organized into three air divisions and trained in unified operations as a single offensive weapon. To create the Kido Butai required innovation in tactics and tactics are a result of doctrine. Part of the thesis in Shattered Sword describes how innovation stopped and rigid adherence to doctrine in all levels of the IJN doomed the operational actions of the Kido Butai at the battle of Midway. The authors point to the book Fleet Tactics to understand doctrine, which is why I was reading Fleet Tactics.
Pages 29-33 in Fleet Tactics has a concise summary of doctrine, why it is important and how it is employed. Here is my summary of those pages in ten simple points. Bonus points offered if while reading the points you can associate more than three to your current company:
1. P29: Doctrine is the commander’s way of controlling his forces in writing, before military action.
2. P29: Doctrine enunciates polices and procedures that govern action.
3. P29: In its stringiest sense, doctrine enjoins the right behavior; its success depends on obedience, except when obedience leads to failure.
4. P29: Two points of doctrine must be remembered: it is vital and it must not become dogmatic.
5. P30: Doctrine may also be thought of as every action that contributes to unity of purpose.
6. P30: Doctrine is not what is written in books; it is what people believe in and act on.
7. P30: In the execution of good doctrine, there is always tension between conformity and initiative.
8. P30: There is a measure of entropy in all doctrine. With too little entropy there is order and understanding, but no initiative. With too much entropy there is creativity and change but no order.
9. P31: The clearest evidence of doctrinal deficiency is too much communication.
10. P33: In sum doctrine must be whole and firm but not dogmatic. It must leave room for men of freewheeling genius, for such will be the aces of the next war. But it must never surrender control, because control is the prerequisite of concerted action.
Many of the ten points about doctrine were disconnected in my mind when I wrote the sometimes winning requires failure post. In hindsight, that entire post is about doctrine. When I wrote it, I was not mature in my thoughts around the concept of doctrine and the effect it has on an organization through high and low levels of entropy. If I go back and read Chuck’s blog on the ROI trap in terms of doctrine, the entire post is about doctrine. People are conditioned to act in a specific manner because of doctrine. The example he cites is rife with points #7 and #9. I think anyone who has had a decade of experience in the technology business has been part of ROI discussions or building solution cases based on “prior mode of operation (PMO) and future mode of operation (FMO).”
The more I think about the heartbeat of technology companies, it becomes more apparent that our industry is full of low entropy doctrine. Take for example the idea around Moore’s Law which I have written about several times. To me there is no better example of dogmatic doctrine in the technology industry than Moore’s Law; which was a product cycle observation. For a couple of decades I have been listening to technology executives describe their business as following Moore’s Law. For those who have made it this far, here is my reference to the network, SDN and all the other buzzwords. The network is in a low entropy state dominated by doctrine and dogmatic beliefs. It has become fixed, documented and institutionalized. For it to change for the better, we need enough entropic doctrine for people to take the initiative because they fear the risk of ignoring (HT Chuck and Polly). Fear of the risk of ignoring should be an element of every company’s operating doctrine. Here is an example of how to spot doctrinal deficiency: a presenter has 100 slides to go through.