I don't know if Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell is the first US Army three-star to say this but, with all that brass on his shoulders, he's got to be near the head of the line. Regardless, I reckon others will take notice.
In Changing the Organizational Culture, his article in Small Wars Journal, Caldwell writes that it's time for the Army to rethink its approach to the new media. Caldwell has some experience here: he was the person you saw in the Baghdad press conferences last year, speaking for the Multi-National Force [MNF, as he refers to it below]. Wherever you stand (or stood) on the war, what he's saying here bears reading, as he's proposing a new approach:
Recent experiences in Iraq illustrate how important it is to address cultural change and also how very difficult it is to change culture: After MNF-I broke through the bureaucratic red-tape and was able to start posting on YouTube, MNF-I videos from Iraq were among the top ten videos viewed on YouTube for weeks after their posting. These videos included gun tape videos showing the awesome power the US military can bring to bear. Using YouTube – part of the new media – proved to be an extremely effective tool in countering an adaptive enemy.
In a new and different world, one none of us was educated to reside in, we need new thinking in all areas. Next, I'd like to see General Caldwell blogging - or at least commenting on this post. My entreaties to him aside, the general goes on to list four areas where the Army should rethink its rules:
- First, we need to Encourage Soldiers to “tell/share their story”...That is why we must encourage our Soldiers to interact with the media, to get onto blogs and to send their YouTube videos to their friends and family. When our Soldiers tell/share their stories, it has an overwhelmingly positive effect.
- ...Leaders need to not only encourage but also Empower subordinates. A critical component of empowering is underwriting honest mistakes and failure. Soldiers are encouraged to take the initiative and calculated risk in the operational battlefield because we understand the importance of maintaining the offensive. However, once we move into the informational domain, we have a tendency to be zero defect and risk averse. Leaders have to understand and accept that not all media interactions are going to go well. Leaders need to assume risk in the information domain and allow subordinates the leeway to make mistakes.
- Hand in hand with encouragement and empowerment is Education. If Soldiers are better educated to deal with new media and its effects, they will feel more empowered and be encouraged to act. We need to educate Soldiers on how to deal with the media and how their actions can have strategic implications. They need to know what the second and third order effects of their actions are. I believe that most people want to do a good job.
- Finally, we need to Equip Soldiers to engage the new media. If we educate them and encourage them, we need to trust them enough to give them the tools to properly tell/share their stories. The experience of trying to gain YouTube access in Iraq and even back in the United States is a prime example. A suggestion for consideration might be equipping unit leaders with camcorders to document operations but also daily life.
NB: The title of this post is taken from a good article in govexec.com by Greg Grant.