Monday, July 28, 2014

Using the Sunzi's Victory Temple Model to Solve The McChrystal's Afghanistan PowerPoint Problem

(updated at 3:33 am)

Some of us were busy with our "Strategic Assessment" book project, a few years ago.  After realizing "the state of the book market" and that the state of the strategy business have changed dramatically, that we decided to de-prioritize our book project and focused on our immediate objectives. 

During the book writing process, we were focused on the various complex strategic assessment situations that would interest our audience of strategic thinkers and implementers.

Following is an abridged example of our strategic assessment approach for a quite complex situation:  

The McChrystal Afghanistan PowerPoint slide: can you do any better?
Is the "Afghanistan Stability/COIN Dynamics – Security" slide a set of meaningless squiggles or a comprehensive guide to Afghanistan? And how would you improve on it?

Gen Stanley McChrystal, leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was shown a PowerPoint slide in Kabul last summer meant to portray the complexity of American military strategy Illustration: PA

Well you can see why Nato hasn't cracked Afghanistan yet. The Microsoft PowerPoint slide which drove US military General Stanley McChrystal to declare that "When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war" at a briefing in Kabul last summer has led to big questions about the world's reliance on the presentation software.

As Julian Borger wrote yesterday:

The diagram has an undeniable beauty. Done the right way (embroidered perhaps) it would make a lovely wallhanging and an ideal gift for the foreign policy-maker in your life. But it is a bit of a red herring … It was designed to convey the complexity of the Afghan conflict. But the big problem with PowerPoint is that it makes everything seem simple.It does not link ideas or facts in any kind of human narrative. It just lists them as bullet-points, a shopping list of things to do or jobs already done.

So, here's the Datablog challenge: how would you do it? Is there another way to present the information that doesn't look like it has been put together by a kitten with a ball of string?

Post links to them in the comment field below. The best will get displayed here. Or could even change the course of the war. Or something like that.
source: the guardian

Instead of viewing the above situation as a math equation or a "pick and choose"  scenario, General McChrystal and his staff should have observed it from a perspective of a macro object-oriented formula that is composed of many descending levels of other formulas. 

Thinking in terms of relativity and "fitting" qualifiers (instead of the absolute factor)  is the most efficient approach to meet the challenge of comprehending the complexity of the situation as long as one has the time, the resources and the patience to do so.

Using the Occam's approach for strategic assessment is not going to cut it here because of the obvious reason.

A Connection to the Chinese Strategy Classics
The partial framework of our proposed solution model is based on the connectivity of the following two principles from Sunzi's Art of War and an array of other strategic principles from the Seven Military Classics of Ancient China.

"Before the engagement, one who determines in the ancestral temple that he will be victorious has found that the majority of factors are in his favor. Before the engagement on who determines in the ancestral temple that he will not be victorious has found few factors are in his favor. If one who finds that the majority of factors favor him will be victorious while one who has found few factors favor him will be defeated, what about someone who finds no factors in his favor?  

If I observe it from this perspective, victory and defeat will be apparent. ...  After estimating the advantages in accord with what you have heard, put it into effect with strategic power (shin) supplemented by field tactics that respond to external factors. As for strategic power, [it is] controlling the tactical imbalance of power (ch'uan) in accord with the gains to be realized. "
- Art of War, 1  (Sawyer's translation)

A part of this solution could be found in Sawyer's translation of Li Quan's book.  ... You do know what are the factors and how to connect the dots. Do you know it?

A Brief Abstract of our Compass Solution Model
Our proposed solution model is focused on comprehending the "connectivity" state of a specific strategic situation by implementing the following steps:
  • Identify the PESTLE specifics of each strategic principal; 
  • Determine the validity of each principal by its weight and its balancing point to the Big Tangible Picture; 
  • Examine the tangibility of the information behind each strategic principal; 
  • Analyze the probable and the possible action of each strategic principal before connecting it to the Big Tangible Picture (BTP); and
  • Lead with the assessed choice that offers the best benefits and the minimal to zero drawbacks to the implementers. 

Comments From the Compass Desk 
There is a grand order to everything from the various business terrains to the strategic situations within certain board games. Most people are rarely aware of this universal law, especially if their pseudo strategy experts and/or their clients who are so focused on the rules, the situational simplifications and the simple mindless practices that they do not ever assessing the singularity of a strategic situation and the possible strategic exceptional move.

Understanding the connectivity of those factors is step one. Hypothesizing on the possible responses and the counter-responses of a strategic situation usually enables one to staying ahead of the break even point. 

While the Dao prevails in everything, the challenge is whether one could utilize it in their favor, especially in a complex situation, is a different story.

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